When I recently asked you in my Instagram stories what you would most like me to blog about, one dear reader replied: self-care advice for full-time caregivers.
My heart went out to her immediately because I know her story – she is caring for her husband who is awaiting a kidney transplant – just like my brother. She randomly found me on Instagram (though, who am I kidding, I don’t believe it was random in the least) and when she told me her story, I was blown away. What a crazy circumstance to have in common. The only difference was a major one: I live hundreds of miles away from my brother and she is the day in, and day, out full-time caregiver for her sweet husband.
If you’ve never had the experience of waiting for a loved one to receive a vital organ, consider yourself extremely blessed. It is as much of a rollercoaster ride as foster care has been, if not more so. My husband and I, along with various other family members got tested and discovered we were not a match for my brother. Then my dad was, but then it turns out he wasn’t. Then a work associate of my dad’s heard my dad’s story and offered to be tested himself, never having met my brother; never having met any of our family other than my parents. He was a match and is getting tested March 12 to see if he is healthy enough to go through with the surgery. Prayers very, very, much appreciated.
And Mr. Miller, from the bottom of my heart: thank you. Whether you can go through with the surgery or not, your selflessness is unlike any I have encountered in my life thus far. God bless you.
So while it’s tough for me to be far away from my brother and his family while he’s going through all of this, including dialysis, I imagine it is much, much tougher to be the full-time caregiver. Of course it is. It’s much more difficult to see the day in, day out struggles physically, emotionally, and perhaps even spiritually when a loved one has a chronic and life-threatening illness. To my dear sister-in law, and this dear reader: I hear you, and I see you, and I’m praying for you.
Full-time caregiver is a hat that almost anyone can wear, if you think about it. Every parent is a full-time caregiver, even if they work outside the home. Ultimately, their kids are depending on them, not the daycare lady, for everything. Parenting a child with special needs takes caregiving to a whole different level. Caring for an elderly parent or relative makes you a full-time caregiver. And yes, caring for a chronically ill loved one makes you one, too.
If this title resonates with you, you’re in the right place. I want to share several ideas for you to make time for you so that you don’t burnout, become overwhelmed or exhausted, or perhaps worst of all, resentful.
Tell yourself what you did well each day
The near constant demands on a full-time caregiver mean that there will inevitably be days that go better than others. With so much riding on you, it’s easy to feel like the world has, indeed been placed squarely on your shoulders. Make sure you take time to reflect each day (I recommend the end of each day, if possible) to remind yourself of how you showed up, what you did well, and how you contributed to your loved one’s living their best life today. They need you, and you were there for them. Despite how you FEEL, especially on the toughest of days, you’re doing a freaking amazing job.
Set boundaries with other people
You’ve got enough on your plate right now to not take on anything else, unless it’s a 100% hell yes. People who aren’t full-time caregivers may not understand this, because it’s hard to really understand the ins and outs of all that is required of you each and every day. That’s ok, and you don’t need to spend time resenting them if they ask you for a favor, or even just to hang out. Simply decide whether or not it is something you are 100% willing and able to do, and then act accordingly. Your time and energy is more precious now than ever, and you must do what you need to in order to protect it. People will take as much from you as you will let them have, so don’t be afraid to set firm, clear boundaries.
Please see a therapist
At the very least, consider contacting me for a monthly self-care check-in. I can say from personal experience, now that I’m a foster mom, me going to therapy is not a matter of if, but when. Full-time caregivers need a place where they can say absolutely ANYTHING, confidentially, and without fear of judgment. Again, this is a role that others who don’t share it may not fully understand, so you need someone who can validate your experience and guide you in ways to best protect your mental health during this stressful time.
This is another non-negotiable where full-time caregiving is concerned, IMHO. Meditation isn’t just a break in your day where you can take a few deep breaths before you rush back into the demands or your to-do list. Rather, meditation helps you to grow in mindfulness and in fact, has been scientifically proven to increase neuroplasticity in your brain and change the way you think…in the best way possible. Staying in the present moment is absolutely essential to not losing your ever-loving mind as a full-time caregiver, be you a parent to many little humans, or caring for an elderly parent or sick loved one. If you’re having trouble with meditation or you don’t feel like it’s “for you,” please don’t hesitate to reach out to me and I can give you a few more pointers. You may also want to check out this blog post and this one for more info.
I hope you find these suggestions helpful, my friends. I’m so proud of you for showing up and loving others the way that you are. And I’m honored to be a part of your journey. Much love to you today and always!