MENTAL HEALTH FAMILY CAREGIVER: OUR ENERGY BANK RESERVES ARE IMPORTANT
I have my team. Like if you see everyone around me - I have my hair and makeup girl, my assistant. They're very calm, they're all about positive energy. There're no drama queens. Everyone wants everyone else to have a positive experience. There are no agendas. I think it creates a healthy environment and there are no boundaries to cross. – Fergie
Family Caregivers have one of the most demanding jobs, we wear many hats and juggle a range of emotions in very short periods of time; especially those of us caring for loved ones with mood disorders. Managing our own emotions and keeping in mind the behaviors that can range from extreme lows to extreme highs are the result of the illness our loved one battles, and not from a lack of self-control takes constant mental and emotional checks on our behalf.
One of the toughest things for those outside of our experience to understand is the level of tolerance required to support a loved one with a mental health disorder. We are questioned day in and day out as to, “how do you put up with the constant mood swings…” and to which my answer is, “I try to remind myself that it’s not by choice that my loved one is behaving in such a manner.” I also explain it’s not as easy as I make it look, it’s actually an acquired skill most of us master only after years in the trenches. We learn the inflections, the facial expressions, the body language, and the other signs our loved one is in trouble or stable.
As a mental health family caregiver I have learned the power of energy and how I use it. Meditation has been a life saver for me as I am able to direct my mind throughout the course of my day to a place of calm. I understand if I’m nervous and stressed out it transfers that energy to my loved one and in turn can change the dynamics in my home quickly. I understand the power of calm and level headed thinking and how quickly my thinking on my feet and staying authentic in doing so is important so that my loved one doesn’t feel patronized, but a loving concern for how they are feeling. When there are family members involved we family caregivers must become the “mediator” many times as well as the “public relations specialist” during the times when a loved one is symptomatic and potentially striking out at other family members; mood disorders in a home shifts the energy sometimes several times throughout the day. A family can go from really cool to really on edge depending on the level of intensity of the mood of their loved one who maybe experiencing symptoms of their illness, or just in a foul mood.
Energy Out Energy In
Because so much energy is expended while caring for a loved one with a mental illness caregivers must be mindful of their energy reserves. Knowing the signs of low energy and knowing how to replenish your energy is important.
Although both negative energy and positive energy is needed to for us to survive there must be a balance. Too much negative energy can cause physical health conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, and anxiety. Depression can also be the result of too many negative experiences or negative thinking as well.
How are you replenishing after a few hours with your loved one? What are some of the ways you can tap into positive energy?
One form of positive energy is prayer. Prayer has a way of calming and causing peace. We are spiritual creatures first, our physical bodies respond and heal themselves research has shown, with meditation and prayer.
Prayer is talking to God and meditation is listening to God. An active meditation life causes peace in your life, it aligns your spiritual and physical bodies and they become synced. I noticed the most calm and peace in my life as a caregiver and most importantly in my journey to recovery as a survivor of depression and anxiety, as a result of meditation. I get up an hour earlier to ensure I have time to meditate.
The way we think has a direct influence over the way that we feel. Research shows someone who chooses to fight a terminal illness has a greater chance of beating the illness or managing the illness than if they gave up. The moment we change how we greet our day that is the moment we can change our lives. When we operate from a spirit of gratitude and from a place of abundance that is what we will find. Choosing to see the lighter side of life even in the worst of times can shift the way we feel. Try waking up grateful. Let the first word from your lips, your first breath go to God, “thank you Lord for…” it takes practice. After 2 years of conditioning I open my eyes and that is the first thought and breath to start my day.
You may not have considered sleep a source for positive energy but it is. If you are tired and over worked you feel like crap, and if you feel crappy than you are cranky. Being cranky not only affects you it affects those around you. Being responsible for your energy means ensuring that you are getting at least six(6) hours of sleep a night and the days where you don’t, you should be taking small naps throughout your day. Hiring respite allows for that luxury or getting help from friends and family with caring for your loved one helps as well.
Eating Nutritious Food
Foods place in our bodies is for fuel. We live in a “pleasure culture” which encourages instant gratification. Most of the food we eat as caregivers is on the run or with consideration for limited time and ability to prepare a meal. Those foods are high in chemicals and can cause our bodies to slow down. We are not always getting the nutrients we need to feel good. Supplements are a great way to get the nourishment our bodies need but we must also be eating well. Think a glass of water and a pound of sugar. Yes the water is good for us, but that much sugar is bad. Meal prepping and bringing only healthy food into the house is important. Research the connection to the gut and the brain, it will leave you with your mouth wide open.
Positive Relationships With People
I encourage mental health family caregivers to have social relationships with other caregivers because it’s great to have someone to talk to who understands you, and what you may be experiencing with your loved one you care for. Although I encourage Peer Support groups for mental health family caregivers I also encourage caregivers to mind the energy and also surround themselves with those who are outside of the caregiving community. This is also important because we are all looking for an energy source and sometimes we can burn one another out trying to scrape the bottom of the pot and share our energies. Joining painting classes, pottery classes, yoga classes, and other creative expression classes are great places to meet more energy conscious people and “draw from the wells” there. It’s a great place to learn to exchange and it will be a place that can be intimately your own, which is very important for us when very little time is available to us most times, and we need to maximize the time we do get.
Be mindful of those relationships with energy vampires. Energy vampires are friends or family who require your immediate attention or energy, who text and call and become upset when you don’t respond immediately. Energy vampires are never available to you when you need support, or they are delayed when coming to help. Energy vampires require loads of conditions to maintain their relationship with you, go silent when you need help and always seem to pop up to inquire why you are in a crisis.
Social Media Is Friend & Foe
Technology is a great resource, especially for those of us who are tethered to our homes the majority of the time caring for a loved one who is bed ridden. Social media allows us to have social interaction with others, it entertains us, it fills the time when we are stressed and need a getaway from reality. Knowing how to balance the use of social media is important. When you are to the point where you are more stressed when you get off social media than when you went on it’s time to start managing your time spent online. Taking up other forms of entertainment are ways to do so. Reading good books is one way. Listening to audio books is another way. Hobbies that you can start and stop are great too, for example:
Playing a musical instrument
Watching vintage movies
Writing a blog
There are other options to being on social media all day long. You need a break and another outlet if you are finding yourself engulfed in drama or a constant need to post to get likes or reactions. Be responsible for your energy, protect it and nourish it.
Remember yourself caregiver. Remember the parts of you that make you lovable and capable of pouring into others positive energy. We can get lost sometimes in the care of our loved ones and in the care of our families. It is important that we also see to our own personal well-being, and part of that is our energy reserves. Take good care of you too.
I have a really good caregiver training program going on right now called “Breaking The Time Bank”which focuses on your self care and the restructuring of your caregiving day that allows for the care of your loved one and a life outside of caregiving for you.
La Shawn is a Mental Health Survivor & Mental Health Family Caregiver. Although her passion has always been to help those in need, Homagi began 12 years ago as a non profit for homeless women and children, she chose to use her experience as a Mental Health Family Caregiver to guide other family caregivers on their journey as they assist their loved ones on theirs. She is known for her vibrant smile, easy going personality, positive attitude, and servant spirit. Always willing to stop and listen or share an experience with others, you feel heard and appreciated. Don't let those characteristics fool you into believing she's not an advocate who will stand up, march, and make the voice of the sometimes voiceless heard. A California native, now a Houstonian she loves the beach, hiking, crocheting and woodwork. She is married to her best friend and co-pilots their blended family of 5 children and 3 granddaughters.