Care for the caregiver | Amber Collie

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on July 01, 2019 # Caregiving

I know! Much easier said than done! When we are the primary caregiver for someone we love, and they depend on us, it’s very, very hard to take time off for ourselves. We feel responsible, we want them to have a good life and we know they have gone through enough already, plus there’s that little thing called Guilt. Maybe it’s because they cannot do the same things we can? Or we feel like we owe them something? So, we push through never taking a much-needed break. This leads to frustration, resentment, and unnecessary blow ups. As caregivers, we know this is ongoing, and more than a full-time job. Caregivers are superheroes. Period. But, still human!

Taking time for yourself is GOOD. Taking that break will make you a better caregiver because now you are relaxed and rested. The person you care for should understand and even want this for you. If not, that is a sign of something unhealthy.

If you can’t take a whole day off, learn how to take short breaks, I recommend taking these throughout the daily grind. Even if just for a few minutes. There will always be chores to do, they can wait. If you’re like me it is hard to let that go. What helped me, in the beginning, was setting a timer. I’d decide I’m going to work this much time and then reward myself with a break. It’s up to you how you want it to work these are just things that worked for me. If sitting and checking social media is a break for you that's ok, but also practice putting down your phone. Go outside, sit, get fresh air, read an inspiring quote or a couple of pages of a good book. You'll be surprised how just five-ten minutes can recharge you. Then you’re ready to go again. Since caregiving is a lot of stopping and starting with constant interruptions, accept that. Don't think you’re going to get everything done perfectly, every day.

That is a recipe for burnout.

In the beginning when my son became a quadriplegic at 15-years-old plus having three younger children to take care of (youngest in kindergarten), it felt impossible to take a break. People would ask me are you taking time for yourself? I’d look at them like they were crazy. They clearly had no idea the workload I was shouldering. Now, if I could tell myself at that time, I would say, take that break. If possible hire help, let the housework go, ask for help. Mind you, people were asking how to help but I didn't know how to delegate. I thought it's easier if I just do it myself. Not really true. If help is offered, Take it! Let people grocery shop, clean your bathroom, bring dinners, do laundry. If it's not how you normally do it, who cares! It’s getting done! I realize now that I did not know how to rest. I understand the stress of a sudden injury that turns your world upside down. The heartbreak that you feel and the pain of watching a child struggle. You’re trying to cope and grasp the reality. One you don't want to be in. Acceptance is hard but necessary. There is this balancing game that takes place between acceptance and beating the odds. You have to stay positive, set small and large goals and keep moving forward.

You also have to learn to stay in the present moment. This is where real life is happening. I ran on adrenaline, prayer, and coffee for the first two years. Around the third year, I hit an angry stage. I finally hired help, but still took me years to learn how to let go and let another caregiver take over. I’d have to actually leave the house because I’d end up helping the hired caregiver. Don't do that! If help is available, take it. My son Zack preferred my help, after all, I’m Mama and learned all his little quirks, but that is not a reason to cater, let others also learn how to manage all the preferred methods. If you cannot hire help, then all the more to look for those times when your loved one is doing ok without you and go take a few moments alone. Sitting in the sun is ok for a few minutes, listening to a favorite song, stretching, laying down closing your eyes, be mindful of your thoughts if they are speeding around your head, try to focus on something you're grateful for. You can also write a to-do list then let it go for the moment.

Another helpful tip is to make sure you shower and get dressed for the day. Do not stay in PJ’s even if home all day. Getting ready as if you’re going out, makes you feel better. Call or text a friend, find out what others are doing, stay in touch with people, don't isolate. If you need emotional support, find a group. They are out there. If you're reading this blog that means you found Reeve Connect. Good. You are Not alone. This is a journey many are on just like you. We Love the ones we care for. Show them you care by loving yourself enough to give yourself the break you need. Come back relaxed, clear-headed and ready to help again. Your loved one will appreciate a rested, kind, smiling caregiver.

Now go...take a break!

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.