“It is so important as a caregiver not to become so enmeshed in the role that you lose yourself. It’s neither good for you nor your loved one.” – Dana Reeve
Since you’re reading this, I’m sure you’ve heard of “caring for the caregiver.” This is a statement that comes from a good place and is necessary and helpful to many, but if we’re honest made me want to scream.
Between gathering my mom’s things, gently making our way out to the car, driving 40 minutes to the specialist that we needed to be at 30 minutes before the appointment time only to wait for an additional 20 minutes in the lobby for, have the appointment and do it all over again to get home- I was spent. And that’s just one doctor’s appointment.
My mom’s situation was extremely medically complex, which required full time and attention. To help out, I quit my job to become her full-time caregiver without even knowing what a caregiver was. Along the way, I was able to find a new identity in becoming an in-home care operator, new relationships, and my experience, but not all of us are so lucky.
Caregiving can quickly become your entire identity if you’re not careful. From a beautiful place, we do things like quit our jobs, or stop seeing friends to care for our loved ones. But along the way, it’s easy to lose a sense of who we are and fade into the person pushing the wheelchair.
I want to stress the importance of keeping up on yourself and to tell you it’s not selfish to do so. I fully understand your time is valuable, and you’re already stretched too thin, But to be your best self, to be your parent’s child, you need to find time for yourself.
1) Maintain your interests.
I know going to see a movie, play a pickup game, or take an art class can feel like privileges you just can’t afford. But what you’re interested in is a big part of who you are, and it’s essential you have that time away to yourself.
I found finding someone like a personal trainer or a class you’ve paid for is an excellent way to hold yourself accountable if you find it hard to get away.
2) Make time away from caregiving.
Note I didn’t say “find” time, because you are going to have to make it. Still, to this day, I have a hard time staying asleep because of so many years of being on edge waiting for bad new in the middle of the night. But that sort of constant worry and pressure is not healthy.
I know it doesn’t seem like it, but the world will keep turning if you take 30 minutes away from caregiving and away from your phone. Swimming was something that helped me a lot as it forced me away from my phone and left alone to think in silence. Even wandering around a mall in between doctors’ appointments was a nice mental break during a hectic day.
3) Feed yourself first.
In case of an emergency on a flight, you’re always supposed to secure your mask before anyone else. The same rules apply here. You cannot help others to the best of your abilities if you’re not at your best. Remember, it is not selfish to take a break, eat a proper meal, exercise, or go to the spa.