Caregivers – Take Care of Yourselves
As caregivers for our loved ones, we don’t’ think much about taking care of ourselves. Soon after an SCI, there is no time or desire to do anything except care for the person who needs us the most. Every waking moment has a purpose and any sleeping moments (when they do come) are troubled and restless. I remember crying myself to sleep, only to wake up in a cold sweat either recalling what had happened or worrying about what was yet to come. Many parents and spouses I knew either slept in the same room or slept in nearby lounges or day rooms. No one was getting any worthwhile rest.
Transitioning from ICU to in-patient rehab wasn’t much better, so for several months, a good night’s rest was still out of reach. I remember thinking if only I could sleep, I would be much better prepared for what the day would bring. Having someone to trade off daytime responsibilities was helpful, but I always thought I’d be missing something important. It was a long time before “true rest” were two words I could use together in a sentence.
Once at least a minimal amount of sleep could be considered an accomplishment, other personal care tasks could at least be thought about. Maybe not always a possibility, but at least thoughts rose to the surface – eat properly, exercise, get a haircut, etc.
When Darren was at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, I would take walks outside whenever possible. Sometimes only for a few minutes, other days (when we had visitors) gave me longer respites. It was a beautiful time of year to be in Atlanta (early August thru early November) and the sun was healing all by itself. We were so fortunate to have family members and friends who visited and helped, despite being far from home in New Jersey. Sometimes the visitors stayed with Darren while I had time away or they were there to provide support and companionship. Of course, some visitors did both, and they were truly a blessing.
About two months before Darren’s injury, I had arthroscopic surgery on my knee and I was still in the process of rehab to regain strength and range of motion. That task went right out the window, but as soon as I could I took advantage of the Shepherd Center gym and used the elliptical machine. Not only good for my knee, it was great for my mind and my general well-being. As with many circumstances and situations, it is often the physical component of exercise that helps us through difficulties. That certainly helped me.
With each passing year (10 years since Darren’s injury), the realization of the importance of taking care of myself grows stronger. I am 10 years older too, and my body feels it. With careful attention to sleep, proper diet, exercise and the support of friends, I feel like I am able to take care of myself better. But my situation is different than many of the other caregivers I know. Most are THE primary caregiver, responsible for all day, every day for their loved one’s needs. A combination of financial resources, a determined son and a mom allowing her son to do things on his own have allowed us both independence. But I am keenly aware that many others do not have these luxuries or situations. Those are difficult for me to fathom, but yet I understand them totally. Some people with decreased mobility, many physical limitations and financial challenges just don’t have the resources to live day to day like my son does, and I do. I realize this could change everything, but I want to encourage each and every person, especially when YOU are THE most important person to your loved one with an injury, to take care of yourself.
Whether it’s a cup of coffee with a friend, an exercise workout, a yoga session or a weekend away (yes, that WILL be possible!), please accept help from others! Your family and friends want to help, and you need to let them! You do need time for yourself in order to be the best caregiver you can be, so accept the help, take care of yourself and all of you will be happier!