To be fair, I find it a little odd that we celebrate caregivers for only a single month, when caregivers are caring for their loved ones every single day of every single month.
In this context, a caregiver is the person responsible for physical care and emotional support of someone who is unable to care for themselves due to an illness.
I remember many nights where being a caregiver felt like my only identity. It seemed I was turning Chris or Patrick every five minutes. While clearly, the turns may not have been that frequent, the morning seemed to arrive way too early; my eyes filled with tears, my head pounding and my heart breaking for my sons. I would rush downstairs and inhale a Diet Coke, feeling the carbonation burn my throat, jolting me awake to begin the day’s routine – bathroom, brush teeth, comb hair, elevator up and down – twice -, begin breakfast and start the engine of the van, heater blasting. One last check before leaving: do we need the bathroom, do we have everyone’s homework, what is the schedule and are we ready for school? Then it was back home to plan the rest of the day, pick up at 2, homework, dinner, get ready for bed – twice – and finally, hopefully, everyone settled by 10.
All while lovely friends and neighbors said ‘take care of yourself.” WHAT?
I don’t think caregivers need to be given tips about self-care, nor do we need to say to them things like drink more water, get more rest, take some time for yourself.
The barriers are NOT that we don’t know what we need, the barriers are in the emotional and psychological components. They are all interconnected and deeply layered, and we hesitate to talk about them.
We don’t talk about them in any meaningful way because the mindset is often “I should be able to handle this. Look what my son is going through, and he still smiles,” or “I feel guilty leaving for the afternoon, what if something happens?” So, all of this becomes too hard and too difficult to solve. And we choose to do neither and and think, I’llbe okay-ish. And on social media we see what we want to see, the caregivers that seem to juggle everything perfectly, effortlessly. Real-life wonder women. Our thoughts turn to… I have to measure up… But what if I don’t?
What is the story you tell yourself? “I would like to have time for me, but I don’t deserve this, they need me” and “How can I take time when there is so much to do, so much to think about?”
What I’m saying is that we need to talk about these feelings. To get them out in the open so we can say: You will feel guilty. It’s okay to feel guilty. But the guilt doesn’t have to win. The guilt doesn’t have to have all the power. The guilt doesn’t have to run you. It’s possible to feel LESS of the guilt. Just less, that’s all. Peel back the layers. Somewhere in there, there is YOU. The person you were before. The person who may have enjoyed time out, time to breathe, time to enjoy staring into space, time to wander and wonder, time to look good, something.
Find YOU this month. Recognize all the things that you are. Do something you did before; starve the feeling of guilt so it has less power over you. And in doing so, you just may return to daily life refreshed and filled with joy.