Meet Caregiving.com Contributor Nicole Dauz
Meet Caregiving.com Contributor Nicole Dauz
As part of our caregiver spotlight series, Caregiving.com spoke with parent caregiver and self-care expert Nicole Dauz about what she’s learned caring for her daughter. She also shares some self-care strategies and offers suggestions for helping and celebrating caregivers.
Please tell us a little bit about your daughter, Summer.
Summer turns 12-years-old in November and has autism and the rare genetic disease SYNGAP1. She loves to learn, is very active, prefers one-on-one engagement, and has amazing energy.
I’ve seen a huge jump in her progress over the last two years which has been so rewarding as she uses three to four word sentences, improves her pronunciation of words, and increases her vocabulary. She understands so much more than she is able to say, so it’s my job to figure out which questions to ask in order for her to communicate her needs with the words that she does know. She is independent and very proud when she accomplishes a task on her own.
She has an older brother whom she adores. She always models what he does.
What does a “day in the life” look like for you?
I get up at 5:30 a.m. and have one hour dedicated to my self-care: 30 minutes of yoga, a 15-minute meditation, journaling, and mirror work.
Summer gets up around 6:30 a.m. and then it's breakfast and getting ready for school. When the morning is going well, I fit in 20-30 minutes of reading (while she’s watching Paw Patrol) before her van picks her up for school at 8:00 a.m.
I don’t turn my phone on until 7:30 a.m.
I work from 8:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m. During the fall and winter, I try to get out for a walk at noon to get outside while the sun is out and to break up the day of sitting at my computer.
Summer is dropped off from school around 2:45 p.m., and then we go for a walk. Then she gets her iPad so that I can finish working.
Dinner prep starts at 5:00 p.m. and we’re usually eating and done by 6:00 p.m.
After dinner, I play with Summer and then I go to my office and catch up on emails, write, strategize, etc.
I end my day with pilates and yin yoga and try to get to bed by 10:30 p.m.
You’ve been a caregiver for 11 years. What have you learned about yourself through your experience?
Becoming a caregiver has totally transformed me for the better as it has helped me discover my own voice and highlighted what is really important in life. It has made me realize how strong and resilient I am and has given me the courage to put myself first once I realized that it was going to be a life-long journey of caring for my daughter. I’ve learned to celebrate all progress. I’ve learned that people are judgmental. Most importantly, I’ve learned that I am the only person responsible for my happiness and the only person responsible for my well being. Because of that, my happiness and well being are my top priority as they are the best gift that I can give my kids.
If you could wave a magic wand, what kind of information and support would materialize for adults caring for children with disabilities or chronic illness?
If I had a magic wand, I would want governments to understand that investing in programs and services for children with disabilities, autism, and chronic illnesses when they are younger pays off down the line. The more progress that can be made when children are younger, ideally, the fewer supports would be required when these children become adults and require government assistance.
The other part of that would be to set up free childcare and respite programs for the parents so that they could have more time to spend with their other kids and have some down time.
What are some self-care tools and strategies you’d like to share with caregivers who are feeling stressed and overwhelmed?
I have three go-to self-care tips that are accessible anywhere and at any time. What’s best is that they cost no money at all.
- Breathing: Take a moment to thinak about your breathing and become aware of how you are breathing. Take one long breath in for a count of 4 seconds, hold the breath for 4 seconds, and then release for a count of 4 seconds. Do this five times. It will automatically slow your breathing and relax your body.
- Meditating: Start your day with a 15-minute guided meditation to still your mind (or at least help reduce the chatter).
- Hugging: Hug your partner, your child, or a friend for five seconds or more and try to hug more often throughout the day. Hugging helps lower our stress levels, our heart rates, and our blood pressure.
How can we celebrate caregivers during National Family Caregivers Month and all year round?
I believe that, as caregivers, we need to start celebrating our journey and that in turn will help society-at-large learn how to better recognize and value the role that we play.
For National Family Caregivers Month in 2020, I believe that we need to recognize the profound impact the pandemic has had on the mental health of caregivers given the school closures, the requirement to work from home, lockdown and the no visitor rules in some nursing and group homes.
As challenging as this year has been, I have become a better caregiver for my daughter. There have been some wins.
After National Family Caregivers Month ends, people can be more mindful of all of the people they know who are taking care of a loved one. Random acts of kindness go a long way in lifting the spirits of a caregiver. A care package, a homemade meal, an offer of respite (even for only a few hours) helps make us feel less invisible.
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