Proactive is preparation for the "thing", you are in control of your emotions. Reactive is being overcome by the "thing"; your emotions are in control of you. You cannot prepare for every adversity that comes your way, but you can choose how you will handle it.
- La Shawn Wilburn
A common theme that resounds amongst Family Caregivers all over the world is "STRESS". It's the theme song for most caregivers. At one time when I came into contact with a caregiver the first thing we talked about was how horrible we felt, how tired we were, how much we wish we had help. For many of us, at the time, we didn't know there was an alternative for our stressful lives so we just got up every day looking forward to the end of the day before our feet ever hit the ground.
I can remember opening my eyes and thinking, "what if I just laid here for the day and rested? I wonder what would happen if I just didn't get up today?" I as well as any caregiver knew that my "showing up" was very necessary. What I would later learn is that I wasn't as essential as I thought I was.
The hardest part for a Family Caregiver is to relinquish duties of caring for their loved one to someone else. For whatever reason we believe we are the only one who can take the best care of our loved one. We protect them from family members who would "judge" them or from professional caregivers who may abuse them or take advantage of them. How do we know if we never even tried asking for help or demanding family members get on board and help us out with the care of our loved one?
You Cannot Do It All - All of the Time
One of the biggest moments of success for me as a Mental Health Family Caregiver was when I learned to relinquish control of situations and circumstances. I felt if I knew about the symptoms in advance I could look up ways to cope with them, jot those down and when they appear I would be so ready, and that was not the case. Because mental illness is as unique as the individual who has the illness there are so many other factors that add to the way our loved one deals with or not deals with the symptoms. If there is chemical dependency than there is a whole other complicated layer added onto the suffering.
If you are caring for a loved one with dementia and there is psychosis or the potential for your loved one to wonder off, you may have some reservations about taking a nap with them in the house for fear they may hurt themselves or wonder off. There was a family caregiver I spoke to who placed a cot in front of the bedroom door that she closed so that she could sleep while her loved one was there in bed resting or watching television. Another caregiver used a door alarm that would sound off when a loved one opened the door to leave. Another caregiver for an Autistic child used the same alarm system but also used a lock and alarm on the gate in case the door alarm was missed in addition to cameras outside of the home which would track the direction of the loved one should they get beyond the safety’s set in place for them.
There are so many technologies you can utilize that will give you a longer "tether" from the world of family caregiving and allow you to still maintain a quality of life.
How then does a family caregiver live in such a way, while caring for a loved one with a mental illness, that they are not stressed and overwhelmed by their responsibilities?
Below are some ways to manage your stress:
Prayer & meditation should be your foundation
Some of the most peaceful moments you will ever have are those when your house is quiet. Getting up earlier before anyone else is stirring around means you get time to be calm and quiet in your waking state. You get to pray in peace. It's quiet enough for you to hear the voice of God. Try prayer and meditation in the mornings before you start your day and watch the amazing effect it has on your peace of mind and stress reduction. Research mindfulness as well, which is a great tool to learn to use, as it can create a place of calm in the midst of chaos throughout your day.
Put your needs first
Everything you do throughout your day should be with a break for yourself in mind. When you get up to cook breakfast for your loved one, make breakfast for yourself. When your loved one takes a nap you take one too. When you feel "off" or sick go to the doctor and get checked out. If you are depressed ask for help, or ask a friend or family member to go with you to the doctor to discuss your options. A physical or some blood tests can help to eliminate the cause of your symptoms and help you to get help to feel better.
Take the break
Take a nap throughout the day to ensure you are recharging your batteries. Take a walk outside and get some fresh air, the exercise is also good for you. Take up a hobby and make arrangements for someone to sit with your loved one while you go. Some places provide a space for caregivers to bring along their loved ones to be supervised while they enjoy a leisure activity like painting, bingo, or music lessons.
Be honest about how you feel
It's natural to feel resentful and guilty at times during your caregiving journey. It's normal to miss your life before the illness came to visit your household or your loved one. Mental illness is a very complex illness having both mental and physical characteristics making for an interesting time for those who live with loved ones battling a mental illness. Understand there are stages of grief you may go through right along with your loved one after the diagnosis and initial attempts of finding a successful treatment program. It's a good idea to invest in a therapist for yourself to help with processing your emotions throughout this journey.
Get, keep, and maintain a social connection(s)
Most time Family Caregivers can find themselves suffering from secondary symptoms of the mental illness their loved one is battling. Having an outside connection to friends, family, or other caregivers allows you to keep a foot firmly planted in "reality" and not succumbing to the world your loved one may experience due to their mental illness.
Create a buddy system
Have family members or friends who will check on you and stop by to help you out by sitting with your loved one while you take a bath, go out for a walk, or meet friends for a movie. Those buddies can also assist you with taking your loved one to a doctors or therapist appointment so that you can catch on chores, take a break and get a pedicure or some other form of self-care for yourself. Ask for help and then accept it.
Do your research
What programs are available in your area? Are there diagnosis specific programs in your area that are low or no cost? Does your loved ones health care provide for a "home maker chore" person to stop by and help with chores or the care of your loved one? What about home assisted living programs or board and care facilities? I once saw a facility for Adult day care of elders and loved ones with developmental disabilities. Are there programs that will supplement monies for your loved ones medicine or other medical needs? You don't know until you ask. A closed mouth doesn't get fed.
Remember organization is your friend
There are so many free tools to help you along this journey with your loved one. Scheduling appointments for your loved one? Use a calendar on your cell phone and set a reminder to notify you so that you don't forget. Keep a notebook of your loved ones symptoms and any other concerns you have to talk with the doctor about them. Utilize as many tools to help you as you can.
Keep a gratitude journal
The best way to keep a positive outlook on your life as a whole is to remember to be thankful for the things you do have versus focusing on the things you do not have. You will feel so much better if you focus on the good in your life and the good that you are doing by providing for your loved one in the comfort of your home or theirs. When you are having difficult days, it's a great idea to look back at better times in your gratitude journal.
Remember you are only human
There are going to be sometimes when you wish you could split yourself into more than one you so that you can do more or help more people. Remember you are only one individual and you can only do what is within your power or abilities. If you find yourself struggling financially don't put more of a burden on yourself trying to provide more than what you can. Handle the most important obligations first and then your important obligations, kind of important, and not that important obligations next. Saying no is not rude or inconsiderate if you are stretching yourself way beyond your means. Don't apologize for showing consideration for yourself and your limitations.
Remember you are loved and appreciated
Even if your loved one cannot seem to formulate the words to say thank you always, remember that the gift you are giving them to be in the comfort of their home or yours is priceless and allows them to maintain a level of identity and dignity. The act of caregiving alone is one of nobility. Know that you are appreciated, and if no one else told you this today, I want you to know I appreciate you and I understand the sacrifices you are making for your loved one, and God sees your obedience of "love thy neighbor as thyself".
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