• La Shawn Splane-Wilburn

A Caregivers Emotional Health Is So Important

Every day we have plenty of opportunities to get angry, stressed or offended. But what you're doing when you indulge these negative emotions is giving something outside yourself power over your happiness. You can choose to not let little things upset you.

- Joel Osteen

How often do you take a moment to sit still and just be? We don't usually take time out for ourselves. We are up and scattering about caring for our loved ones and if we have other family members we are responsible for they are piled on as well.

We make excuses as to why we can't do something for ourselves throughout the course of our day. There is never enough time for "us" to just be or just see to our own needs. Or we get to a place where the work required to carve out space for ourselves is just to much to bear and we decide to leave it out altogether.

It’s comforting to sit at home and not deal with life outside of Caregiving. When we are having challenges with our loved one who’s battling a mental illness, we find ourselves at times in the middle of pity and regret a dangerously comfortable spot to be in. I don’t mean comfort in the terms of relaxed, I mean easier to deal with than making an effort to change or get help.

A caregiver’s first sign they are in trouble is “isolation”. We start by turning down invites to go out for lunch or happy hour with friends, and then it goes to not caring about getting dressed for the day, spending the day in pajamas. Eventually we only get out of bed to feed our loved one and make sure they are okay and then back to the bed we go. Depression sets in to take up residence with the hopelessness and despair.

I have not met one caregiver who would willingly admit to being depressed, overwhelmed, and underrested. “I’m fine” is what we say because we have become accustomed to neglecting ourselves. I once thought it was because we just didn’t have the time to stop to think about what we needed because we became more depressed by our reality then. Having to face we are in a tough situation, and the reality for most of us is we are going to be caring for a loved one for the rest of our lives if it’s a spouse or a loved one with other debilitating illnesses that prevent a loved one from living on their own, is a hard reality for some of us.

I realized it was just so dang hard! Taking care of me meant intentionally setting alarms to take breaks. Intentionally getting up to work out. Intentionally getting up to pray and meditate. Intentionally eating right. Intentionally checking in with myself. That's hard work, and frankly a lot to remember when your mind is consumed with what you have to do to keep the peace in your home and your loved one on track.

Not facing our reality head on causes us to suppress how we feel because it’s easier than expending the emotional, mental and physical energy when we are already well “spent”. What happens is anxiety. We are upset and anxious about things we don’t want to be. Guilt complicates our lives by telling us we are wrong for feeling angry about being assigned the role of caregiver. People in our extended families are quick to remind us we can leave at any time, as well as a spouse or loved one we are caring for who may be speaking from a place of pain from their illness. Coping with mood swings from a loved one who may be experiencing highs and lows, heck that's exhausting in itself.

We are not people who walk away however. I have not met a caregiver that hasn’t stayed until it just got physically impossible to stay, and even then they are still trying to hang in there.

I talk with you about seeing a therapist to process your emotions or to buy self-help books or research online things you can do to ensure you’re emotional health is tended to, because I understand what can happen when we don't.

We experience a range of emotions throughout the course of our day and heart break is one of the most severe in my opinion. We are spoken to many times in very mean and hostile ways from a loved one in the middle of a mental health crisis. We are accused of being a bully when we are talking to a loved one about being compliant with medication. We are accused of being intrusive when we inquire about the goings or whereabouts when a loved one goes missing for long periods of time, and we are concerned they may have hurt themselves; especially when loved one storms out and away from home in the middle of a manic crisis. Family and friends who don’t understand why we stand in the gap call us weak and an enabler…I could go on and on but you get what I’m saying. We are not the most popular people although we are very much an essential part of our loved ones health and well-being.

I press and push caregivers to seek out the company of other caregivers because I need them to understand the importance of someone who is going through some of the very same or similar experiences as they are. Having someone to say me too, allows us to take the “I’m the only one living in this hell” hat off and for a change understand we aren’t being singled out. Peer support groups for mental health family caregivers are a wealth of resource for us. Finding new ways to help your loved one or new ways to cope with the life and culture of family caregiving is so very important. If you don’t have a resource for a peer support group you can create one online, create one in your community or in your place of worship.

In order to be successful as a mental health family caregiver you must be deliberate you cannot leave things to chance. Waiting for the other shoe to drop is abusive to you and to your loved one. If you plan out your day and what may be going on for the day, you may not always control the tone, you may just get a crisis, but most importantly you have a place to work from; go back to or recover from when you have a plan. Yes you’re correct our days are very unpredictable but we know that going in and it still doesn’t reduce our anxiety. Being proactive will reduce our anxiety and stress.

We must be deliberate and intentional about how we are living and functioning throughout the course of our day and while on this journey. Choosing to just go with the flow is a quick and sure way to turn your stress way up.

What Are Some Ways We Can Keep A Check On Our Emotional Well-being?

Start a spiritual life - Prayer and Meditation help to bring about peace and calm.

Keep a journal - A journal allows us to see our progress and what we did that worked and didn't work. During times of challenge it can act as a road map when we forget how strong we are.

Look for the silver lining - Every cloud has a silver lining and every cloud runs out of rain. What that looks like is different for each individual. You must decide what optimism looks like to you.

Keep hope alive - Hope is the light at the end of the tunnel. Focusing on the brighter side which will come eventually helps to take the sting out of the now drama.

Know your worth - you are not what is said about you. What are the good things about you? Focus on those. If you have to write them down.

Healthy relationships - keep company with people who are positive and who encourage you to keep you out front. Having so much to adapt to when caring for someone with a mental illness means buring through your reserves. If you have relationships outside of caregiving that are high maintenance steer clear of those during low energy times, instead opt for more stable and positive ones.

Be grateful for the good things in your life - When times are rough it's easy to focus on nothing but the difficult things in our lives. When we search our hearts and our homes for good things we have it opens us up to see more blessings and abundance in our lives.

Set goals - Set goals to do things for yourself and then stick to them. Sometimes you have to start off with small goals and once you are confident build your way up to larger ones. Every level challenge yourself again.

Research and master the art of "snap back" - Realize bad times end and so do good times. Knowing what your weak points are and studying them to reinforce them is a great way to feel confident about things that come up in our lives. Once we know we are going to be okay either way we are not as anxious.

Exercise - Exercise can come in the form of dancing, hiking, walking, or anything that gets the body moving. Endorphins are closely tied to exercise and also help to reduce stress.

The first step is the hardest but once we start and keep going even if we fall off a few times, get back up and get going again. It's all about not giving up and keeping ourselves as the priority. Don't let priority break you, make taking a break your priority.

Are you or someone you know struggling with the care and the care demands of a loved one with mental illness? I understand the challenges faced on the journey to helping a lvoed one to nagivate the road to mental health recovery. On March 15, 2016 there is a caregiver training 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. The deadline to register is March 14, 2016. The amount of information and structure you receive in this challenge will empower you for years into your caregiving journey and affect other aspects of your personal development!

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.

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