Self-Care for the Caregiver

When Wes was first diagnosed with brain cancer, I promptly gained 40 pounds.  I did.  It took me about five minutes to do that. 

Since then, I've been on a journey to learn self care skills and healthy coping mechanisms.  I'm not an expert by any long shot, but I have gotten to a better place.  I have an arsenal of self-care tools that I'm using to deal with the stress of life with a partner with terminal cancer...

(These are in somewhat random order and are just what I am personally doing...others will have other ideas/experiences).

1. Prayer.  More prayer.  Sometimes when I get very very depressed I have been known to lay in bed, take a nap and listen to a recording of the Psalms.  Morning and evening prayers, goes without saying... getting to Church as often as I have the energy, surrounding myself with others who are praying and who are praying for us has been so uplifting.

2. A crochet project.  When I first got diagnosed, I started to make an afghan, and I'm still working on it.  I don't crochet every day, but in my mind, this project is the thing that I started because he is sick, and it's for me to feel better.  I like the colors.

3. Listening to music that helps me to cry.  I have some songs that I call my "crying songs" and they really help when the tears get clogged up and won't come out.  Sometimes a caregiver NEEDS to cry. 

4. 12 step program.  I joined OA. I quit drinking any alcohol, too. Those 40 pounds I gained are gone, and some extra besides...with more coming off.  Trying to be as absolutely healthy as I can is a form of self care.  Because of the stress I am under, my body does not have the resiliency to deal with crap non-foods like sugar or junk or wine.  No more toxins.  Avoiding these stressors that I CAN CONTROL gives me resiliency to deal with the stressors I cannot control. 

5. Excercise.  I've just re-started an exercise program beyond just going for gentle walks.  I find the endorphins absolutely fantastic. I've had times when I got to a pool to swim, and times I have not.  Now I'm taking up jogging again.  Life is always better when I am working out enough to really sweat and breathe hard, because: Endorphins.

6. Going to the doctor or dentist or eye doctor.  Last February when my back went out AGAIN, I started seeing a chiropractor....and that's when things really started to turn around for me.  I was in so much pain before, and I just accepted it.  I could not walk more than five minutes without my hip hurting.  Turns out it wasn't fibro pain, it was because I needed chiropractic care.  I have noticed that when Wes is having something big going on with his health (big=scary) my back tends to flare up, because I carry my stress there.  Since I am the only driver in the family now, I CANNOT let my back go to pot again.  Same with staying on top of my other meds and health conditions:  I don't have the luxury of neglecting myself...I am needed and I need to be as well as I can be.

7. Stuff I just plain enjoy and don't need to apologize for, like reading fun books or watching a fun movie, or stupid comedy skits on is OK to zone out sometimes.  A caregiver needs that. 

Caregivers don't have the luxury of ignoring their own physical, mental, emotional or spiritual needs.  We have to actively do things to make ourselves fitter, stronger, healthier and more able...even when we have our own health challenges to deal with.  It is no more selfish to care for oneself when one is a caregiver, than it is for a soldier to do PT exercises in order to be fit and strong.  Self-care must be an intrinsic part of the role of caregiver.  


monica said…
This is so good and so important for others to hear. THat analogy about the oxygen mask is really true.
Carol Campbell said…
You are certainly very wise and I am sure that your precious family sees what a gem they have in you!
elizabeth said…
so inspiring, of course hard as it is because of such difficulty. thank you for posting this.

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