From the Pages of Caregiver’s Journal - Self-Care
One would think a caregiver knows how to give and provide care but self-care is not always a strength of a caregiver. They care to the point that they often forget themselves. I recall my first lesson on self-care while caring for my grandfather. Ota had had an operation, he was connected to machines and tubes such as a feeding tube inserted through his nose and an IV. His blood pressure, pulse, and oxygen were all being monitored while he was at the hospital. He had no appetite and when he did, he couldn’t eat. When he was awake, I would talk to him and stroke his hands or legs, when he slept I would help or converse quietly with other patients in the ward, adjusting beds or passing items as required. I didn’t mind, I was there, and if I could help I would, especially as it often gave me something to do if Ota was sleeping. But, Ota woke up to the smell of food being delivered at lunchtime, though he had no appetite and was not hungry he asked what I had brought. When I admitted I had not brought anything, and did not wish to eat anything, as he couldn’t, he became upset with me.
Ota asked how I intended to keep going and providing care for him, my dog, and myself if I did not eat. He acknowledged he was not able to eat, but was getting everything he needed through the tubes. He also knew me well enough to know I felt bad for eating in front of him when he could not. He told me to go and get something to eat and I was to bring it up to his bed so he could watch me eat. He also knew I wasn’t sleeping properly as I was constantly working, with him or taking care of my responsibilities such as my dog. So while he watched me eat, he asked how I would continue to care for him if I was not healthy. How could I manage everything on my plate if I did not follow the basics of eating and sleeping? If I was not maintaining my health, I would get sick, and then I wouldn’t be able to care for him any longer. Who would be his caregiver if I wasn’t able to do it?
“Make happiness and personal growth a priority in your life. The more you take care of yourself, the more you can take care of others.” Sometimes you have to make choices; your personal needs versus being a caregiver. I had to learn the hard way. Ota’s comments were a lesson for me. I was starting to burn out. I was stressed constantly because of how busy I was. It’s the same scenario on an airplane, parents and adults are told to put on their oxygen mask on first before placing it on a child or another person; you need oxygen to help others, and without your oxygen mask on you can pass out and then what happens to those who depend on you to take care of them?
There are four types of Self-Care:
Physical: Give your body rest, movement, and nourishment.
Mental: Feed your mind with expanding knowledge, learn a new skill, and practice mindfulness.
Emotional: Understand and express your emotions fully in the present moment. Create healthy boundaries.
Spiritual: Connect with your higher self, breathe, be present, and raise your energetic vibrations.
I was doing some self-care such as walking my dog. Walking my dog helped me physically and emotionally because spending time with my dog reduced the stress and anxiety that I was feeling. Animals are sources of unconditional love and acceptance. You can talk to them, and no matter what, they do not judge you. It is said animals also reduce stress and lower blood pressure. I learned to speak my feelings and admit when something was too much. I learned how to say no; I had to learn how to set boundaries. I learned that just as Rome was not built in one day, I did not have to do everything in one day. I learned my house was not going to collapse if I did not vacuum every other day. Sometimes dark humour was needed. Like the time Oma’s geriatric specialist told her in a very calm, monotone voice that based on her forgetfulness, and other symptoms, it was most likely that she had Alzheimer’s. I leaned over and asked her if she was understanding what the doctor was saying. When she said “no”, I explained, “He is saying you’re losing your marbles!” to which she asked:” Oh no! Is that bad?” We both laughed, as it was better than crying although the poor doctor looked at us if we were crazy! Ota had a dry wit, and when I would ask him how he slept, he’d say: “With my eyes closed!”
Sometimes I had to ask for help. When I needed a dog sitter, I asked my friend, who went a step above and would dust or vacuum if I didn’t. I stopped playing hostess when visitors came, instead I took a break. I would go for a nap or would go for a walk, read a book, or meditate. If I was at my grandparents’ place, I would take Dino for a walk in the forest and regenerate, recharge and destress. I made time and vented and chatted with friends. I learned it was not a sign of weakness or incapability to have other family members spend the night with my grandfather. I started getting away, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Being honest with people and expressing my emotions of being overwhelmed at times helped me come to terms with the end of Ota’s life. I noticed that the little things I started doing as self-care were keeping me in the moment. The changes I made were affecting my energy and outlook. I was not worrying about the future. Looking ahead robbed me of the present, plus most things I worried about never came to pass, and if they did, it was not in the manner I had worried and thought I was prepared for. I could not change what was happening with Ota, but I could learn to accept it and deal with the situation better.
While being Ota’s caregiver I had my own house and had nights in my bed. There was space and a reprieve even if it was for only a few hours from caregiving duties. With Oma, she lived with me for a time. Being a caregiver is different when the person is living with you. You don’t get breaks or nights away. Being Oma’s caregiver, I had to learn to incorporate new skills and learn new ways of self-care. I had my nightly walks with my dog, I enrolled Oma in day programs and or half-day programs at two different old age homes. I learned to take mini breaks while I had her soaking in the bathtub. I would take the time to have my coffee alone. I would read and snuggle with my grandma, and go for naps together if necessary. I would sometimes play my favourite songs a little louder in the house as I sang along (well I call it singing even if it did not qualify for the Voice), it was still fun! Not all days were fun and so I learned to look for the silver lining, and yes some days were more difficult than others to find the ray of hope but the more I did various levels of self-care, the better I was at taking care of myself, and the better I was for it, as I could give my 100% of my energy.
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