What is a caregiver? Wikipedia’s definition is “a paid or unpaid member of a person’s social network who helps them with activities of daily living.” Caregiving is most commonly utilized to address impairments related to aging, disability, a disease, or a mental disorder.
Being a caregiver usually creeps up on you. At some point you realize you have made a commitment to take care of someone else. Often it is triggered by a major health event, such as cancer. It can be difficult and stressful. Life as you know it stops, and all your energy is invested into caring for your loved one. Before you realize it, caregiving has become your new career and you adjust to a new normal.
However, caregivers play other roles as well. You may have a job, children to raise, a spouse, or other family commitments. The addition of caregiving to that list can easily lead to frustration and exhaustion. You are rarely trained to do the broad range of tasks required of caregivers.
If you find yourself in a caregiver role, you will be more successful if you learn to take care of yourself. Some things to remember:
- You cannot be perfect.
- You have a right to all your emotions.
- Depression is the most common emotion of long-term caregivers.
- Set realistic expectations—for yourself and your loved one.
- Lean about the disease and what you can expect.
- Learn the skills you need to safely care for your loved one.
- Lean to say “no” to the things that you cannot do.
- Learn to accept help from others.
- Identify your stressors and the coping skills needed to deal with these stressors.
Caregiving is often a 24/7 job, and everyone needs a break sometimes. Getting away, even for a short time, can give you perspective and remind you that there is a world out there. Taking a break can give you a chance to connect with others, share, laugh, catch up, and renew yourself. It can also be a time for just doing things that are relaxing for you, such as reading, taking a nap, or going for a walk. Breaks are a necessary step in taking care of yourself so that you are better able to care for someone else.
Remember, you can’t do it alone! It’s vital to ask for help and obtain support for your caregiving situation. The longer you are a caregiver, the more isolated you can become. A lack of social interaction can lead to a decline in your own health. The only way to be successful over time is to honor your own needs as well as your commitment to caring for someone else.
Caregiving is the most difficult job I have ever had, but also one of the most rewarding.
The month of November is an opportunity to recognize, support, and empower those who do so much. Look around and take note of those you know who have taken on this role.
To all of you caregivers—thank you for all that you do! You are truly appreciated!
Jean Schoen is founder and president of Cancer Connection of Northwest Ohio, Inc. (419-725-1100).