Have you ever been told or actually said to someone yourself…..”you have to take care of YOU so you can care for your loved one?” If I had a dollar for every time I have heard this over the past 10 years (and especially the last 21 months), I would be a millionaire. Of course, I totally agree with it, but when you are caring for a loved one; whether it be an aging parent, a sick child, a disabled child, a spouse or even a grandparent; it is so much easier said (and heard) than actually done.
For the past nearly 10 years (July 27th will be 10 years), I have cared for a child with disabilities and a slew of illnesses. I have it a little better than a lot of caregivers though. You see, I have a husband. I have many friends that have someone they care for 24/7 with little to no help. I can still go out after Dennis gets home from work and grocery shop, go to Target and even hit up Steinmart occasionally. I even take time every now and then to grab dinner with a girlfriend. But, I know several people personally that go at it all alone. Having gone through all I have with Hannah has truly opened my eyes to the world of Caregiving. I know personally how exhausting it is emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually; more so than I ever thought possible. I will be the first to admit that there are days I just don’t want to do it anymore and I know, if you asked anyone that cares for a sick, disabled or ailing loved one, they would say the same thing. We do it because there is NO OTHER CHOICE! We don’t do it because it is our hearts desire or we wake up every morning excited about changing diapers, preparing special meals, waiting to be attacked, hearing screaming and crying from pain, not being able to leave the house, suctioning trachs, giving enemas, giving a slew of medications, and picking up twice as much as our own weight. We wake up and do those things, plus many others because we have to and it is the journey of our life right now. It isn’t that we relish it and in my own personal life I do it many days through tears. Again though, I have it better than most.
There is a loneliness to this life. Being a caregiver will truly show you who is still there caring about you when you are “out of sight, out of mind.” It is a horrible feeling to think you have no one to turn to. No one that you can really call just to hear another person’s voice; just to have an adult conversation! I think I call Dennis 3-4 times everyday just to have, even a very brief, adult conversation because the loneliness sets in something fierce most days. I have no issues being alone. In fact, I relish my “alone time.” But the loneliness I am speaking of is that kind where you are caring for someone but that person doesn’t talk or communicate well, if at all and through your busyness, your heart is aching and you just long to have someone come alongside of you and just be there. It is truly difficult to put into words the loneliness even when you aren’t completely physically alone. It is the mental and emotional loneliness that is by far, worse than a physical one.
My heart is so heavy for those that walk the journey of a caregiver. I wish I was in a place in my life to minister and help those in situations like mine, but worse. I can’t physically help much right now but I can bring awareness to it and that is what this blog post is about. Bringing awareness to those that are 24/7 Caregivers and how you can tell they need help and how you can help them.
There is something called Caregivers Fatigue. I KNOW it exists because I have experienced some of it. Here is a definition and signs/symptoms of Caregivers Fatigue:
The demands of caregiving can be overwhelming, especially if you feel you have little control over the situation or you’re in over your head. If the stress of caregiving is left unchecked, it can take a toll on your health, relationships, and state of mind—eventually leading to burnout. When you’re burned out, it’s tough to do anything, let alone look after someone else. That’s why making time to rest, relax, and recharge isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity. Read on for tips on how to regain balance in your life.
Caring for a loved one can be very rewarding, but it also involves many stressors: changes in the family dynamic, household disruption, financial pressure, and the added workload. So is it any wonder that caregivers are some of the people most prone to burnout?
Caregiver stress can be particularly damaging, since it is typically a chronic, long-term challenge. You may face years or even decades of caregiving responsibilities. It can be particularly disheartening when there’s no hope that your family member will get better. Without adequate help and support, the stress of caregiving leaves you vulnerable to a wide range of physical and emotional problems, ranging from heart disease to depression.
When caregiver stress and burnout puts your own health at risk, it affects your ability to provide care. It hurts both you and the person you’re caring for. The key point is that caregivers need care too. Managing the stress levels in your life is just as important as making sure your family member gets to his doctor’s appointment or takes her medication on time.
Common signs and symptoms of caregiver stress
Anxiety, depression, irritability
Feeling tired and run down
Overreacting to minor nuisances
New or worsening health problems
Feeling increasingly resentful
Drinking, smoking, or eating more
Cutting back on leisure activities
Common signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout
You have much less energy than you once had
It seems like you catch every cold or flu that’s going around
You’re constantly exhausted, even after sleeping or taking a break
You neglect your own needs, either because you’re too busy or you don’t care anymore
Your life revolves around caregiving, but it gives you little satisfaction
You have trouble relaxing, even when help is available
You’re increasingly impatient and irritable with the person you’re caring for
You feel helpless and hopeless
Now, what can you do to help you ask? I am so glad that you asked that VERY important question! Here are some suggestions to help someone that you may know that is a Caregiver for someone:
1. The person you know may not feel like they can leave their loved one BUT maybe they would like some company. Call and set up a time where you can stop by for a few minutes just to chat or share some coffee or dessert. I can guarantee you that your friend who you are visiting would be very willing to brew a nice pot of coffee or make some tea to have a chance to visit with another adult!
2. Drop a card in the mail just to let them know you are thinking of them.
3. Offer to go to Publix or Target and do some shopping for them. I promise, the caregiver will pay you back! It doesn’t have to be you buying those things and not getting reimbursed; it is just a thoughtful thing to do for someone that cannot get out very often.
4. Offer to bring dinner by….this one is huge! Another good thing is offering to bring a meal by they could freeze for a night down the road when they have had a difficult day and find they are too tired to cook. Remember Caregivers still have to feed their family; no matter how much they do during the day.
5. Remember the person that is caregiving most likely doesn’t get to go to church. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful idea to take church to them? I will let you in on a little secret…..for MANY years I couldn’t take Hannah to church. We would go and she would get sick and then go again and she would get sick, etc. So for the first 5 years of her life, she and I didn’t go often at all. Then, we were able to go more for a few years, but again it wasn’t regularly and then now, we haven’t been AT ALL in 2 years! Do you know what one of my greatest heartaches has been? That no one has ever offered (until this past week) to “skip” church (Oh God forbid) and come to my house and have church with me!! You know, the Bible does say where 2 or more are gathered, I am there with them…..wow, what a concept….skip going to the big church house and instead go to the home of a homebound person and have Christian fellowship with them instead. Heck, to make it even better stop and pick up doughnuts….I can guaran-dang-tee you that the homebound person would put on a big pot of coffee to enjoy with you and those doughnuts! Church isn’t about going and sitting idle in a big building….it is about reaching out into your community….to those that either can’t or won’t go to church…..I think this is something the church should do……not the building, the people! Step out of your comfort zone….I promise you will be blessed for it.
6. Put a gift card in the mail, send flowers, send a fruit basket…….easy things to do that mean so much to the ones that are home staring at walls; at times feeling like those walls are closing in!
7. PICK UP THE TELEPHONE…..listen to this one……don’t text, don’t Facebook, don’t tweet, don’t Instagram…..pick up the phone and actually dial the number to TALK to the person! Talking on the phone, just like dropping a card in the mail are lost in this society; but it makes a really huge impression and is a really awesome thing for the homebound caregiver!
8. Offer to go clean the caregiver’s home. I know, this one is not a favorite but it could be the biggest blessing in someone’s life. I, fortunately can get mine done but some weeks it barely happens. I am blessed to have a husband that pitches in when I have fallen behind in my chores. So many people don’t have that kind of help.
9. Be a friend…..don’t offer advice…..don’t say what you think will make the person feel better…..just LISTEN. So many times well-meaning people end up hurting others by saying things like, “everything happens for a reason,” or “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,” or my all-time favorite….”God knew you could handle this because you are so strong.” People don’t want to hear platitudes; they just want a friend. Someone to listen and be there! In fact, in all honesty…..I would prefer not to talk about the one thing my “caregiving” life revolves around. I want to talk about things with friends that make me, for just a minute, forget about my problems and enjoy conversation and life.
10. Make them laugh! Laughter is good medicine.
11. Speaking of good medicine…..a bottle of wine is great medicine for those that want to know! Yes…..send them a bottle of wine! Most people don’t care if it is white or red…..just send a bottle! Most Cardiologists agree red is better for you though (at least that is what my Cardiologist told me). Don’t worry, a homebound caregiver is not going to become an alcoholic on one bottle of wine and they aren’t going to be drinking and driving…..for all of you worried about that nonsense! Oh and for you Baptist folk…..Jesus turned water into wine; it ain’t a sin to drink it! Stopping there because I am sure there are some Baptists out there thinking I have lost my ever-loving mind…..haven’t lost my faith, just the legalism!
Okay, I have rambled enough……the point is this…..there is a whole world of hurting people out there all because their lives are trapped inside their home taking care of a loved one that cannot care for themselves. The Caregiver gets little to no sleep each night. They are up around the clock giving medications, taking care of potty issues, cleaning up messes most have no clue about and doing things day in and day out that you know nothing about. They do it out of love and because they have no other choice. If they don’t do it, no one else will! They sacrifice EVERYTHING to make sure their loved one is taken care of.
Again, I will say this about my own situation…..even though at times I have felt and feel like this I know others that have it so much worse. I have a husband that helps me. I know many people, and trust me, you do too, that don’t have the resources available to them for help. Please find someone that you can help! If you want to help someone and you don’t know anyone in this situation please let me know because I could give you a list of precious, wonderful, sweet and loving people who could use a friend to love on them and minister to them.
Until next time………