At some point in every one’s life you will find yourself in a situation that you were not prepared for, maybe it comes out of the blue or maybe it is a gradual progression. Becoming a full time caregiver can be one of those situations, whether you’re a nurse, mother or wife caring for her injured husband. Caregiving can quickly take over you’re entire life which is why it is so important to understand some basic truths about getting through it effectively, safely and how to keep yourself from having a meltdown.
My journey began when I received the phone call that my husband was severely injured in Iraq by a suicide car bomb. I immediately quit my job and flew thousands of miles to be by his side and see him through the tragedy. I was hyper focused on getting him better and so was everyone else.
There would be many down days, days of struggle and days of trying to find some semblance of happiness, I quickly learned that my feelings were second to Scotty’s, he was the one injured, he was the one struggling with this new life of blindness. I had to be strong, I had to show up everyday and I had to shove aside my feelings to care for him. Life doesn’t come with a road map, but having gone through what that period, I can see several lessons I learned. I thought I would share those with you in the hopes they would help you see your situation in a different light and encourage you to seek help for yourself.
I stuffed my feelings so far down that I drove myself right into a break down, which is what needed to happen. It showed me how much I needed to find care for myself too and it also shed light on how easy it is to completely lose yourself through the caregiving journey. And here’s the thing about losing yourself, you can’t help others if you yourself are drowning. I needed to sort through my anxieties, fears and pain so I could help Scotty with his. Through my many years of helping my husband get back on his feet I have learned several tips to ease the role of caregiver.
- Get a support network. Scotty and I had an incredible network of family and friends who were always there to help, encourage and support. Not everyone has a great family network, so find a strong support net, friends, neighbors, a group of people that will help you.
- Communicate your feelings. This one is the most important (and I really struggled with this), you must be able to effectively communicate with your support network. They need to understand your struggles as a caregiver and they can’t read your mind, so you have communicate what you’re feeling to them. You could also think of it as educating them on your journey, struggles, fears and feelings. For many years I expected people to understand my role, and would get very frustrated and sometimes angry when they did not simply “get it”. I soon realized that caregiving is a unique role that I did not even understand myself. Once I began sharing my feelings, the understanding and care I received from my friends and family grew.
- Take Breaks. You need to take time for yourself, sometimes long breaks and sometimes short breaks, just make sure you take them. No you are not being selfish, the most unselfish thing you can do is take time for yourself so you can serve others that much better. I remember I would be feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and misunderstood. I knew I needed a break, but I was stuck in the old way of thinking, I would feel that everyone thought I was being selfish, or spoiled etc (this goes back to effective communication). So I would take the breaks, but they weren’t really breaks because I was self conscious the whole time. It was not until after my breakdown that I learned how to effectively communicate the need, value and importance of a break, and everyone understood what I meant. Go with friends, go far away, go to a local hotel, whatever feeds you, find what that is and put it in your schedule, it will help you get through the days where you feel you can’t go on, you will know your time to renew is coming.
- Seek counseling. This was one of the best decisions I made. Finding that safe person to help you uncoil your thoughts, counseling helps you to understand yourself and your situation and once again helps lead you to the point where you can effectively communicate your situation to others. Counseling also helps you grow as an individual, it will challenge and stretch you. The beauty in it all is that when we are growing as individuals, we are also improving the lives of those around us.