Whether it is an aging parent, disabled child or a seriously ill spouse, caregiving is one of the most challenging jobs there is; the toll it can take on your mental health is enormous, with a recent study reporting depression in 40 percent of caregivers surveyed. Self-neglect can also jeopardize physical health, with many reporting an increase in their own health problems since taking on this role. It certainly is not easy, but there are ways to make it easier. Here are some strategies to help you cope.
Let People Help You
It can be easy to let ego get in the way and tell yourself you have it all covered, but very few people can cope with these demands on their own. If people offer help, take them up on it. If you need help, ask the people who you know will give it to you.
Do Not Put Yourself on the Backburner
The demands of caregiving make it all too easy to completely forget about yourself; you may feel guilty for wanting time alone or needing a break, but taking time for yourself is best for not only you, but the person you are caring for. You have a right to your own happiness and health.
Be Realistic about the Situation
There is only so much you may be able to handle in caring for your loved one; if you need to hire professional caregivers for certain tasks or to lighten your load, do not hesitate to do so. Learn to accept what you cannot change and your loved one’s abilities.
Knowledge is power, and the more you know about your loved one’s condition, the better you will be able to cope with it. A better understanding translates to better care.
Reach Out to Other Caregivers
Unless someone has walked in your shoes, he has no idea how overwhelming the demands of caring for another person can be; reach out to other caregivers. Find a local support group or reach out online. Agingcare.com is a wonderful site to connect with people just like you, and find interesting and informative articles.
It is Okay to Hate It
No one would choose this life, and it is understandable if you wish your current situation was different. You may experience a lot of guilt about your feelings of hating this situation. It is okay. It does not mean you do not love the person. Who totally wants to sacrifice her life to the care of another? No one, and hating it is okay.
It can be devastating to watch a once vibrant parent descend into dementia, or know that your spouse is now living with a chronic life-changing disease. These are losses that will produce a sense of grief, and it is okay to grieve the people they once were. This new role may have turned your life completely upside down—mourn the loss. But, no matter what, focus on new dreams and new ways of being.
Just because your loved one is unable to live completely independently, does not mean he is unable to do anything for himself. If there are things she can do on her own, encourage her to do so. While many ill people may not realize they are doing it, they may manipulate you or get a bit lazy knowing you are there to pick up the slack.
Take Advantage of Community Services
Many communities offer services that can lighten your load a bit; perhaps you can arrange transportation to doctor’s appointments. Adult day care may be an option for respite. If your loved one was a veteran, he may be eligible for various types of assistance. Call your local Area Agency on Aging for more information.
There may be times when you mess up—after all, you are not a healthcare professional. You may snap at your loved one. Mistakes will be made, anger will shown. It is okay..forgive yourself. You are doing a very hard job for no pay—give yourself some credit!
Kelli Cooper is a freelance writer who blogs about a variety of issues surrounding caregiving; she recommends learning more about supportive living in Illinois for those of you in the area researching assisted living.