One day, while my children were in art class, I received a call that my Mom had fallen. She has an alert system that calls three numbers when she falls and unable to get up. I pulled my two children out of art class. We drove as fast as the speed limit allowed to my Mom’s house. My mind was racing with questions. Did she break something? Is she okay? Should I call an ambulance? Will I be able to get her up? My heart was pounding. My husband, who was at work, was on standby in case I needed help.
When we arrived at my Mom’s house we were frantic. We raced in the door. Mom was on the floor unhurt. She said, “Well nothing is hurt except my pride.” This is her coined phrase each time she falls. Amazingly, the kids and I got her up. Made lunch for her and got to visit with her for the day. When I got home that evening I was rattled. I told my husband that each time my phone rings I feel panicked. Every day I worry about my Mom and her deteriorating health. Especially, as her Parkinson’s advances.
My Life as A Care-Giver
Some days, when I’m cooking, I receive calls from my stepdad to come help pick my mom up because she has fallen. I turn off the stove and rush out the door. Sometime ago, my stepdad went on vacation, thankfully, my husband and his boss had to leave their work to go help my mom when she fell. I constantly feel like I am on standby that I could be needed at any minute. Most of the time I feel blessed to have this time with my Mom. This time is a precious, valuable gift. However, there are times I get worn out and depressed. On these days, I remind myself of the importance of self-care.
When I plan my schedule for the week I take into consideration my Mom’s physical, occupational, and speech therapy appointments. Similarly, I mark the days that I need to help her with hygiene and take her shopping. When I am putting all of these events on the calendar I make sure to make time for walks, photography, and plenty of time for the kids to play at the park. As a caregiver, I know that I am at risk for sleep deprivation, depression, poor eating habits, failure to exercise, exhaustion, and failure to take care of myself.
How I Coped as A Care-Giver
In the beginning, I would forget to attend to my own physical and mental health. I would feel guilty if I wasn’t there to care for my Mom. Feelings of anxiety would wash over me like continuous waves. If I wasn’t there then who would be there? After this went on for a few months, I realized the effect that a low-quality of self-care has on a family. My husband and I were worn out, short-tempered, and stressed. My two children were constantly arguing with each other. Days at the park, picnics, and museum trips were a thing of the past.
One day my son said, “We don’t get to have any fun anymore.” We all love my Mom so much, but in neglecting our own self-care, we were affecting our ability at being caregivers. It is important for a caregiver to also care for themselves. This helps to renew our energy and our spirit. After caring for my Mom, we take time to go to the park. I walk in the sunshine and the kids get to run around the playground. Together we smile, we laugh, and we enjoy each other’s company. It is important to make time for the activities we love!
How to Be a Better Care-Giver
Taking time for yourself enables you to be a better caregiver. On our first vacation, I felt guilty. I knew that my Mom was sitting at her house and couldn’t go out. My heart felt torn between what my family wanted to do and what I needed to do for my Mom. I learned that I cannot let guilt fuel me. I reminded myself how often I care for my Mom. Even today, I have to say to myself, “It is okay to do something for you.” We all need care, especially caregivers. Our job is an emotional rollercoaster. We experience acute physical and emotional stress.
So, I learned to stop and take time for myself. Each person needs to recharge their battery. My passion is hiking, photography, and upcycle crafts. So, on my down time, I have learned to make time for me. I have learned stress-reduction techniques. A few of these techniques are aromatherapy, yoga, meditation, and prayer. In addition, I make sure that I eat healthily and get enough sleep. At least four times a week I exercise, even if it is just for a walk. If it is rainy out I curl up with a good book or take a warm bath with lavender scented Epsom salts.
When I am feeling overwhelmed I ask for help. It is imperative to have a circle of support. Remember that none of us can do this alone. When I feel stressed out, I stop to talk to my husband or a friend. It is crucial to have someone who can help, listen, support, and encourage you. Remember that you are not alone. Also, know that it is okay to ask for help. Caregivers are superheroes, but even superheroes need help sometimes. Also, I have found great comfort in talking with other caregivers. There is a deep sense of understanding. Join the care-giving forum and learn from experienced care-givers how you can cope with caring for your friends and family.
I have learned that as a caregiver I need to acknowledge my feelings. Caregivers experience a seesaw of emotions. I feel so much love for my Mom, but at times I am so angry with her disease. On days when I feel angry, sad, overwhelmed, or depressed I admit my feelings. I let myself feel and work through them. This is a vital part of self-care. If I allowed my emotions to become out of control, not only would I be a wreck, but so would my life. If I cannot care for myself, how can I care for anyone else? It is okay to feel our feelings.
Do not let guilt consume you. I had to learn to let feelings of guilt go. You are not being selfish when you take time to focus on your own personal needs. Each of us is responsible for our personal self-care. Take time to care for yourself. You are important! Dana Reeve said, “It is so important as a caregiver not to become so enmeshed in the role that you lose yourself. It’s neither good for you or your loved one.” I remind myself that if I do not take care of myself, then I cannot successfully take care of anyone else.
Today, I took a walk, felt the sunshine on my face, and played with my kids. Tomorrow, I will show my Mom the pictures of the kids riding their scooters. She will see their bright, beautiful smiles and she will smile too. She will listen to our adventure stories and we will see the excitement on her face. All of us will feel renewed and rejuvenated. It took me a long time, but now I understand the importance of self-care. It has made me a happier, more giving, understanding, and patient caregiver. So, don’t forget to take time for yourself today!