In the past year I have found myself in the position of being a caregiver to my mom. I have never been a nurse or in any kind of care giving position before so it was all new to me. She is in her late seventies and had to have triple bypass surgery along with carotid artery surgery all within a couple of months. She had never been sick much in her life and had never had major surgeries prior to this time. It was a real shock to her system and it has been very difficult for her to overcome but we are making progress by the grace of God.
It was also a great shock for me after the surgery. As I said she had not been ill for most of her life and was a strong and dynamic person prior to this. Even though she was seventy seven years old she was out with her chain saw cutting down her younger sisters tree because it was impeding the way from her front door to the car and she was worried for her safety. A couple of years ago I found her up on the roof of the house tied with a rope so she could touch up the paint! She was not one to be kept down and so this surgery was not only a huge bump in the road of life for her but also for me. Mom had always taken care of everyone else and it took a lot of adjustment for me to wrap my mind around what she could and could not do right now.
In the past I had witnessed others who were in a care giving position but I was never directly responsible myself as a care giver. I knew it was a hard task and thought I understood what those people were going through but in all actuality you can never really understand until, as the old adage goes, “You take a walk in their shoes.” There is so much more to being a caregiver than people realize and it can really take a toll on the caregiver’s mental and physical health. If you are not careful at some point you find that, emotionally speaking, you are not in much better shape than the one you are caring for
Because of my recent experience I see now that it is not just helping someone physically, it involves taking care of their emotional health as well. Along with this also come countless trips to the doctor which takes an even bigger toll on the caregiver. There is not a lot of down time for the caregiver and before you see it coming you end up exhausted, emotionally unbalanced yourself, and even sometimes physically ill.
I have just recently learned that you must take care of yourself and take your own needs into consideration when you are a caregiver or you will find that you will be in the same shape as the one you are caring for. Many times things are happening so fast that you do not even realize when things are getting out of hand. I know now that it is important to ask for help and take breaks as a caregiver. Not only does your own health suffer but the care you give to the patient also suffers. When your health begins to go down your attitude towards the one you are caring for also suffers and this is never a good thing since they are already feeling like a burden to everyone. Being irritable about taking care of someone is never a healing thing for the sick.
It is a good idea to try and get someone to back you up by coming in a couple of times a week to give you a much needed break. It is also important that you get the proper amount of sleep and watch your diet as well. Do not cut corners for yourself because you are overly tired as a caregiver. And getting some exercise is also important because this helps to give you the energy you need to keep going. I have noticed that when I do not exercise or get enough sleep that I can become depressed and even resentful and it greatly hinders my ability to care for my mom.
I also found that I was cutting off all ties with friends and social events and I felt so very isolated. Thanks to my daughter she gave me the push I needed to get back out and talk to others in a group that had some understanding about what I was going through. She also helped me to reach out to other family members and friends of the family to come and spend some time with mom while I took some much needed time to get away. Through my church I found out about and began attending a Bible study that was in the home of someone in my neighborhood. Having this one simple outlet of a couple of hours a week was so healing to me. I found that just being able to share with others about my situation and, in my case, having others pray for me as a caregiver gave me much more strength than I had previously had. Having others to share the ups and downs of care giving with, especially those that also have parents around the same age and can understand what you are going through really does help.
My own children began to realize that I was not taking care of myself and stepped in to help. I did not even realize what I was doing to myself until they pointed it out and then when I spent some down time away from my care giving I began realizing how I had let it get out of hand. I know so many people find themselves taking care of someone and do not have the extra support like I do. I am very thankful that my children stepped in and pointed out what they were seeing.
I do know that there are agencies that will help if you do not have someone to step in. The United Way is a great place to start looking. They have so many different programs to help people and these programs are free because of all the wonderful people who contribute to the United Way. They can also refer you to other programs in your area and are knowledgeable about so many ways to help.
When we have loved ones who need us so many times we step in and try our best to take over with the best intentions. But if we are not careful and do not use wisdom about our own physical and mental health we will end up not being able to help at all. Or we will find ourselves getting irritable and unkind to the people we love and both parties will be the worse for it. We can not cut ourselves off from the rest of the world and we must take care of ourselves.
So my advice to those of you who find yourselves in a care giving position, from the very start make sure you have down time and someone to relieve your duties a couple times a week minimum. Make sure you stay in contact with others to support and encourage you during this time. Continue to get exercise and watch what you eat and get plenty of rest. Only by staying healthy as care givers, physically and mentally, can we truly be a help to those we are caring for.
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