By Tracey Lawrence
“When I grow up, I want to be a caregiver!” said no one, ever, in the history of the world. Yet millions of people do become caregivers, whether they identify as such or not.
To clarify, anyone who provides custodial assistance (walking, feeding, cooking, dressing) to an adult is a caregiver. Too many people who fall into this noble, challenging, infuriating and intermittently rewarding occupation are not prepared for it, and will be hard-pressed to find a manual or practical guidance.
Having been a serial caregiver myself, I have made my share of mistakes, and observed the trials and tribulations of others on the caregiver road. We develop a “super hero” complex, denying the possibility that we ourselves are vulnerable to illness, and wind up dying from neglect. (I’m not exaggerating. I know caregivers who literally died because they wouldn’t seek medical attention. I am on a mission to keep caregivers from killing themselves.)
So what can a caregiver do to not lose themselves in their role?
1. Put your own needs first, ABOVE those you care for. If you go down in flames, everyone who depends on you will, too.
2. Do not accept responsibility without authority. As you become increasingly involved with another’s care, you will be called upon to make decisions for them. You may give up your livelihood and home. For all of these reasons, you MUST seek an elder law attorney, preferably while the person you’re caring for is still competent. You will need advance directives and a record of the loved one’s wishes for what happens once they pass away. Too many former caregivers find themselves homeless; don’t be one of them.
3. Take respite. This means taking time out for YOU. Have some fun, whatever that means for you, whether it’s having cocktails with friends (TIP: do not be the designated driver), getting a massage, or going away for a weekend.
4. Journal. You will get sick of hearing your own voice complaining about how hard it is to deal with your situation. So, write it down. Get it out of your system. The act of expressing your darkest thoughts and feelings on a page is VERY therapeutic and cleansing. And recording events has value. Being able to go back to your notes later will give you insight into just how strong and amazing you are.
5. Ask for help. Most caregivers become isolated, and get discouraged when others turn down their requests for coverage, assistance or respite. If you don’t have people you can rely on in your immediate circle, try community groups, religious groups, or hire someone from a licensed agency. If the person you care for has resources, don’t be afraid to spend their money on them. That’s what it’s meant for.
Snack On these strategies:
Download for FREE Lawrence’s Coping Strategies for Caring Kids including tips on how to hire help in your parent’s homes or how to move them to a facility.
Tracey S. Lawrence is the author of “Dementia Sucks: A Caregiver’s Journey – With Lessons Learned” and the founder of Grand Family Planning, where she coaches families to plan for illness.