The Caregiver’s Guide to Self-Care: Part I
“Never give from the depths of your well, but from your overflow.”
At 22 I decided to put my career on hold and return home to take care of my grandfather who was struggling with Parkinson’s disease and dementia. I devoted my life to his daily care, determined he would not end up in a nursing home, surrounded by strangers. He needed constant attention, especially when the dementia would take hold, causing him to have confusion and fear. I knew I could handle it, and I did with all the kindness and grace I could muster. However, I paid the price. During my lowest moments of depression, I felt alone and overwhelmed with no way out. My intention was to love and care for my dear one, yet somewhere along the way, I lost myself.
Caregiver burnout can be a serious issue. Generally, your first instinct is to help others before helping yourself. In reality, it should be the other way around—only when you help yourself first can you lovingly and effectively help others. This may feel wrong initially. Although demonstrating love and commitment to your loved ones can be rewarding on so many levels, it can also take a heavy mental and physical toll on you due to the immensely stressful demands as your role as caretaker. At the end of the day, who is taking care of you—the caregiver? As stated in this article published by Stanford Medicine, “It’s fair to say there are really two patients, the caregiver and the person who is terminally ill.”
Every so often my mind wanders back to that time many years ago spent with my grandfather, and I am a bit surprised to find that I don’t regret one moment despite the challenges. I take this time now to share not only what I learned from that experience, but what I truly believe would have helped me cope with the demands of the responsibility.
Take Responsibility for Your Well-being
You are a little speck in the universe doing the best you can. It’s impossible to have control over every little thing. The well-known Serenity Prayer offers a beautiful reminder:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
You may not be able to change a situation or other people, but you can certainly change yourself. It may sound harsh, but don’t expect people to step up and help in a way you would like. Instead, take action, no matter how small, toward fulfilling your own needs. This will make a huge positive impact on your physical and mental wellbeing. Get in the driver seat of your own life and take control, even if it’s baby steps at first.