Put Yourself First
Put Yourself First
Too often caregivers can feel invisible--overlooked and alone on their journeys. The pandemic has certainly amplified those feelings and realities for us, but there are ways we can care for ourselves and make others aware of how they can help us. You need to be cared for, too.
Here are some ways you can put yourself first and elicit help from others.
1. Allow others in.
First and foremost, bring others into your caregiving experience. This does not have to be in a "physical" sense, especially with Covid-19 still looming in our lives. There has never been more available to us virtually. Connect with others who get what you are going through and will allow you to express how you're feeling. You can find others through local organizations and across the world. If you are struggling finding a group, enlist the help of a family member or friend to help you search. Those on the outside looking in often want to help but don't know how. This is something they can help you with, so delegate.
2. Acknowledge your feelings.
The more you keep your feelings bottled up, the more anger, resentment, and depression you may feel. It will find a way to come out if you don't allow yourself to experience your feeling. It can start to affect you physiologically. You can only take so much. I personally find that after I've let my feelings out by have a cleansing cry or perhaps, even, going outside and having a get-it-off-your-chest scream, that release of tension and emotions can be a refreshing exercise that enables your heart to open up to experiences and people who can help you and bring you fulfillment.
3. Talk to a professional.
I believe that every caregiver deserves the chance to express their innermost thoughts and feelings to a professional. I couldn't get through my caregiver journey without having a social worker help me through it. Keep in mind though that we don't always jive with the first one we meet. If at first you don't succeed, try another. Find a counselor, therapist, or social worker who understand the unique struggles caregivers face, has your back, validates what you are going through, and helps you sort through your feelings. If you are open to it, ask around for word-of-mouth referrals.
4. Don't do it alone.
It can feel overwhelming at first to ask people for help, but it's important to get as much help as you can so you can manage stress and be a healthier caregiver for your loved one. You do not have to do this on your own. The more you can delegate both the physical and administrative sides of care, the more time you free up for yourself to make fun and meaningful moments with your friends, family, and the one you care for.
5. Work with a caregiver coach.
Navigating complex systems can be intimidating and confusing. Enlist the help of professionals like caregiver coaches and consultants, patient advocates, and navigators. They have typically walked the same roads you have. Not only can they be a source of moral support for you, they also know the systems well and can guide you to the information you need it in a lot less time than it takes figuring it out on your own.
6. Carve out "me" time.
I know that you drop everything to care for your loved one, and you show up when no one else will. Because of that, it can be hard to find time for yourself. Intentionally carving out time for yourself in your day-to-day life will help you maintain the physical and mental strength you need to keep going in your journey of caregiving. I want you to connect with whatever brings you joy, even if it's just for 15 minutes a day. Don't have 15 minutes? Start with five minutes for one week, then try to build up to six minutes the next week and so on. Also consider what brings you joy. Is it: Taking a walk in nature; taking time to sit by yourself while enjoying a beverage of your choice; reading, playing music, doing a puzzle, or painting? Whatever it is that brings you joy and allows you to disconnect both physically and mentally from your care duties will help your heart, your soul, and your mind!
I see that you are always giving some much of yourself. You never give in or give up. You are diligent and relentless in your research and your advocacy. You have the wisdom to keep all of your loved one's history filed either on paper or in your head and also the judgement to know what is deserving of your energy and what is not. Because of your creativity and your insight, you are able to solve problems that some health professionals have not been able to. Outside of your loved one, YOU are the next most valuable member of your loved one's health care team! But remember: You are human. You are just one person, so please be gentle with yourself always and don't forget to be proud of yourself. You are enough. We are thankful for you and proud of you, too!
This website offers links for resources to support you as a caregiver. They also have information on taking care for yourself. Take a look and adopt whatever resonates with you. I also encourage you to share what you learn with family members who want to understand what you're going through and how to help--or anyone in your life that wants to support you.
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