How can caring for someone be so hard?
I hear this question often when I work with individuals that are struggling with caring for a loved one that has been diagnosed with dementia, or another illness related to aging. I like to remind my clients of the oxygen mask metaphor; when you’re on a plane and the yellow mask drops from above, you must affix your own mask before attempting to help others with theirs. Believe it or not, this same approach is necessary, if you are going to be an effective caregiver. You’ve got to take care of yourself in order to be able to be there for your loved one.
I’m so exhausted; Where do I begin?
Caring for another adult 24/7 is a difficult journey, that requires a lot of contemplation about care and caregiving. It can also be a very lonely road to travel if you don’t feel that you have the support of family and community. Clients often tell me that their situation is so difficult that they are reluctant to ask for help. They’re often reluctant to say too much about their situation, as they want to protect the dignity and privacy of the person they care for. They sometimes say that they’ve always been the one to get things done, or that it’s expected of them, or that they promised their loved one that they would be the one to care for them, if ever that was necessary. Sometimes they tell me that their embarrassed to admit that they no longer like the person that they love. Asking for help can be hard, but it does get easier with practice, and it’s helpful to remember that others, just like you, are struggling with similar scenarios. The truth is it sometimes it takes a village to care for folks as time goes on.
It’s very important to remember during this time, that you are a person that deserves to have quality of life as well. If this is your situation, it may have been a long time since you did anything kind for yourself. The simple pleasures of a walk by yourself on a sunny day, a yoga class, or coffee with a friend, might feel like distant memories. It could be that you can’t even fathom how to begin caring for yourself again, with everything that you need to do for your loved one.
To begin, it might be helpful to sit down with two sheets of paper and a pen. On the first sheet, list the needs your loved one has and highlight those that you feel you might be able to delegate to someone else. On the second sheet of paper make a list of the people in your life, as well as organizations in your community, that may be able to offer some assistance – from making meals to sitting with your loved one for an afternoon once a week. Go back to the first sheet to see if you can pair a few of your loved one’s needs with a person or organization from the second sheet of paper. The idea is to outsource some of your loved ones needs so that you can find some time to care for yourself.
And then what?
Let’s talk. When you are in the mode of caretaker it can feel impossible to know where to turn for help. There are likely some excellent resources in your community that are available to you. Nonprofit, as well as for profit. Sometimes you just need to talk about the possibilities for a brighter day and a different path. These relationships are especially difficult, and therapy can help. Call or email me for a free consultation.
Katey Villalon, LMFT