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The Importance of Self Care for Caregivers 
Started by Cath1
24 Mar 2012, 12:50 AM

When my Mom was alive I cared for her in every way possible as much as my time and energy would allow, sometimes more. Rarely did I feel good about making any decision that placed me first. I am no martyr, it just made me feel better to put her needs before my own and thus both our needs were met, if that makes sense.

It is very hard for me to ignore the pleas of a loved one or even a stranger if I sense they need me and I can help. It's virtually impossible for me to feel happy when I'm aware someone else I care about is not. I have control issues because of my insecurities I know, but it is me, the truth of who I am.

I am a mother of four children, all grown, and I have three young grandkids. I had been caring for my Mom since I was a child myself because she had a mental illness and we had no father in the home. My protective instincts for others are highly developed, and I had lots of years to fine tune them with my kids and grandkids, but sometimes I forget to protect myself. I belong to a large extended family of brothers, neices and nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins and have close friends, some of whom I have known most of my life. If ever those whom I love need me I strive to answer the call.

I care about people, how they are feeling, what they think about things, how their lives are going. Since it is my nature to be interested in others I often find myself focusing more on others' needs instead of mine. I'm strong and healthy and I enjoy caring for and about people. It gives me pleasure and fulfills me on a deep level, but sometimes, like today, I am reminded that I need to care first about me before I can really care well for others in the way I wish.

In these past few weeks I have had a lot of balls in the air trying to keep up with my commitments. It is hard to do well everything I want to do, yet I hate to say no, and I am rarely satisfied to sit idle. It's just not me. When I'm involved, with people and life, I'm in it 100% body and soul and I don't know yet how to be different.

My vision began to get suddenly and scarily blurry about a month or so ago. It upset me and I thought I may be going blind. Even with my specs on, and with stronger reading glasses, I could not see properly much of the time. It came and went though in intensity so I managed and kept putting off a doctor's visit hoping my eyesight would magically improve.

Feeling more tired than usual, I sometimes found myself falling asleep at the computer, barely able to keep my eyes open, and this was happening sometimes in midday! So I did the sensible thing - finally :) - and scheduled an appointment with my doctor. I love him for lots of good reasons and among them because he listens, takes my concerns seriously, he's a great communicator (important to me), and he is thorough.

He sent me for blood and urine tests, listened to my tales of my particular woes re stress in my life, and then called me back to his office today to discuss the results. He discovered that my blood pressure was low and that I am dehydrated, but thankfully ruled out any signs of diabetes which was his first concern. I felt relieved and grateful to know that all I have to do is drink more water - much more - rather than consuming so much diet soda and eating while on the run. All my stats were normal - even cholesterol which surprised me!:) I need to rest more, eat well, and pay attention to my stress level by planning better (not my strong suit as I am very spontaneous and high-energy naturally). Even though I smoke, my risk for heart disease is low. Fortunate am I.

In any case, luckily for me my little health scare turned out to be minor and reparable and with equally minor adjustments to my lifestyle, I will be fine. It reminded me that I too am important; as well as all those I care for and about and those I want to see feel well and healthy and happy in my real life and online. I am going to try hard to practice balancing my time and energy more wisely. I am going to try to look after myself first.

Self care is not and has never been a priority for me until now. The idea has been percolating in my mind for several months, especially through my time of grief over the death of my Mom, but it didn't sink in as it has today. I imagine may caregivers on this site can relate to how I feel.

Ironically, my doctor called me a couple of hours after I came home. Self care is something he too struggles with. Immediately I thought he must have found something wrong and wondered why he was calling me. Then he told me he really wanted me to know he listened to me about the stress I have been under related to what I went through with my Mom in long term care, and that he didn't want to set a bad example for me, as when I was leaving I made a joke about how he is always in a rush and he responded by saying he had to keep up the pace and then he quickly called in his next patient.

On the phone he told me he is telling all of his patients not to rush through the day, and he said that our little chat caused him to remind himself of the importance of slowing down just a bit for his own good. He told me how he learns so much from his patients and how communication is crucial between him and them, and he wants to set a good example. Admirable.

I was very touched that he took the time to call me and that he was so humble to express himself openly with me while hoping I would take his message to heart and as he said, "spread the good advice and take it", just as he planned to do himself.

Self care is not a priority for many of us, as life is demanding and especially when we identify a need in others and try to fulfill it, but it is important that we remember to honour our own needs too. As we try to be there for others, let’s not forget that we will best help others by first being strong for ourselves. Now I’m off to have a large glass of water and to get some R&R!:)

Take care of yourself as you take care of others folks. Goodnight for now and have a happy weekend!:)

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Reply by NatR
27 Mar 2012, 8:51 PM

Hi  Cath1,
Words to live by.  Totally impressed that your interaction with your Dr. prompted him to take a look at his own life, the rest of his patients and add something to their next appts. because of you!

It is pretty amazing that being good and kind to ourselves is as important as being good and kind to others.  As a caregiver I also get it that we are last on the list.  Perhaps today, and each day, we should give ourselves the space at the end of each day to say...this is mine, this is for me, so that I can be better for others tomorrow.

Having said that...can I do it?  Yep, today I can, cause today I am not caregiving.  I am learning that the long term effects of leaving me til the last is wearing me down.  It has taken me three months to sort of feel normal again after keeping the 'wheel going" around the clock.  When you get to your golden years you think you still have lots of pizaz, lots of energy, and you feel like you can still do anything.  Regardless of age though we all have a breaking point.

Thanks for sharing your first hand acct.  It is a realization that I also had this winter...to take better care of me.

Not only healthy wise...but emotionally wise.  I think that we get bogged down in not even feeling like we want to be happy, because our loved one cant share it, or because our loved one is having a bad day, a bad week etc.  We (I) punish myself by not giving myself what i need...knowing my loved one is missing out too in some way.

Its very complicated...this caregiving business.  If you are working a job well its a bit easier to walk away knowing your shoes are filled.  But you still think of your clients or residents.  But when its a family member, a loved one, well, you never walk away from it...never.  Even in care - our loved ones remain close to our heart.

But tonight I am going to do what you suggested....be more selfish and put myself first once in a while.
Have a good week,  Cath1 :)
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Reply by charliebrown63
29 Mar 2012, 1:17 AM

Hey there Nat - well I completely agree with you that you have to take time for you - whether I am at work or whether I am here taking care of my father who at the end of life stage of liver, colon and kidney cancer - I work in long term care and have taken time off to be with him during this process.  As rewarding and glad that I am here, it is the most difficult thing that I have ever have to do - first of all we have history - long story, but short version - parents when I separated when I was young - did not spend a lot of time with him growing up - he was up until about two years ago and for the most of my life, was an alcoholic - and he at one point told me that he would have to get DNA tests to prove that I was not his daughter, simply because I left my husband - of course he was drinking when he told me this, so I took it from where it came from - it hurt, but then he fell in the tub, had a subdural hematoma, had his life turned upside down with the accident - he came lived with me for 10 months, got an apartment of his own, lived here for a little over a year and now this - so despite our past, I am here - and I would not change it for the world - but like I said, I work in long term care  - I see and listen to changes in my residents whether they are palliative or not and report those changes to my head nurse - she deals with it - she assesses the situation - administers medication if necessary and makes takes control of the situation -  I go home after an eight hour shift - not that I stop thinking about my resident, but I just go in and follow the care plan and do my shift - this time around - it is my baby and my baby alone - I have a sister in saskatchewan - she calls when she feels like it - and that is it - dad has no one else - I have given up my home with my signifigant other and have been here since February 5th with no time to go home to hug my cats - I live 1 1/2 hours away -  anyhow it is what it is - and like I said, he is in final stages of this journey - sleeping most of the time - confused - up at ungodly hours of the morning, confused because of the disease and the medication and the brain injury - anyhow, I am really worried what is going to happen to me after this is all said and done - I have done this before with other family members - and I am really worried about me this time - I need to put me back together - I was struggling with who I was before this happened, and now I am terrified - anyhow, any suggestions would be greatly apprecited - I have come to really depend on this site and to see the suggestoins and stories here are my inspiration.  
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Reply by NatR
29 Mar 2012, 6:08 PM

Dear charliebrown63
Now that was a letter you wrote...a lot for you to deal with, and what a wonderful caring person you are despite the heartaches, the hurts and the mixed feelings...to be doing what you are doing.  Not many could do it.
Being a caregiver yourself - and taking on the full time care with your dad - is quite a feat...and to leave your own home, your partner, your pets, your comfort..for someone else - someone who put you through so much mental anguish...well, I have great respect for you.

I am sorry that I didn't reply to you immediately - I wish I had...I want you to know that your message is important to me, to others who read it, and that through stories we share we encourage others. 

 I certainly understand that when you are at work, you certainly care and report changes in your clients, residents, and care for them with a portion of your heart...but yes, you go home and hand them off to others...and trust that all will be well when you return...and you have a home life and some balance.


Like you..I get what it is like to get totally involved with a family setting...as personally I retired and moved to help care for a family member....its not at the end stages like your dad...but it is quite a complex situation for me...for my grandchild, and for the other members of my family.....just to have me move in and help...doesnt mean it was an easy adjustment for us all....I believe I am not the easiest person to live with...(smile)...but I mean well:) - and things have a way of settling into a new normal.

  I hear your concern about where you are in all of this...what you will be when you are finished and your dad no longer is there to need you.  I hear your loss of focus, purpose, direction, who are you now?  Am I right?


I feel that way right now.  Different circumstances...but definitely...where do I go from here, what should I be doing? did I do the right thing?  Did i make a mistake? did I let go of things I should have stayed with?  Am I going to be okay when my presence is no longer required?  What is my value?  Does it sound like you?   These are the things I think about.

If I am going in the right direction and  you are identifying with all I have said, let me know.  If I am wrong..then lets keep the dialogue going.

I have a feeling...that you are travelling the path that is totally meant for you...and will add to the journey of your life.  I am feeling that way about me..I just cant see the fork in the road yet. 

In the meantime - I believe that you have connected with this website...and that I have too...in order to have this talk, to allow others to see that it is possible to give yourself up to something and come out the other side a better person.

For me...for you...we have felt driven, passionate about the situation we find ourselves in.  It is like trying to avoid destiny...it just cant be done.  I am more of a spiritual type of person...not following any religious viewpoint, but I think we all have a soul, something that makes us unique...and for all the faults your dad had, and the things he put you through...he is your family - and you are doing what you see as your  

So who is your support? your significant other?  I know your sister is removed from you..by distance etc...but do you have other friends, family to talk too?  I have a couple that I call when I am crying, or happy, or confused...and they let me pour it out.

This is that forum too...just to pour it out and to know that you are not alone.

I would be happy to keep the conversation going but I want you to know this is not the end of you;) this is part of who you are and you are going to continue to make a difference for others.  I dont know how or where...but your opportunity is going to come up.  Believe it, expect it, and keep sharing your feelings.  

 I hear your concern about where you are in all of this...what you will be when you are finished and your dad no longer is there to need you.  I hear your loss of focus, purpose, direction, who are you now?  Am I right?

I feel that way right now.  Different circumstances...but definitely...where do I go from here, what should I be doing? did I do the right thing?  Did i make a mistake? did I let go of things I should have stayed with?  Am I going to be okay when my presence is no longer required?  What is my value?  Does it sound like you?   These are the things I think about.

If I am going in the right direction and  you are identifying with all I have said, let me know.  If I am wrong..then lets keep the dialogue going.

I have a feeling...that you are travelling the path that is totally meant for you...and will add to the journey of your life.  I am feeling that way about me..I just cant see the fork in the road yet. 
 
In the meantime - I believe that you have connected with this website...and that I have too...in order to have this talk, to allow others to see that it is possible to give yourself up to something and come out the other side a better person.

For me...for you...we have felt driven, passionate about the situation we find ourselves in.  It is like trying to avoid destiny...it just cant be done.  I am more of a spiritual type of person...not following any religious viewpoint, but I think we all have a soul, something that makes us unique...and for all the faults your dad had, and the things he put you through...he is your family - and you are doing what you see as your  

So who is your support? your significant other?  I know your sister is removed from you..by distance etc...but do you have other friends, family to talk too?  I have a couple that I call when I am crying, or happy, or confused...and they let me pour it out.

This is that forum too...just to pour it out and to know that you are not alone.

I would be happy to keep the conversation going but I want you to know this is not the end of you;) this is part of who you are and you are going to continue to make a difference for others.  I dont know how or where...but your opportunity is going to come up.  Believe it, expect it, and keep sharing your feelings.  



Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful."--Joshua J. Marine 

I saw this quote today and thought it kind of fits for us all.
Know that you are doing what is meant to be and it does make a difference. and that tomorrow the sun comes up with new opportunities and fresh starts!
Sending best wishes..
Natrice 
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Reply by Cath1
29 Mar 2012, 8:10 PM

Hi Nat:

I just want to say in the few minutes I have left at work before I fly out the door and down the highway:) you are such a precious part of the VH community and I always look forward to reading your posts. They are like getting a hug from a close friend, the kind that is given with such warmth and empathy that it wraps us in a soft blanket of safety, security and comfort. Thank you Nat for sharing your depth of experience and your innate kindness and understanding with us all. You simply have a way with words that translates the goodness of your heart!

Gotta run, but I'll be back . . .:)

Cath1
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Reply by NatR
29 Mar 2012, 10:00 PM

Dear  Cath1 

I so appreciate your very kind words today! If you only knew how I feel right now- your words have helped me so much!

I appreciate the chance to give what I can and in return I need your point of view!

Today I felt low in energy and frankly felt I had not written the right thing at all. Your words made me feel better and I only hope they land with the same effect on charliebrown63 :) and anyone else who is struggling with being overwhelmed.
Best wishes, Nat
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