MENTAL HEALTH FAMILY CAREGIVING: Being Realistic About Your Journey & Your Goals
I've learned over the years that people are human and have mood swings, regardless of how talented they are. Today, I'm looking at life from a realistic point of view instead of the way I would want things to be. - Otis Williams
Sometimes imagining a life filled with “easy days”, plenty of financial bliss, and waking up on a tropical island takes the sting of reality away. I have sat on the shore and stared off into the open ocean and imagined myself lying out on the deck of my boat, feeling the warm sun on my face and a warm gentle breeze as the calm ocean waves lull me into relaxation bliss. Then the laughter of children in the background or dogs barking shake me back to reality.
Science has shown the power of a good imagination and how it has the ability to transfer us to more pleasant states of mind during times of stress or traumatic life experiences. Reality is we cannot stay there as much as we wish we could there is a life full of commitments, chores, and obligations we must show up for. How do we embrace our journey without the bitterness and other feelings of hopelessness?
Remember your spiritual life is the most important part of your life period. If you are mindful of your spiritual state it keeps you grounded and gives you a place of peace to go to in times of trial and adversity. The Bible tells us:
Deuteronomy 31:6Amplified Bible (AMP)
6 Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble in dread before them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not fail you or abandon you.”
Amplified Bible (AMP)
Copyright © 2015 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA 90631. All rights reserved.
That scripture alone tells us God is with us there is no reason to fear anything or anyone. The foundation of your mental health caregiving journey has to have spirituality. You need something bigger than what you are facing in the physical world. Studies have shown the peaceful and stable mindset that happens as a result of prayer and meditation. If you don’t have a prayer and meditation life it’s important that you cultivate one. You will notice a drastic effect on your journey and state of mind.
See Things As They Are But Not Worse Than They Are. That’s one of the favorite things Tony Robbins one of my favorite “inspirational speakers” says is the first answer to accepting our lives or difficult times in our lives. As a Caregiver we encounter many different life experiences with our loved ones that are out of our spectrum of understanding, and which require a great deal of compassion and emotional resiliency. Sometimes we are “tethered” to our home or to our loved ones because of their inability to function fully on their own due to Dementia, other illnesses, or mental illnesses we may begin to give up on or delay our own happiness or desires for life outside of caregiving. By understanding our roles for our loved ones we are able to clearly identify other roles in our lives:
Woman or Man with needs
Husband or Wife with needs
Daughter or Son with needs
Full Time Employee
Part Time Employee
Knowing who we are gives us purpose, we know where we fit in our spiritual lives, our families, in our social circles, and secular circles. It’s important to maintain an identity outside of caregiving because it’s easy to get lost or forget who we are.
When you know what you are fighting then you know how to fight. Getting educated on the illness your loved one is diagnosed with is the key to building an effective strategy with your loved one if they are capable of managing their illness with a little support, or knowing what resources you need in order to be the best support for a loved one who is unable to care for themselves.
Many caregivers go along this journey with an, “I’ll deal with it when the time comes” mindset which is counterproductive and reactive. Your stress is reduced when you are aware and able to plan to the best of your ability when an emergency comes up with your loved one or they become symptomatic. Sure you will encounter instances where no matter how much you plan and prepare you are at the mercy of the illness and your loved ones ability to fight their way through it.
The best gift any caregiver can give to themselves is “preparation”. Being proactive keeps you in less of a panicked state and in more of a confidence state. Creating you own personal tool kit personalized to your loved ones behaviors, your families unique qualities, and resiliency. Enlisting the support of family and friends as well as any local community resources empowers you, gives your loved one a sense of stability and, lessens your chances of “caregiver burnout”.
Stop trying to do it all yourself. You don’t have to. There are spouses, neighbors, friends, co-workers, and religious community members. How can you possibly enlist people to help you when they don’t understand what to do or what it takes to help your loved one. Your loved one will not allow you to leave them in the company of someone else right? Start having people come over while you are home with your loved one, they will become familiar with them based on your allowing them into the house.
If Schizophrenia and psychosis is a factor then try having the individual to come over and be seen out on the porch or in the yard as then gradually allow them into the home, that way your loved one will know they are okay with the individual at or in the house. Sometimes your loved one knowing a neighbor or friend of yours, and now theirs, is nearby when you need to step away gives them another layer of comfort.
If you are not willing to allow other to help you or to seek out ways you can be of the best support to your loved one WHILE seeing to your own care you are setting yourself up for eventual failure. You have to be your own rescuer. No one can save you if they don’t know you need saving. Do the research in your area. Are there baby sitters or nannies who are bonded and specialize in the diagnosis for your child? Start saving to hire one to come in once a month so that you can have a getaway for a day.
Hire a professional caregiver who’s bonded from a caregiver service and save money to have them to come in and care for your loved one while you take a weekend away or at least an overnight stay. Many caregivers don’t like to look at their caring for their loved ones as a job, but I’m here to tell you if you don’t look at it in a similar fashion you are doomed to “burn-out” (italicize). You need to take a break. Nothing anyone is going to tell you however will convince you if you don’t see the importance of self-care.
It’s never too late to become what you might have been. What did you have in mind for your life before you became a caregiver? What were your dreams? Do you know it is still possible to carry out many of your desires? So many times when we are caring for a loved one with a long-term illness such as mental illness we put off things like going after a promotion at work because it may require more responsibilities. We may put off returning to school to learn a new trade because we believe we have too many obligations already with caring for our loved ones. We give up on ever taking the dance lessons we wanted or swore we would take when we retired. We give up on building our project car because how can we on the shoestring budget we have as we struggle to pay bills and care for our loved ones.
As caregivers we can sometimes get caught up in the “all or nothing” mindset. We start to believe it’s not worth it if it’s a little at a time of anything for ourselves. We sometimes become cynical about life and decide if we don’t look for anything or expect anything it will be less disappointing. That’s not true. In this life of caregiving we have to take advantage of all of the time we have and maximize the time we get.
Looking for ways to get something we want cheaper or free becomes a full time job but it’s possible if we stay committed. Searching websites like Craigslist for discount items or classes is a great idea. Placing an ad in the news paper or on FaceBook, Twitter or any other social media site is a great way to get training or other items we desire. YOUTube is a great resource for learning and getting help with education on things we desire to have or always wanted. You never know or you can’t get unless you ask. If you really want it you will have it.
Remember life as a caregiver is only part of your life and who you are. It doesn’t go away unless your loved one passes away from an illness or becomes fully capable of caring for themselves without your help, otherwise this is your life. Accept your life as it is and not what you wish it was. Make the effort to have other parts of your life be just as important as your caregiving life. Stay committed to finding ways to maintain your other identities as an individual. How you chose to view your life ultimately shapes the kind of life you will have. You can have a life full of joyful days and some tough ones or you can have a life full of tough days. It’s all in how you choose to see it.