After going through the journey and heartache of being the family caregiver for my father for twelve years, and then enduring the pain of legal conflicts with my siblings, I ultimately asked myself a key question: What would I do differently if I could do it all over again My answer was simple: I would take better care of myself.
Looking back, I do not regret my decision to be my father’s caregiver. I did it for love. It was rewarding to have the opportunity to give of myself to my father in his time of need, as he had given so much to me. Even so, it was exhausting; it took a very real, physical toll on my body.
The moral of my story: to be an effective caregiver, you must also take care of yourself. I’ve found that exercise and meditation help me relax, and now I wish I had known to take some time to nurture myself better while I was on the journey with my father.
While interviewing more than fifteen hundred caregivers nationwide, I was amazed that they all gave responses that were similar to mine when I asked them the question, “What would you do differently?” We’re so busy caring for our loved ones that we forget how important our own self-care is. As a result, caregivers end up with all sorts of physical ailments, including back and neck problems -- we even end up in the hospital.
When I asked one woman if there was something she’d do differently if she could do the caregiving all over again, she too, remarked, “I didn't give consideration to my own health, and I should have.” She then confessed that she’d had so much love for her mother that even though she herself had diabetes and hypertension, when she was at her mother’s bedside in the hospital, her eating habits fell apart. Matters came to a head one day, when she thought she was having a heart attack. She couldn't make it from her chair in the living room to her dining room table without feeling like she was going to fall down. She went to see the doctor and was told she had severe anemia. And like many other caregivers, who somehow manage to keep themselves going with adrenaline when in a crisis mode, in the transition period when she was grieving her mom’s death, the woman fell apart.
Caregivers are notoriously run-down. A common thread in all my conversations with the caregivers I have met across the country is how beaten up they feel. They’re trying to help someone they love and they’re falling to pieces in the process.
For detailed information on how to “Take Better Care of Yourself -- get my brand new book --The Caregiver’s Companion: Caring for Your Loved One Medically, Financially and Emotionally While Caring for Yourself Paperback – Paperback – January 27, 2015
About the Author
Carolyn Brent is a nationally acclaimed author, speaker and caregiver advocate, and she has dedicated her life to preparing the elderly and their caregivers to face end-of-life issues. She
is the founder of Caregiver Story, a nonprofit organization that provides free medical and legal resources to the public.
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Carolyn took self care and fitness to a whole new level when doctors told her that if she hit a certain weight, she would need to be in a wheelchair. She committed to being fit and even decided to compete at 57.