Life today brings a whole new meaning to being the “middle” child. Now, we are ALL middle children. In the middle of raising our own children and caring for our aging parents. My parents have both passed, and if I could have them back for even one last hug, one more “I Love You”, or yes – even one more chance to give my mom a shower – I would do it in a heartbeat. But, honestly, it nearly broke me. Now, you know by now that I am a big advocate for survival – and I won’t let anything break me – but I say that to convey how hard it really was. And, for a lot of you, how hard it is for you right now. My best advice comes from the friendly skies: Always put your oxygen mask on before assisting others. You can’t help your loved one breathe if you aren’t breathing!
Take care of yourself! As a caregiver, you are a forgotten hero. You are on the frontline holding it together day after day, making the doctor’s appointments, doing the laundry, cooking the meals, and filling the pill planners. Oh, and that’s just for your parent. Taking on the lives of the ones we love is admirable, but exhausting and stressful. When there’s no time, effort, support or opportunity to take a break from it all, you become a high risk for fatigue, burn out and break down. When adding that additional weight to an already full plate, you can fall into a cycle of inadequate sleep, poor eating habits, and emotional distress. Putting your physical and emotional wellness first isn’t selfish, it’s survival. Remember, if you go down, who will take care of them?
Support Groups - Find a Friend!
Why look for support? Because sharing the burden or discussing similar experiences helps you to know at the end of the day that you’re not really going crazy. Anyone experiencing stress or challenges with the loved one for whom they are caring can benefit from a support group. By communicating with a group of people with a common experience, such as a disease, disorder, caregiving etc., where you can share your thoughts, feelings and concerns, receive information, and in turn support other members of the group, you share the responsibility and burden of not only managing your life but your loved ones too. By meeting with a support group or getting information online, you can find tips and resources for getting through the daily grind. Keeping yourself healthy and conditioned is just as important as those you care for.
Multiple resources are available by searching online for the specific diagnoses or disease your loved one is suffering from. Just type in ‘caregiver support for’ and add the disease. Other places to look include senior centers, hospital social services or social work departments, YMCA branches, local health departments, and houses of worship. Even your grocery may have a bulletin board worth a glace. Check them out, get support, find a friend.
Respite Care – Take a break!
Caregiving is hard work and sometimes you simply need a break. If you’re not at your best you cannot do your best for them. If you don’t have siblings (or any willing to pitch in) you still have options. Respite care can be provided in the home with home care workers, in the community (i.e. adult day) or overnight in a licensed skilled nursing or assisted living community. The duration of the stay can be a few days or weeks. If financial resources are an issue, check with your local Area Agency on Aging, or local church for other options. Think outside the box! Trade duties with someone you know who is also a caregiver. I can listen to someone else’s mom complain all day long and it doesn’t have the emotional effect on me like one harsh word from my own.
Caregiving responsibilities are unrelenting, demanding and can deplete you physically, emotionally and spiritually. But, take heart, you are not alone. Taking care of others is hard and rarely comes with payment or rewards. Trust me, your brother who lives across the country is probably not going to call you to applaud all of your sacrifice. And, if you are one of the lucky few whose siblings and extended family give you that level of support, lean into it. You are truly blessed. You do what you do out of love and sometimes obligation but everyone has a point where time, energy, stress, and sleeplessness win out. Recognize those signs within yourself and get help. Take control of your middle ground. Your life, family, and future are just as important as the ones you care for.