The body says what words cannot.
Sometimes, as caregivers, we tell ourselves that we don't have time to relax. I've been thinking about that because I've been really sick the past few days with a miserable sinus infection. My sinuses are my achilles heel and whenever germs get in my body they head straight for my sinuses, as though there was a sign that read, "This way to the sinuses." Anyway, I was feeling better enough today to actually think about something other than my throbbing head, and it occurred to me how challenging it would be to cope with being sick, if I were doing a live-in caregiver stint now. Thankfully, I'm not. My parents have a paid live-in caregiver and my sister comes every week or two to do things that the caregiver can't. I realize, however, that there are probably many of you out there without the luxury of a live-in caregiver. However, as my mother's homecare nurse used to say to my father - in the days before the live-in caregiver - "if you're out of commission, you're both out of commission." And so, in the case of caregivers, I figure that an ounce of prevention is worth at least 10 pounds of cure. Because being sick while trying to care for an aging parent or spouse just isn't any fun at all.
So, who cares for the caregiver? You do. We do. It would be great if there was someone else to do it, but for most of us there isn't. The bottom line is: we have to take care of ourselves. That means we have to get enough rest, and take time to relax. Impossible? I don't think so. Our aging parents or spouses rarely require 24/7 duty and, if they do, it may be time to reconsider the care situation. In most communities there are respite services available either on a volunteer basis or for a relatively reasonable amount. If neither option works for you, there are friends and family members who can probably give you several breaks a week. Take them! Don't become a caregiver martyr, as one of my caregiving friends called it.
What's a Caregiver Martyr?
In a nutshell, a caregiver martyr - or someone suffering from martyr syndrome - is someone who never thinks of themselves and may ignore signs that they need to practice more self-care, until physical collapse or sickness forces them to take a break. Here are two takes on the subject. Both are well worth reading.
The Good News
The good news is that summer is a great time to recharge your batteries. You still have to remind yourself to relax, but it should be easier now than during the dead of winter. As hard as it may be to admit, taking care of yourself is just as important - maybe more important - than taking care of your loved one. It's like those little oxygen masks that are supposed to come down in the airplane during an emergency. If you don't put yours on first, then you can't help your aging parent, an ill spouse, or a child. It's that simple. (Gee, this is starting to sound like a lecture. But, truly, it's a lot easier to take care of yourself before you collapse. Trust me, I've been there.) Good luck!! Below are a few suggestions to get you started.
- Go for a long walk.
- Go to a coffee shop and order whatever the weather calls for. Sit there and check your email undisturbed or do what-the-hell-ever you want.
- Attend a live musical performance. (Many communities have free concerts this time of year.)
- If it's really hot, hole up in an air-conditioned bookstore or library.
- Sit in the shade on a deck or porch with a tall glass of iced tea or a mojito and do nothing.
- Read a comfort book.
- Upload a new playlist to your ipod (You don't have one? You need one.)
- Watch a funny movie and laugh as loud as you want to. Check out Rotten Tomatoes list of 25 Best Romantic Comedies.
- If you're lucky enough to live near a beach, go there. Do whatever you enjoy doing at the beach.
- Join a support group.
- Sit on the porch after dark and listen to the crickets and count fireflies.
- Arrange to go away for a REAL vacation. You deserve one.
And never discount the power of the right music. My sister turned me on to the Decemberists and I love their song, June Hymn.