Whether we know it or not, we all take on a role as a caregiver at some point in our lifetime. For some that is in the traditional sense of caring for someone with a form of disability. For others it may mean being a parent or a spouse of a deployed service member. One thing that so many of us tend to do as we carry on our caregiving roles and responsibilities is forget about ourselves.
But surviving – scratch that – thriving in caregiving means that we must forget about the social expectations of what a caregiver looks like and start by first being our own caregivers.
In my life I am the caregiver of my disabled, veteran husband and my kids. I can easily get lost in their care and easily forget about my own self care. If I am being honest, when I do not take care of myself, I become a cranky, short tempered person that no one (and I mean NO ONE) wants to be around – so I have to take care of me because I don’t have the luxury of deserting myself on a tropical island.
For everyone self care may look different. I take the following self care steps:
1. Talk therapy
There ain’t no shame in my game. I need that person that isn’t a part of my daily life that I can word vomit to. I can tell my therapist anything, and feel no judgement; she talks me out of my crazy. It took me a long time to find a therapist that I connected with but now she’s on my squad, or as I joke with her she is my paid best friend. I see my therapist about once a month, but when am really struggling she’ll pencil me in. You may find that you need to speak with someone more or less frequently than I do, and that’s perfectly ok – as long as you talk to someone.
2. Time with friends
Joy and happiness really strengthen my resolve to keep on marching through some of my most difficult and taxing tasks. I regularly schedule time with my girl friends. Sometimes it’s visiting each other’s houses, or it could mean a girls’ night out. But getting my mind off all that I am responsible for, even if just for a little while, helps me be a better me.
3. Be more than “Just a Caregiver.”
When I first took on the role of being my husband’s caregiver, I started to feel less and less like his wife and more like his paid help. It was hard to determine where my spousal role started and ended. The single best cure we found was to start dating each other again. We had to see each other outside of those lights, and remember why we ever liked each other to begin with.
My kids are no exception, I can’t always only be the enforcer. While always their mom, once in a while I put on my fun and irresponsible hat to do things with them they wouldn’t expect. Like running through sprinklers in the middle of the mall parking lot.
If you found yourself as an unexpected caregiver like I did (caring for someone after a drastic change) allow yourself time to grieve of what once was. Grieve the future plans you had made. But don’t forget to rejoice. Find the good and rejoice in it; I am certain there is joy somewhere. Sometimes we just have to look a little harder for the joy. How hard do we look to see something when we want to see it? Change your perspective – choose to see the joy.
What works for me may not work for you, but I promise if you try, you will find things that that will help you to realize that you are more, so much more than the one that cares for all.
You are more than a caregiver; you are uniquely you.
You deserve to value yourself as more too – never forget that.