In general, I love to write about sexier stuff like travel, fashion, and lifestyle for women over 50 but sometimes life intervenes. Taking care of a sick loved one is a challenge. Obviously, you’d like to see them get better but sometimes it’s a waiting game. It affects everything in your life from going out with friends, your work, traveling, and even what you eat. However, you will survive caregiving if you take care of yourself too.
For the past several years I’ve been taking care of my significant other who started off with one type of cancer (a rare non-aggressive lymphoma) and was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. It’s one of the worst cancers you can get but there have been trips to the ER, chemo, endoscopies, blood clots, and other problems we’ve had to deal with. You never know what to expect on any given day.
To survive caregiving take care of your own well-being
At the risk of sounding selfish, I want to focus on how the caregiver can survive the caregiving experience for those who are taking care of someone who is ill. The fact is, you need to be taken care of too or it can have a negative impact on YOUR health. Based on my own experience, I want to share a few tips I’ve found to be helpful in reducing the stress and difficulties that come with taking care of a loved one.
Do everything you can to stay healthy
I can’t believe all the times I felt like something was wrong with me whether it was sore shoulders, creaky knees, or even thinking I was growing tumors myself. It’s easy to be a hypochondriac when you’re a caregiver. However, it’s critical to stay on top of your health.
If you think something’s wrong, don’t be a martyr and get checked out right away. It’s easy to put it off because of all of your loved one’s needs, but that won’t help you survive your caregiving ordeal mentally. If all is well, I assure you, your doctor will at least give you the confidence that you’ll be okay.
Take time for self-care
I went months without getting my hair done and felt mousy and dumpy. When I finally walked out of the salon with a new dye and do, I was a new person. Be a little selfish. Buy a new outfit, get your nails done, have a therapeutic massage, or anything you feel will help you survive with your confidence intact. If you can’t afford it, realize you can’t afford to not do it. Caregiving is not only tiring but takes a hit on your self-confidence if you let it.
Did I mention this is the 2nd guy I’ve taken care of? My husband had brain cancer, so I’ve been a caregiver before. If your patient is narcissistic and both my husband and significant other have had their moments, it can be like pulling teeth to get them to get their affairs in order. You don’t want to be morbid about it so they won’t lose hope, but the fact is, if they die, you’ll be stuck with a big mess if you don’t take care of the financial tasks ahead of time.
When I look at couples who are attached at the hip and will do anything for each other, it’s hard not to be jealous. Unfortunately, not all patients will put your interests at the top of their to-do lists. They’re busy fighting a terrible disease and they sometimes need a little prodding. Or A LOT of prodding. They procrastinate because it makes them focus on the final outcome.
What you need to have in place in the event of an emergency
- Make sure you have a list of your loved ones’ computer passwords for their bank accounts, health care info, car loans, financial documents, etc.
- Have them fill out their advance directive, POLST Form, and instructions on funeral arrangements. Put this information in a safe place where you can find it.
- Put a File of Life magnet on your refrigerator with all of your patient’s medical information on it. If you have to call 911, for any reason, the paramedic will see this and have all the necessary info. I also recommend you have one for yourself.
A friend of mine has created a whole workbook for that you can download called Getting Affairs in Order.
Here is something I learned in my caregiving journey: If your patient falls, do not attempt to pick him or her up because you can hurt yourself. Call 911 and as for a pickup and assist. A fireman will arrive and pick up your patient. I learned this from a hospice nurse after I almost strained myself picking him up off the ground.
Keep a calendar you can sync with your phone and tablet
I use my Google calendar. If you have a Google account (Gmail) it’s one of the features and you can easily access and sync it to all your devices. I keep track of my work and personal obligations, his numerous doctor appointments, procedures, scans, and all the other appointments we go to each week.
Get away from it all even for an hour
Have you heard about Forest Bathing? The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku which means “bathing in a forest atmosphere. Find a natural area like a forest or even a city park. Turn your phone on vibrate so it won’t startle you but is available if there is an emergency. Take in and savor the environment, the smells, sounds, air, and sunlight. Let all of it fill your entire body. Breathe in the fresh clean air to find calm and relaxation. To learn more, please read Forest Bathing by Dr. Qing Li.
Don’t put your entire life on hold
Sometimes you need a break because caregiving can be isolating. Ask for help from a friend, relative, or hire a temporary caregiver for the day. Your mental survival depends on it.
Caregiving can also disrupt your work if you still have a job or run a business. You may have to cancel appointments suddenly to deal with an emergency. The stress of caregiving can cause you to become distracted which makes it difficult to focus on your goals. That’s normal.
Keep working to envision your future in a positive way. Losing a loved one can take a hit on your finances and may even impact your living situation. To survive caregiving you need a plan to move forward with your life and the more you can put in place toward that goal, the easier it will be. Work on your vision board, your sense of purpose, and put some money away if you can.
Being a caregiver is scary and may even give you nightmares
When someone has a terminal disease you never know what will happen on any given day. You may find yourself checking to see if they are still breathing or experience vivid nightmares that give you chills. It can make you nuts. When you find yourself having an anxiety attack, breath slowly, meditate, do affirmations, pet a dog, have a glass of wine, or whatever helps you relax. It will pass.
Realize your patient is lucky to have you
Patients often get grumpy to the point that you may want to smack them. (Please don’t!) They have a lot to deal with emotionally and physically. Cut them some slack. But a patient who has you as their caregiver is also lucky. There are so many Baby Boomers who are at the age when health issues come into play. Some don’t have a partner, children, or even many friends to provide caregiving and be an advocate for them. I can’t even imagine what that would be like to deal with.
Some of my acquaintances on Facebook have detailed their health struggles in great detail. They’ve written about how they had to take themselves to treatments and even raise money for their healthcare. It’s always heartbreaking. As a caregiver, give yourself credit that you are helping another human being get through the pain, fear, and complexities of being ill. You will earn many karma points tenfold and your ability to survive caregiving will be your reward.
Have you been a caregiver to someone you love? How has caregiving affected your life? Please leave a comment below.