"When you make a commitment to a relationship, you invest your attention and energy in it more profoundly because you now experience ownership of that relationship." - Barbara de Angelis
In the beginning stages of my journey as a Mental Health Family Caregiver I could not see past what my daily duties were as I was immersed in the care demands of my son, the stress and pressures of learning, and adjusting to my new role as caregiver in addition to wife, mother, grandmother and full time employee. I didn’t know how to balance it all. I went from a structured individual where I scheduled everything from mopping my floors at a certain time to what was for dinner 2 weeks out, to barely able to get out of bed to brush my teeth. I felt consumed by my life.
Life as a caregiver doesn’t stop all of our other life obligations and commitments it adds to them, and if we aren’t careful we can become consumed with all that is “urgent” in our lives and let the things that are fulfilling fall to the side, or be placed on pause. If we are not careful we can find ourselves taking the easy way out by continuing to do things as they are, as dysfunctional as they are because at least we know that “its” working right? Who has time to learn something new or better yet who has time to get everyone adjusted to a new way? It’s easy to fall into that mindset because we face a great deal of resistance already in our roles as a caregiver and add to that parenting other children and/or juggling other life and employee demands and we just don’t have room for any more “push back”.
Instead we limp along our journey in life patching up, shoving stuff in closets for later, and throwing the blanket over the new coffee table- the elephant in the room…our dear friend “Organized Chaos”. As appealing as our acceptance of “things as they are” can be we began to wear ourselves down because out of all we are patching and carrying we don’t allow room or time to put things down to rest or hand off to someone else. Somewhere along the way we convinced ourselves we are the only capable person in the house to juggle all of these obligations and unless we are doing them or in charge of monitoring who's doing them, they just won’t be done correctly. That is very far from the truth.
There is a better way of living and functioning if we are willing to release some control and to do the hard work up front of learning new more effective ways to manage our personal care and our other obligations to family, work, church and community. Change starts with us and until we commit to making ourselves a priority all else will tower over us and we will continue to feel small, insignificant, taken advantage of and forgotten. Why? Because we first neglected ourselves and everything we do, everyone we draw to us will follow suit.
How Do I Self Care With So Many Other Obligations?
Self care must be deliberate. Some of us have a natural inclination to be a nurturer and for some of us we learned co-dependency from parents and therefore self-neglect is a byproduct we’ve learned to accept. Taking care of ourselves is something that’s been an after thought for so long it feels wrong, it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes dealing with those feelings requires therapy and sometimes it takes being so used up and depleted that we finally get fed up and start making the changes.
In order to feel good we have to be aware of what it is that is making us feel poorly. Many times it’s our lack of self awareness that can cause a disconnect or inability to identify what our needs are. A good question to ask is “how do I feel right now?” Follow with a why? Keep asking the why’s until we know what it is we are lacking. Most times we don’t want to admit how out of control we feel or how afraid we feel and it keeps us in a place of bondage to our circumstances, afraid to try something different and willing to stick with neglect and dysfunction because its familiar.
How we feel physically can affect our overall mood. If we are tired it can exasperate feelings of irritability and anger which in turn lead to guilt and depression. Being deliberate about our self care means taking into consideration how we are feeling and not being afraid to be honest with ourselves. Taking the proper care of our bodies means taking the time to do the research about the proper care of bodies and to see a doctor if we are not feeling well.
Skipping meals or eating poorly means our body doesn’t have enough resources to draw from in order to function under the stress we place on it daily. Making good choices for ourselves takes lots of work. It’s so easy to fall into bad habits out of convenience because we “don’t have time”.
Be Your Own Caregiver
When you put it in plain simple terms Self Care is taking care of yourself, caring for you. Taking care of you. You are taking care of yourself. You are your very own caregiver. What did you eat today? Was it beneficial to your health? Did you take your supplements/vitamins or medication? Are you feeling good today? Why? Did you take an afternoon nap or break? Did you do an activity today that made you smile?
We make sure our loved ones are cared for and provided for yet we place ourselves on the back burner right along with our needs and self respect. We really do have the power to change how we have been doing this caregiver thing and to put ourselves first. It’s hard to start but once you do you will not want to do it any other way. The best way to do it is just like getting into the pool on a warm day, the water is cool so you start by dipping your toe in to check for temperature, then you slip both feet in and walk down the stairs. If you take too much time there thinking you may be all day getting in out of the dreaded fear of the temperature shock, or you can just plunge in and get it over with. Eventually you make a choice because the reason you came there was for a swim. Sometimes you just have to go ahead and just plunge in to get it over with.
Talk to your family today about needing a break, pull in your church resources, reach out to a professional caregiver, see if you qualify for “monies” to help pay for help. There is nothing wrong about needing a break and you are not less than because you take one. It takes strength to know you are not that strong and that you need to feel relaxed, calm, and cared for too. Start placing care as a priority for you too today.