After attending a retreat this week for helping professionals, there were a lot of things put into perspective for me. One being that we all need to make time for is self-care in our routines, to maintain a balance between things we must do and things we should be doing for ourselves on a daily basis. But another poignant moment at the retreat posed the question: “Who do you want to bring into your circle?” The circle symbolizes your safe space, the area you’re surrounded by that accompanies you through your day to day. It represents your thoughts and hopes and also your vulnerabilities. So the question that was posed of whom you’d want to enter this space with you or who you’ve already accepted into this space was profound. It’s not often that we are able to take the time to consciously think of those we’re surrounded by and why it is we’ve chosen them to be a part of our lives. Being able to reflect on this was moving.
We go through life at times with certain blinders on. We rush through daily activities and sometimes forget that we’re part of a bigger world, full of other people experiencing similar types of thoughts and feelings, though each unique and different in their own way. Our circles intersect with others, and though we may not realize it, some of us have already chosen whom or what we’d like as part of our circle. They are the family and friends we surround ourselves with, those we let in when we need to connect and feel validated. They are the places we like to visit, the things we enjoy doing most. It can really be anything or anyone; it’s up to you who enters the circle, because after all, it is yours.
Being a caregiver doesn’t always mean having time to take care of yourself, but at times it is exactly what’s needed in order to maintain your own wellbeing. Yes, it may not always fit into your schedule while taking care of others, but it requires some consideration so that you may carry out these other responsibilities. As a caregiver, self-care means having to make time during the busy day to do something for yourself. For some this is difficult to achieve or even fathom, because the person being cared for is your top priority. But, if possible, you may be able to make minor changes or tweaks to a routine that creates the time and space for this much needed self-care. Though caregiving can be unpredictable due to the changing nature of illness, it is important to take advantage of times where you can be taken care of too. Here are some suggestions to find these moments of self-care:
Take rests when they rest.
Eat regularly! Eating meals together can have an added quality time component too.
Venture outside of the home when you can. Running errands, going shopping, or even just taking a brief walk can provide some alone time needed to rejuvenate yourself (To search for respite resources in your area, see the ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center, http://archrespite.org/home).
Talk! Caregiving can be an overwhelming and emotional journey, so if you have the opportunity to talk or vent about your experiences, do so. If you would like an objective third party to listen who’s not a family member or friend, it may be helpful talking to a counselor/therapist about your experiences in order to safely and effectively express your feelings in this role.
Caregiving is no easy task. It takes a lot of hard work, determination and commitment. So while you’re busy taking care of others, be sure to remember you, and that sometimes you need care too!
The role of the caregiver is often described as “the rock” or “the foundation” of the family; the one responsible for the wellbeing of all. But who takes care of you? Just as much as your loved one needs your support, you need support also. It is ok to take a break, and turn to help when you need it. In order to be the best caregiver you can be you need to be well rested both mentally and physically. Being the primary caregiver for an individual with MS can be challenging. The unpredictability of MS itself creates an additional challenge in trying to manage your day to day life.
There are some helpful resources for those in the caregiver role to aid in the management of the daily challenges of caregiving. The Family Caregiver Alliance provides caregiving information and advice as well as a guide to state resources available to caregivers. The Caregiver Action Network offers information and resources to individuals in all types of caregiving situations. The site helps to identify the various needs that caregivers may express through their varying roles.
Another great resource directed specifically towards spousal caregivers is the Wellspouse Association. They coordinate a national network of Support Groups and facilitate a Mentor program. And when the time comes for a break, the National Respite Network provides a National Respite Locator to help caregivers locate respite services in their community. The site also helps to educate caregivers on how to find and choose appropriate respite care.
With so many resources available to assist the individual in the caregiving role, now it is your time to take a break and be the best caregiver that you can be.
Throughout any given day, we all put things off; we tell ourselves that some things are ok to wait until tomorrow and we often lose track of time just trying to finish yesterday’s tasks today. Most of the time these “things” that we push to the side and put off for another day are self-fulfilling tasks; doing something we enjoy, accomplishing an activity we’ve been “meaning to get to,” but haven’t had the time or setting aside time to process the day’s events. We become lost in taking care of others and performing certain goals that we lose the time encouraged for completing our own goals.
Is there something you’ve been telling yourself you would do “when you have the time?” Perhaps one of the goals you set for the day should be making time for yourself. Write down that story you’ve had in your head, watch the movie you’ve wanted to see or get in touch with the friend you’ve been meaning to call. If you don’t take the time to encourage self-care activities that you want to do, you may find difficulty performing the tasks you have to do.