As a caregiver, you hear this over and over and over until your ears bleed. And as a caregiver, I know how hard this really is… Take care of myself?! what?! I don’t have time! I have to take care of the quad and the kid and the dog that all live with me. How in the hell am I going to take care of myself?
Well. I do. And it took me a long time to figure out how… And I can tell you right now that the more I take care of myself (and the better I do at it), the better my family is because of it. It matters. Very much so! So yes, you must listen to me. so there!
I will admit that it is probably easier for me than most since my child is now 5 ½ and is very self-sufficient. The quad is also self-sufficient but not in the way that you’re thinking. He can think for himself AND <gasp> SPEAK for himself! I KNOW! Yes, yes he can and unfortunately, it took me a while to realize it. Shame on me. But he can. Although he can barely move his left arm and cannot move his right one at all, he can still tell everyone what he does and doesn’t need. And what he doesn’t need is me hovering over him at all times of the day waiting on his every whim. Yes, he loves it most days but he doesn’t need it. He actually <gasp again!> enjoys some time alone! WHAT?! Yes, this is not shocking but I used to use it as an excuse to not do something for myself. Well… he cannot be alone? Um, why not? just because he cannot use his arms or hands doesn’t mean I cannot turn on the baseball game and let him listen to it while hanging out on the patio. How is that any different than me sitting with him while he’s listening? I think he can wait an hour to get a drink of water or a snack…. He knows he can and tells me so all the time. so excuses are gone! Time has opened up…
So what’s a girl to do? TAKE CARE OF HERSELF! Yes, ladies (let’s face it, most caregivers are female… but for those who aren’t, my apologies since I’m thinking of you too, ok?). So, yes ladies and gents, we need to take care of ourselves.
So how do I do it? FIRST?! Sleep. I sleep. For a while, it was cat naps when the kid was sleeping. Then it was extra sleep on the couch when the nurse came at 5 am until 6 am when she was finished (which didn’t really help and kind of made things worse). Now, I FORCE myself to go to bed by 10. Yes, I do. I have to make sure that I accomplish all that I need to do by 10 and if it’s not done by then, it waits until the next day. I’m not always asleep by 10… okay, rarely ever. But I am always in bed by 10; relaxing. Every night… unless it’s a weekend and I know I can sleep the next day. but sleep is the most important thing we can do for ourselves. So go to bed. Seriously, GO TO BED. When I don’t sleep, I can’t think and when I can’t think, I get cranky. And for those that know me, I’m not someone you want cranky….
What else do I do? I workout. Yup. Not regularly… although I do have a weekly yoga date (once a week) but I try to do something a few times a week in addition to yoga. If I don’t, I don’t. if I do, even better! I bought myself a treadmill and put it in the basement and I run when I can for as long as I can. I also bought a punching bag that I hung in the basement and let me tell you, punching it is better than therapy! Holy crap, it’s AMAZING! When the quad was injured, I had baby weight to still lose. And when the quad got injured, I realized I really liked eating since it made me feel good. I gained 30 more pounds…. Not good. It has taken me almost 3 years of starting and stopping and figuring out what works but I’ve lost almost 45 pounds. I’m not the healthiest eater but I do what I can to take care of myself and because of it, I have the energy I need to take care of my family AND myself, when I get the time.
What else? I take mini breaks… for a while, I snuck out at night and just stood outside and looked at the stars. It was usually when everyone was in bed (and past my 10 pm bedtime….) but it was time that I could breathe… no one was calling for me. no one needed me. I could just stand there and be quiet and still and not have to think. Or, when I took the trash out, I’d do it slowly… or I’d lock the bathroom door when I was in there… or I’d hide in the closet. Yes, I used to hide in the closet to cry or think or just be alone since I desperately needed it and felt bad about saying that I needed the time. so I hid. So if you have to hide right now, do it. Just do something to take a break until you’re ready to tell the world that you need a break.
The hardest thing for me to do but the most beneficial is I spend time with my friends. EVERYONE, quads and caregivers alike, needs to do this as often as possible. But, I had to battle a lot of guilt to accomplish this one. and I still do battle it. but again, the quad and the kid can handle themselves when they are together and you know what? they do it amazingly well… they are a great team and don’t need me there all the time. so, I can find a few hours to be with my friends and relax and be me.
As a caregiver, it is crucial that you take care of yourself. it doesn’t matter how old you are or who you are taking care of but you MUST take care of yourself. If you don’t, who is going to do it for you? No one. Do it in small doses and take small steps. Don’t force it or you’ll stop doing whatever it is you’re trying to do. But do something… read a book, a magazine, surf the internet and find a funny video and laugh. Do something you haven’t done in a while that you used to enjoy. Take five minutes since it is so good for your soul.
And finally, this one I got from yoga, breathe. Take a minute to take a deep breath and notice how long it is going in and out. take another one. and another. Close your eyes. Slow yourself down. Relax your shoulders and picture your shoulder blades traveling down your back (FYI, TOTALLY helps your shoulders relax) and breathe again… fill your lungs and your belly and then slowly let it out. Then slowly open your eyes and go back and rock.