You are more than a caregiver! Unfortunately, I had almost forgotten that motto. I haven’t written much in the past month. My house was accumulating dust. The garden sat untended. I was so overwhelmed with #caregiving responsibilities that I found myself neglecting important matters.
Last year, when I moved my mom back into my house I wasn’t sure what to expect. Doctors had been discussing hospice and I was really afraid she would die among strangers. Bringing her home again felt like the right choice. I could not foresee how much my own life would change. I wanted last summer to be special. I wanted Mom to enjoy the sounds of birdsong on the porch and feel nourished by good home cooking. I didn’t plan further than that.
After we moved her, Mom got stronger for a while. Then she got weaker. I went from being able to manage her hygiene alone to needing another support person. Now we rely on a rotating group of helpers who pop in when I have to take her to the bathroom, or make sure I can get out to go to the bank. My household is like a carousel that keeps spinning. But in the process of managing everything for my mother, I’ve been quietly losing bits of myself.
How #Caregivers Lose Ground
In recent months I stopped finding time to do things that matter:
- I wasn’t taking my walks. I used to go out almost every day for at least 20 minutes. The weather’s been nice, so there’s no excuse. I just let daily walks slip out of my routine.
- My personal writing projects were shoved to the back burner. Pieces I’d been working on for months started to seem unimportant. Somehow they never got finished.
- Mom now needs two people to lift her instead of one, so I can’t leave the house for more than two hours unless there are two aides on duty. My response: I stayed home more and lost time spent with friends and my sweetheart Mike.
I could blame my mom, but I let this happen without noticing the subtle ways things had changed. I’m getting a grip on the wheel again and I can see how even a modest lack of discipline can result in losing track of yourself. Somewhere along the way I stopped fighting the rising tide of responsibility.
Now I see that #caregivers must fight that tide to keep our lives from getting swept away in it. I have to schedule my walks on the calendar if I’m going to take them. In terms of family health, my walks are as important as my mother’s doctor’s appointments. I have to fight the temptation to do so much for others when the itch to write gets strong. Those unwritten pages haunt my dreams. Time with friends is essential, too. I need to take the initiative to make sure I get those social breaks.
Being a #caregiver is hard. We’re forced to make many sacrifices. Our silver lining is a rare, prolonged glimpse into the heart of human experience. If we pay attention, we can learn patience and humility — essential qualities in this crazy world! But we walk a tightrope every day. Without balance, we fail ourselves.
“Caregiver, Heal Thyself!”…. it’s at twist on the biblical adage and my motto for 2016. We are the first line of defense for our loved ones. But too often we get injured or run down and fail to care for our health.
Warm winter = thin ice
In 2015, I suffered a dislocated shoulder, chronic lower back strain, and plenty of wrist pain. Early in the year I got a mysterious skin infection which went away after I was treated with anti-biotics. My doctor suspected that I contracted MRSA from my mom. He didn’t reveal his theory until it healed because he knew I would panic. After the infection disappeared, he explained that many older people who have spent time in a hospital, residential care, a rehabilitation center, or a nursing home will carry the MRSA bacteria. They can bring it home and transmit it through skin-to-skin contact. My little scar still reminds me of this extremely painful episode.
If we stay aware of our health problems, we can do more about them. For years I’ve used yoga as a tool for healing muscular pain as soon as I notice it. I have a subscription to an online service called YogaGlo. I’m not sure this would work for #caregivers who have never taken a #yoga class. However, if you have a yoga studio nearby, you can get some basic instruction first. Yoga is a tremendous aid for maintaining your health. YogaGlo costs $18 a month and can use the service from a computer, iPad, or smart phone — or all three. If you get your TV reception through a ROKU box like I do, you can also watch it on your TV. Cable subscriptions and satellites are too expensive. Since we rarely have time to watch TV, we like ROKU much better.
Online exercise channels are great for caregivers, especially if your loved one needs 24 hour care like my mom does. When you’re feeling worn down, you can choose a session to start healing a specific body part without ever leaving the house. My online yoga classes are as short as 5 minutes — or as long as two hours. I try to do a 20 minute class before I lift my mom out of bed in the morning. It makes me much more limber and it warms up my shoulder before I stress it again.
I don’t know why we get so careless with our health. Most of us know the terrible statistics about caregiver illnesses. These items, quoted from Caregiver.org should scare you a little:
- Caregivers suffer from increased rates of physical ailments (including acid reflux, headaches, and pain/aching), increased tendency to develop serious illness, and have high levels of obesity and bodily pain.
- Studies demonstrate that caregivers have diminished immune response, which leads to frequent infection and increased risk of cancers.
- Caregivers exhibit exaggerated cardiovascular responses to stressful conditions which put them at greater risk than non-caregivers for the development of cardiovascular syndromes such as high blood pressure or heart disease.
I can’t bear to mention any more. We know this job is hard and we know it hurts. But we must remind ourselves that we also have choices about how we treat our bodies. Make 2016 the year when you make #caregiver health a priority.