Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Care Partner Wednesday--Stress, part 2

If you're not a care partner, you don't understand.

"Your mother's in a home, so you're not really caring for her, are you? All you have to do is visit. The staff at the home do all the caring. That must make life so much easier for you."

Do statements like that make you want to scream?

The reality is that when the physical demands aren't as difficult (such as when someone else is doing the physical care) the emotional demands are still huge. How do you deal with watching deterioration in someone you love? How do you keep up with a constantly changing situation? How do you do this without falling apart inside?

Then there are appointments with specialists, assessing speciality equipment, attending care conferences, talking to the doctor, and arranging outings. Visiting, arranging family visits and planning for special events. Anyone who thinks your life must be easy now that your loved one is in care, has never been a care partner.

Physical, emotional, behavioural, even spiritual challenges. All these lead to stress. What helps?

There's no perfect answer, but many strategies. Here are a few more to add to your arsenal. Everyone needs to find their own road.

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.” — Irish proverb

4. Stay in touch with family and friends

One of the aspects of care is that your world shrinks. Part of it is the time that caring for your loved one takes, whether it's visiting, transporting to appointments, arranging legal and financial matters or hands-on care. It takes time, and that's time you aren't available for other pursuits. Because of the time commitment, there is less energy and it's easy to turn down opportunities to be with family (especially extended family) or friends. It's so tempting to say, "I can't right now. Mother needs me."

Don't. Those people are your support system. They are the ones who, even though they may not fully understand, will listen and love you. They will take you away for a day or an evening, and give you the opportunity to laugh. Some of them are long-term relationships, and you need to find a time to nurture them. Your friend or family member can visit your loved one with you. Another person in the room can give the visit a whole different dynamic, and take some pressure off you. Or, they can visit instead of you, and give you a day off.

I have friends who cared for me in various ways when I was caregiver for my husband, and later when I was a widow. Two friends took me out to a local restaurant for every significant date during the first year, such as Father's Day or his birthday. At the end of that year, we realised we'd become a support group for each other. We still meet today. One of our group became a widow this last year, so we are ministering to her just as they did to me. 

Another friend invited me to knit and chat on a regular basis. Sometimes we talked about nothing of significance, and sometimes I shared my journey, but it was a delightful connection that supported me through a rough time. We are still knitting together today.

Cherish the connections with friends and family. They are gold.

5. Make healthy choices about nutrition, exercise and sleep.

This isn't rocket science, but it can be incredibly hard. Again, it's a time issue. If your time is consumed with your task as care partner, there are times when you do what is easiest.  It's easy to grab something quick rather than make a proper meal. Fast food is the answer too often.

When my husband was in the hospital, I would go there straight from work, and eat whatever I could pick up in the food court. At about 9:00, I would come home, arriving after 10:00. I couldn't do anything about dinner, but tried to have a healthy breakfast and lunch. I walked to the subway to get a little exercise. And although I would at times sleep the sleep of the exhausted, and sometimes not sleep at all, I tried to rest when I could.

The bottom line is, you do what you can. Every choice you make that is healthy for you will make you stronger.

More able to complete your task as a care partner.

Which is what it's all about, right?

More next week...

Continue the conversation: How have you set maintaining relationships as a priority? What has been the effect? What tips have helped you live a fairly healthy lifestyle while under the time constraints of being a care partner?

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