First and foremost, be good to yourself. I cannot emphasize this enough! Set up your routines so others can help you. Get a friend or family member to help you think in general throughout all the stress and confusion, and to help you think specifically about everything that needs to be done. Then, delegate daily and weekly tasks to family, friends, volunteers, or a nursing assistant.
The point to remember is to delegate early in the process of the illness or recovery, so that you avoid burn out. Delegation gives the caregiver valuable time off to rest, think, and spend time with friends and family. It’s also important to get time away from the patient, and to express your feelings honestly and openly with someone who is willing to listen without judgement.
Release all of your emotional, mental and physical stress regularly. Do not let the stress build up inside. Hire a counselor to help you lift the burdens each week from your mind and heart. Working with a counselor will help you keep your perspective, and remain healthy and sane. Meet with a counselor weekly, or more often if a need arises.
During the most difficult months caring for my incapacitated husband, I could barely think straight, and I was making mistakes. I decided to put together a group of 10 friends to meet weekly and brainstorm solutions with me. These meetings were invaluable in helping me solve problems, see a bigger picture, release stress, and feel understood and connected.
First, make a list of everyone you know, and think about which tasks would be suitable for each person. Use the task list I have created below, and place names after each task you wish to delegate. Then ask these people for help. Put together a schedule of who is doing what, along with the day and time of the week. Keep this organized. If you get forgetful, just laugh! Be easy on yourself. You will make mistakes — I guarantee it! It’s all part of the caregiving role. You have a lot of concerns, and a lot of problems to solve every day, not to mention all of the daily and weekly tasks on your normal to-do list.
During your time as a caregiver, you may go through some very dark times and have some dark thoughts and moments. This is normal. Count on it. Dark times are a natural, normal part of caring for someone you love, who may or may not recover. There are dark things that happen that are funny. Dark humor has its place in situations like this. Go ahead and laugh.
My late husband had a stroke and two emergency surgeries, all of which required hospital stays. After each time he returned home, and he got into bed, he invariably fell out of bed. We made a joke of it. In the hospital emergency room when he was near death, and in the car going to day care, he would begin singing. Despite his situation, he was happy. We were still in love, and I was doing my best to keep him as healthy as possible. I didn’t know that he would never recover.
Remember to take care of your own body, too. This means a diet rich in nutrients. Stretching, walking, and running are also good outlets. Get outside and breathe. Do yourself a favor each day or each week and take walks in nature, surrounding yourself with living, breathing organisms.
Volunteers and friends can help you with the following:
- Getting the patient out of bed and walking with assistance
- Grocery shopping
- Scheduling appointments
- Paying bills
- Managing medicine and medical supply inventory
- Taking the caregiver out for tea or lunch
- Listening to the caregiver and brainstorming solutions
- Taking the caregiver out for “walk and talks”
- Going with the caregiver to exercise
- Helping the caregiver get what he/she needs, like time off…such as an afternoon off, or a weekend away from home to recharge his/her batteries
My advice to the new caregiver is to stay connected with friends, family and your therapist. Take good care of yourself. You will get through this. If I can do it, you can too!
Miriam Drake is a counselor in Bellingham. She is available for in–person and Zoom sessions. Her book, “The Caregiver’s Wellness and Planning Handbook,” is available as a download. To reach Miriam for counseling or to order your copy of her book, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit mdraketherapy.com to learn more about her counseling philosophy and practice.
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