Dozens of friends have said it. Strangers have even said it. “You have to take care of yourself,” they announce, as if I’ve never heard this advice before. I tell them I’m already taking care of myself. Some ask what I’m doing. A friend recently gave me this advice and I told her I was writing. She looked bewildered.
“Writing? she asked. “How does writing help you take care of yourself? There are so many answers to this question I could write a book on the topic. My challenge was to summarize the benefits of writing in two or three sentences, max. I figured I was up to the challenge.
“I’m a health and wellness writer,” I began. “When I’m researching a book, I find many ideas that help me with caregiving. I learn as I go.” For a few seconds my friend looked confused, but then a smile came across her face.
“Now I get it,” she declared, and I think she did.
Caregivers have different ways to take care of themselves. Your self-care may differ markedly from mine, and that’s okay. Self-care is what’s important. Just as you are responsible for a loved one, you are responsible for your our own wellbeing. How can you practice self-care?
Eat right. This means you eat regular, nutritious meals, and monitor snacks. Go easy on salt, sugar, and fat. Boost your intake of fruits and vegetables. Understand the difference between a portion and a serving. A portion is how much you decide to eat, whereas a serving is a measured amount of food based on nutrition data.
Get enough sleep. Develop a nighttime routine and stick to it as best you can. I try to be in bed by 10 p.m. Before I get ready for bed I slow down, get the weather report, and turn down the bed.
Build physical activity into the day. This can be housework, yard work, or working out. My disabled husband and I just joined a health club, and he uses a special bike. While he is on the bike I walk a mile on the treadmill. I can walk a mile in 15 minutes.
Stay in touch. Email friends, post on social media, or call a friend. You may not be able to keep all of your social contacts, but you can keep a few.
Have a primary care physician. This helps your doctor to help you. Your physician keeps track of your health, orders tests when necessary, and recommends preventive steps.
Identify feelings. Before you can cope with a feeling you need to know what you are feeling. Try to name your feelings—encouraged, discouraged, tired, etc.—as quickly as you can.
Schedule breaks. Meet a friend for lunch or take an afternoon off. A friend may be willing to care for your loved one for a few hours. You may also hire a paid caregiver.
Keep your job, if possible. In her book, Passages in Caregiving, author Gail Sheehy tells how she continued to write. This helper her focus her mind on other things and “What ifs?” she explains. (p. 136) If you can’t keep your full-time job, you may wish to switch to part-time.
Write about caregiving. You may wish to keep a feelings journal, regular journal, write poems, stories, or work on a family history. The words you choose reveal the real you and your real life.
Surprise yourself every now and then. I buy books on the Internet or buy another African violet. Watching violets bud and bloom makes me happy.
Despite your efforts, some family members and friends may not understand your self-care. So be it. Thank them for their concern, give them a hug, and assure them that self-care is part of each caregiving day.
The hard truth is, your loved one is not going to get any better even if you run yourself into the ground 24/7 trying to attend to their needs. They will stay the same or get worse no matter what, and if it is all on you, you must take care of yourself. You will likely live a longer time, and you do want to live, don’t you?
You both are from the heart writers. It is special for me. thanks
Thanks to Harriet’s Anticipatory Greif article and her book. I am taking better care of myself. Harriet I have posted to you on that article and I am so grateful for guiding me with that article an that book. I was like Bob for 5 years. I was trying to do everything and be everything to my husband me and our house hold. With both of us having MS. I am happier now than I have been in a long time. I am taking better care of myself and the end will come but I don’t know when. But I have to take care of me and when he passes I know I will be ok. It will be tough but i think I will be all grieved out. I am seeing a therapist now also. So with the tools and the checklist and the book. Which I am on the second time reading. I am better equipped to handle this most difficult situation. Thanks Harriet! And Bob also. Just replied to one of your latest. Thanks all!
I’ve read your posts Bob and they are written from the heart.
Harriet, that’s nice, but some of us were not blessed with your insight. When my wife was diagnosed multiple myeloma, blood cancer, and I was privately told she should not even be alive, but we will give her 3 or 4 weeks. I was told she will need a 24/7 caregiver. My question. “What is a caregiver?” And oh, by the way, I’ve never known anyone with cancer either. I’d never heard of her disease. The fear of the unknown just about drove me nuts. The third week both femurs broke, right hip broke off with right femur, during surgery her spine collapsed, she had a heavy burden of tumors and 4 broken ribs. She was dying. But she didn’t die, and we fought side by side for 29 more months until the end. Here’s my point. If a nurse with 47 years service hadn’t walked over to me in the second month of Annie’s illness and said, “Bob, you need to start taking care of yourself, if you don’t you will get sick and who will care for Annie.” It may sound common place to you, but I never knew I needed to take care of myself too. I lost 18 pounds the first 2 months, little sleep and ran off my feet. Annie had very little immunity and had to live as germ free as humanly possible. She lived 30 months. After the death I started writing on a new facebook page my daughter set up for me a few days after her momma’s death. Been writing ever since. But I did get a psychologist, Dr. Bryant, 2 months post death. Been seeing him every week for over 4 years now and we still have lots to talk about.
What I just wrote was the background. Here’s what I think.
Every cancer center or caregiver network in the country needs a copy of what I shall call “your checklist,” as in this blog you wrote. If I would of had the checklist, my life would still have been very challenging, but I would at least had some guidelines on how to care for myself, and legitimate choices to make. I’m not an undereducated man, and spending 24 years in the USAF, I learned one important thing. Sometimes, “We can be overcome by events.” That’s why we had so many checklists in the service for possible and unexpected events. Like walking into an office and being told your wife is going to die.
I read and enjoyed your article on Anticipatory Grief. Oddly enough I had one on the CGs schedule when yours came out. I went through Anticipatory grief in a big way. It was always common knowledge, it was never a matter of if Annie was going to die, just a question of when.
Thank you for all that you do for others.
Bob, I am so sorry for your loss and courage to respond to this wonderful checklist that Harriet has provided, I plan to give it to my husband to read as he is my caregiver and I want very much for him to take care of himself and have as joyful life as possible for right now to remain healthy in all ways for the future. Prayers and kudos for helping yourself as you have been doing.