“You need to take care of yourself.” How many times have caregivers heard this? As a caregiver one may be tempted to think, “I am so busy attending to the needs of my loved one. How can I possibly find time for myself?”
However, as a caregiver for my husband with an ever deteriorating neurological disease; I found that it was essential to at least seek to take care of myself. This was not selfish. It was important for me to take care of myself so that I would not fold under the pressure and become ill myself, but it was also necessary for my husband’s well-being. I could be the best I could be in meeting my husband’s needs only if I was also taking care of myself.
Caregiving long term for a loved one who has a disease in which he continually moves backwards in his health is emotionally, physically, and spiritually challenging. It is challenging for the person with the disease, but it also is challenging for that person’s caregiver. In many ways it is harder for the caregiver. Thus, it is important for the caregiver to attend to his or her own needs also.
A caregiver needs to attend to his or her emotional needs. If there is a face to face caregiver support group in one’s community that might be helpful. If a caregiver knows someone else who is a caregiver that also might be beneficial. By forming a relationship with that person a caregiver may have found someone in whom he or she can confide. As a caregiver I personally found a lot of emotional support through an internet online support group and through blogging. Through reading other caregiver’s blogs I was greatly helped and reassured that my feelings were normal and often very similar to other caregivers. Through the writing of my own blog posts I was able to crystallize my feelings. Just writing down those feelings helped me so much. Finally a caregiver needs to get out and do enjoyable things alone or with friends from time to time. If this means asking someone to come in and tend to the caregiver’s loved one’s needs, then that is what has to happen. Total isolation is never good for anyone’s emotional needs.
A caregiver also needs to attend to his or her physical needs. A caregiver has to protect his or her own needs in order to be able to attend to the needs of their loved one who requires their constant care. One way one can do that is through exercise whenever possible. Exercise is a great stress reliever, and it can help to prevent a lot of diseases.
I journaled the following on March 6, 2009 when I was right in the middle of my caregiving days:
“Yesterday and today were beautiful days outside at least for WI. So I took advantage of the nice weather and took a walk both days. It is amazing how just taking a half hour walk can lift one’s spirits in this caregiving experience.”
Further, a caregiver needs to attend to his or her spiritual needs. It is so important to develop a intimate spiritual relationship with the Lord. It is also important to stay deep in His Word, the Bible, and to constantly pray for the Lord‘s guidance and strength. Without my relationship with the Lord and His wonderful promises in His Word I think I would not have been able to hold up under the stresses of caregiving.
Finally, a caregiver must be willing to ask for help. A caregiver must ask for help from God but also sometimes from others. As a caregiver I did not want to ask for help. Also sometimes I did not know what kind of help others could give me. In the end, however, I realized that I absolutely could not do it alone. I had a C.N.A. lady come in two to three nights a week at bedtime, and at the very end my son was able to greatly step up and help also. In this way I was able to keep my husband out of the nursing home. In other cases a nursing home may be the only and best option. Either way a caregiver must have the courage and humility to accept and even pursue help as needed.
Take care of yourself in every way you can, dear caregiver. It is good advice. On January 10, 2009 I journaled the following: “I must take better care of myself; if I want to be any good as a caregiver to my husband. Most importantly I must continue my devotions and seek to draw ever closer to my Lord. I also must try to take better care of my body. This will relieve a lot of stress and fatigue. Lord, give me the strength to make some consistent changes.”