The writer Anne Lamott once said, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” But sometimes unplugging is easier said than done, especially for military spouses who bear so much responsibility on their shoulders. Unplugging may feel aspirational, like something you might be able to do in another couple of years when your kids are older, or your spouse is retired. It may feel even less realistic for those who are taking care of family or friends who need a little extra help – whether it’s a spouse with a service-related injury, aging parents or grandparents, or children with special needs.
Yet caregivers might benefit the most from “unplugging” and taking better care of themselves. Have you noticed that at the beginning of every airplane flight, the flight attendant announces that in case of an emergency, you should put on your own oxygen mask before assisting anyone else? There is a reason for this advice: you need to take care of yourself, or you are not going to be good for anyone else.
That’s why the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers (RCI) created programs that have helped tens of thousands of caregivers over the years. Founded by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter in 1987, RCI has provided coaching and support to caregivers of all kinds. In 2012, RCI launched Operation Family Caregiver, its first military program to support the friends and families of those injured as a result of military service. Specially trained coaches deliver a virtual, one-on-one, personalized program to help military families find their way back to strong.
Last year, RCI took lessons learned and launched Operation Caregiver Support, a virtual peer support group aimed specifically at those providing care to post-9/11 service members and veterans. Both programs help caregivers develop new skills that make the difficult decisions they face feel more manageable and achievable, leading to improvements in their own lives.
Taking care of a loved one or friend who is injured may be the most challenging work you ever do. It requires endless patience, physical and emotional strength, skillful negotiation, and a sense of humor that can be hard to come by after sleepless nights and demanding days. Being a caregiver can be lonely and thankless, and there are times you just want to crawl into bed and hide out until tomorrow. Everyone who takes care of someone else has experienced this type of mental and physical exhaustion, regardless of how strong they are, how much help they have, or how long they have been doing it.
That understanding is what prompted the founding of RCI nearly 35 years ago by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who has taken care of family members throughout her life and knows how challenging it can be.
Today, RCI is focused on supporting the more than 53 million Americans who are family caregivers. That support takes many shapes, from implementing programs that provide direct support to caregivers to advocating on their behalf with policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels; and partnering with like-minded organizations such as Blue Star Families, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, and Sesame Workshop to ensure we are collaborating and using resources most effectively.
RCI’s programs are designed to promote the health, strength, and resilience of all caregivers, wherever they are in their journey. Signing up for Operation Family Caregiver takes only a few minutes, and a coach will be in touch within two business days to get started. Whether you prefer an individual coach or a group setting, RCI has a program for you.
“I don’t ask for anything; I don’t complain to anybody; I don’t tell anybody my problems; I don’t want people to know my struggles,” said Breanna, who went through Operation Family Caregiver after finding herself thrown into the role of caregiver. “And then I met [my coach] and she really helped me realize that even though I was saying I did enough for myself, I really did nothing for myself.”