It makes perfect sense that when someone you love becomes ill, all your attention focuses on your loved one. But study after study has shown that the caregiver is under enormous stress as well … Donald Meyer – a retired attorney and activist for the arts in Santa Fe – is a husband, father and caregiver. He and a professional counselor teach a course he developed for the Cancer Institute of New Mexico, where he shares with others what he has learned. Here are some basic concepts you may want to know about:
1. You may become a caregiver by choice, by necessity — or both
People should know that whatever they are facing and regardless of what other people have grown through that:
• Each care giving experience is unique;
• Each illness is different;
• Each age is different;
• Each and every relationship is different.
2. Remember you are important too.
There is a “Caregiver’s Bill of Rights”, and, yes, this applies to YOU. You have the right to:
a) Take care of yourself
b) Seek help from others even if your loved one objects
c) Maintain facets of your life that do not include the care recipient
d) Express your emotions
e) Reject your loved one’s manipulation (if possible)
f) Take pride in what you have accomplished
g) Protect your individuality
3. Recognize and do not fear your “crushing” emotions which include:
fear, sadness, guilt, blame, frustration, depression, resentment, loneliness, irritation … These feelings are normal, having them does not mean you are selfish and uncaring; they may indicate that you need a break.
ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE HUMAN, REGENERATE AND SEEK SOME PLEASURE FOR YOURSELF …
4. Find outlets for yourself:
b. communicate outside your care giving environment
c. take charge of the care giving; be proactive, not just reactive
d. reward yourself; go to a movie; have lunch with a friend
e. get help and support at home and for yourself
f. seek professional help; take medications if needed
g. get as much physical exercise as possible; keep the beta-endorphins moving (runner’s high)
h. go to the grocery … to the post office box … get out in a fresh environment … talk to people
i. take a respite
5. Recognize that there are losses caregivers (as well as care recipients) sustain: Intimacy … Sex … Privacy … Independence … Dreams … Partnership … Dignity … Money …I ntellectual … Friendship … While these losses may produce feelings of anger, sadness, depression, abandonment, and guilt, remember you’re not alone. Many of us share these losses.
6. There actually are some survival and emotional first aid outlets you can take:
- Smile and laugh — not easy, but try to find a way to do it.
- Call someone who is not judgmental and who makes YOU feel good about yourself. (Reject people who keep telling you “how to do things” better and who tell you stories of their medical encounters with their family members or pets.)
- Read a novel; turn off the television.
- If you enjoy them, get a massage … a facial … an acupunture …
- Take a walk.
- Go online — but not to learn more about the illness > to have fun. Make the internet your get away.
- Write a story … poetry … an article … whatever moves you about your care giving experiences …
- Set reasonable priorities for yourself.
7. Realize that you are totally helpless in the face of intense suffering.
We cannot wave a magic wand and give our loved ones back their sense of control or sense of well-being. We can only make them feel as comfortable as possible.
8. Make the best of medical information
Learn all you can about your care recipient’s medical condition (go on the internet) and treatment options as well as setting future appointments when you can be present so that you will be comfortable with YOUR interaction with the medical team caring for him or her.
Attend all visits to the doctors with him or her. You need to hear what is said or what the recipient thought was said. Four ears are better than two.
9. Listen … GUILT IS NORMAL … YOU’RE RELIED ON
- Always listen to what the care recipient says, and listen to what your inner self is saying to you.
- Do not feel guilty if you have thoughts which make you feel guilty about the current state of your feelings. These feelings are perfectly normal.
- And particularly remember that each of our loved ones rely on US as a key element in their care and day to day lives: In every instance it was the presence in their lives of an individual who said in effect, “I believe in your ability to recover, and I am going to stay with you until you do,” that brought them through another morning, another day, another month and many more years of their lives.