When we’re under stress as caregivers, it’s important to have outlets for relief and to periodically rejuvenate ourselves. Otherwise we do harm to ourselves and everyone around us.
Now, getting relief is more easily said than done. Sometimes there’s just no
alternative but to buck up under the load. However, even a small gesture can
often be tremendously beneficial. One of these assists that meant a great deal
to me was offered by my sister Laura when I was the primary caregiver for my
Laura lived miles away and could not physically be there to help more than
two or three times a year, but she allowed me to call her as often as I needed
to and listened with a supportive ear to all my complaints. I referred to her
then as “my priest, my shrink and my rock.”
Having an outlet to vent your frustrations, fears and anger can help
dissipate the feeling that you are alone on an island with the family member you
are caring for. I had that feeling about my Dad many times, but then I would
call Laura, and I felt better.
As an artist, I found solace in my work, too, though often the caregiving
interfered with my time to paint. When I could, however, I expressed my
feelings through the painting process, turning pain into a visual statement that
had intrinsic worth in itself. Writing in a journal every day helped, also, to
give me a tiny bit of distance and perspective on what I was going through.
Any creative outlet can be soothing in a time of stress. Just the fact that
it becomes totally absorbing helps take you out of your pressure-cooker
situation. Whether you express yourself through art, music, dance, writing,
knitting, cooking, gardening—anything that absorbs your attention and engages
your senses—you’ll find relief and rejuvenation through the process.
One of the best ways to take a break is to actually go “off duty” for a week,
a weekend, a day, or even a few hours. This is not always easy to arrange, and
family members may not realize how important it is for you to get that
opportunity. They can’t possibly understand what you are going through.
need to insist, however, that they make whatever effort is necessary to relieve
you as often as possible.
If family or friends can’t help, and money is not an issue, there are 24-hour
care providers who can relieve you. The important thing is to check references
carefully so that you’ll be comfortable leaving. As caregivers, we often think
that no one but us can do the job right.
I remember leaving the most detailed, anal-retentive list of instructions for
my brothers to follow when I went away on vacation, and I worried that they
wouldn’t do things right. My father was fine under their care, of course, but I
worried about everything at first. Finally, as I stood on a beach in Santa Cruz
watching the waves break, I felt a sense of freedom and relaxed.
Adult day-care centers are another option to explore. Often they will bus
your loved one to and from the center for a few hours of supervised care and
entertainment, giving you some measure of respite.
Check your local Department
of Aging for information on such programs. The local one in my town also keeps
a list of volunteers who will go to your home and provide companionship for your
loved one so that you can get a break.
Your first job as a caregiver is to take care of yourself. That’s often
difficult to do, and an afterthought for many of us, but we need to make sure we
survive and stay strong, in order to do the best job we can.