Who Cares for the Caregiver?…tips for self care

In Dec. ’09 I had 2 bad bouts of bronchitis. And all I wanted to know is, “Who cares for the Caregiver?” In the past when I’ve been sick, I could rest or sleep it off, and know my mom could take care of herself, feed herself or if I needed something, she could bring it to me, but the big thing is I could just rest; now I couldn’t. My mom would ask 10 thousand times (OK maybe not that many times, but you get the drift) if I was alright and I knew as much as Alzheimer’s would allow her, she cared, but there wasn’t much she could do.

Alzheimer’s showed its ugly head years ago, but 2009 was the major decline and as my mom’s mental health was declining, it seemed so was my physical health. I wasn’t taking care of myself. I had to scramble and find my way in my new normal. I was driving down an unfamiliar road, and all of my energy went into caring for my mom and I had nothing left for myself. Honestly, I didn’t care. I was downsized from my job some months back, so not working added to my “who cares about me” feeling, I was gaining back the weight I lost and when it all hit, it like a ton of  bricks and I had nothing within me to fight!

Caregivers are often faced with overwhelming feelings of stress, depression and lack of self-care. It’s recommended to ask for help, turn to others, but it’s not always the easiest thing to do or always available to caregivers. Though I was on a crazy life path, somehow I knew it was important to get a therapist to listen and have someone help me with emotional support.

After falling apart that December I said that in 2010, my goal was to take better care of myself. Though I was operating in 2009, it’s true when they say; if you can’t take care of yourself, how can you take care for anyone else. It may come off as a selfish statement, but it’s true! If I kept on the path I was going down, I would have completely fallen apart and what good would I have been for my mom?!

In my quest to “get it together”, my 1st mission was to lose weight. I didn’t have a plan, but I did get a trainer for a little bit and joined an outdoor activity meet-up group to get myself out of the house and to do outdoor stuff which I LOVE to do. Which is another reason why losing weight is important; to feel better when I do these things. I was still in a cycle, but everything; the weight loss, better mental state, etc. didn’t fully click until July. I looked forward to getting out and running (yes I am attempting to be a runner!). I’m no Flo-Jo, but attempting it made me feel better and was showing on the scale. I incorporated more cardio and saw how much exercising helped me handle the stress with my mom. I have more patience, and being in a better mental and physical place has helped me with life all around.

Trust me it’s no easy fete to find time to exercise. It can be struggle to find time, especially now as my mom’s health is changing, but it also reaffirms the need “to” exercise more to keep me balanced and on-point. I don’t feel guilty about taking time for my health because it means I can better help my mom with her health struggles. She’s changing and so am I. I guess I have to look at it this way; God forbid the worse happens for her, I know it will be painful for me, but how much will that pain be if I’m also in bad shape physically. So when I walk, she walks, the dog walks and it does all of our bodies good.

Whether you’re into walking or not it’s important for caregivers to be mindful of their needs. Studies have shown that caregivers who are under chronic stress may have a shortened lifespan, and have diminished immune response because of changes with their immune cells making them more susceptible to colds, flu and the slow healing of injuries.

Here are some other tips to help keep you healthy:

1) Be mindful of your physical, emotional and spiritual needs,

2) Manage and be aware of your own health and day-to-day needs,

3) Get a therapist, it’s good to have a professional to help sort out your feelings and to develop a healthy plan for your emotions or make sure to have a friend or community of friends with whom you can speak with,

4) Look into respite programs. If it’s something you can afford, it’s a great option to get a break,

5) Look into continue care programs such as Long Term care or nursing homes. As a caregiver you’re trying your best to keep your loved one in the home, but there will be a time when the care becomes to overwhelming. It’s always better to be prepared ahead of time by looking into places.

6) Speak with a financial planner or elder care attorney. A financial planner can help you manage your money and give you the best options for you. If your parent was a veteran or survivor to a veteran, they can inform you of programs to receive additional money. And an elder care attorney can help you with wills, and getting a medical and financial power of attorney.

7) Exercise. Exercise can be walking, hiking, running, swimming. You don’t have to train for a marathon, but exercising helps clear your mind and gets your endorphins going which helps to make you and your body feel better.

All of these little things, help with the bigger thing; making you a healthier you in order to be a better caregiver.

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