As Caregivers, we are pulled into many directions throughout the day. Often getting to the things that are on “our list”, might come last or at times never at all. When I first became a caregiver, I was lost and overwhelmed beyond belief, and I felt incredibly isolated. Now almost 10 years later many things have changed, but I would like to take a few minutes to share with you about self care, because not only is it important, it is imperative to master if you want your well being to be taken seriously, by yourself AND others. Many caregivers neglect themselves with the thought that they will be a better caregiver by giving everything of them to the care recipient, oh how wrong and harmful this thought process is! When you are on a plane, you are told that in case of an emergency that you should put on your own oxygen mask first, before helping others. In order to be a successful caregiver, you MUST make time to take care of yourself.
There are many ways to accomplish this, whether it be that you exercise as we all should (hey even a few push ups, or jumping jacks count), or perhaps a long hot bath is amazing to you, or grabbing a coffee with a friend to just have someone else to talk to. Whatever way you find your relaxation, schedule it into your life whether that is daily, weekly, or monthly and everyone around you will be better off for it. If you find this to be a daunting task that makes you really uncomfortable start by trying something once a month. If respite care for your warrior is a concern, see if you qualify for help through the VA caregiver program or geriatrics program. Outside of the VA, Wounded Warriors Family Support has a great respite program. If your Veteran is nervous about you leaving them with someone else, stay the first few times with the Home health aide, until they warm up to the idea of someone else being around them.
I know you might be thinking that you don’t have the time or help to do this, but the truth is NOT finding time to take care of yourself only hurts you in the long run, and it could also negatively impact your warrior, because you being able to care for them well is important to their physical and emotional well being. I believe that self care also requires that you see a doctor at least once a year to make sure you are healthy, and if you aren’t work out a plan to get there. I get that we all have really crazy busy lives, I really do but a few years ago I made myself start making me and my individuality a priority as well, because guess what? I am still ME, not just a caregiver. I had hobbies, dreams, and goals before he was wounded, and at some point I let those go, and made way too much about him. I am not saying your warrior is not important, because of course they are, but SO ARE YOU! Please don’t buy into the guilt that taking time for yourself is a bad negative thing, because it seriously is so healthy for you to take care of yourself. If money is an issue, cause lets face it we are all on a budget, find a meet up group, or take a walk and enjoy the fresh air. The possibility of activities for you to enjoy are endless, there are even MANY caregiver retreats through various non profit organizations for you to grab a break here and there.
The data speaks for itself, Military caregivers are way more stressed than civilian caregivers,I’d guess this has to do with the fact that we deal with catastrophic injuries, where as the civilian counterparts are more so caring for elderly parents in most cases, and the caregiver burden load that we carry is much higher, while the average age of the Military caregiver is much lower. We have been at war over 10 years, the longest in history. Military Caregivers fill a different role than their civilian counterparts, we are the hands on in daily care, but also deal with the “red tape”, file paperwork, and advocate endlessly through some very frustrating situations. The stress burden is astronomical in nature, and many of us will be caring for a wounded Veteran for over 10 years, as many wounded warriors were quite young when severely wounded.
Something that I do to help keep a positive outlook when I feel worn down, is I have positive quotes posted on signs throughout my house, the gentle reminder that today is only one day, and tomorrow is a new one helps me get through some of the tough days, when I feel overwhelmed by the challenges I am facing. I hope that this new year brings you a refreshed outlook on life, but that it also brings you a much needed break. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and know that is is perfectly okay to not be strong all the time and to take and enjoy your time away from your Wounded Warrior. I hope 2016 treats you well, but remember you have a choice every day to also take care of you.