Thursday, August 27, 2009

Are you taking care of yourself?

Caregivers are doing a great job of taking care of their loved ones. They are healthy, happy and often at home. But, do caregivers ever take a moment to consider themselves?

I came across this article via a Tweet this week. It begins with one key fact:  "One quarter of adult Americans are presently caring for an aging parent or relative."  Forty-five percent of those people are providing care for their spouse.

Several years ago, I was a caregiver trying to balance managing care for my husband Jimmy in a nursing home setting and our lives. I was exhausted and I was not providing the direct, round-the-clock care. When the health care professionals did their jobs, it was a little easier. When there were hiccups, chaos ensued. 

I won't rehash the article, you can find it at this link. Two key points from a Home Instead Senior Care survey shows 31 percent of family caregivers admit they'd like more help and 25 percent resent other members of the family who don't help out more. 

It's difficult to ask for help. We've all been raised in this can-do society. We tend to be judged by how brave we are in the face of tragedy. At the time, I did the best job that I could. Looking back, however, I'll admit I said, "I'm fine" during situations that were far from it. 

I never liked asking for help, but when it came to Jimmy I developed the ability to do it and accept the help. When my co-workers and the community pulled together to raise money for Jimmy, I accepted the help. Jimmy needed specialized computers to communicate and an air mattress that insurance would not pay for. 

When nursing home staff commented on his nice mattress, I would do my best Price as Right showcase, model impersonation and say, "That's about 250 barbecue sandwiches." All of those sandwiches purchased at a benefit for Jimmy were made with love. People wanted to help him and I'm proud they did. 

And, that mattress kept his skin free of bedsores for several years. 

One thing I found out very early on in my journey is that I was not alone. Of course, Jimmy was there with me, but I wasn't alone in being a caregiver. There were others, who were just like me. Perhaps their loved one was older, but we were all in the same boat together. 

A health crisis is a powerful equalizer. A stroke can strike a rich family as easily and quickly as it can strike a poor family. Family dynamics are often the same whether you have money or you don't. 

When I first began this blog several months ago, I tried to explain the name "Get Your Oxygen First." It's important for caregivers to take care of themselves. 

A few ways you can "Get Your Oxygen First" include:
  • Ask a friend to stay with your spouse or parent, so you can take a nap or recharge.
  • Get a sibling to come over 30 minutes early, so you can take a break.
  • Steal a few moments for yourself to do something like sit on the porch or read a chapter of a book.
  • Remember most people really mean it when they offer to help. Maybe you don't need his or her help right now, but ask them later when you do need it.
Do something for yourself — even if it's unconventional. In my case, Jimmy often resented my efforts to revitalize. I had to charge through his angry in order to recharge. At the end of the day, he benefited from my efforts to take care of myself. He was happier and so was I. 

What are you doing to take care of yourself?

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