I am so thankful that for today’s prompt my husband graciously volunteered to share about his experience as a caregiver and offer support and encouragement for other caregivers! As we all know chronic illness affects more than just the patient! I am so thankful that God has blessed me with such a strong and tender husband, caregiver, and advocate!
Caregiver–it’s easy to imply what such a person does. Or is it?
Obviously we know caregivers provide care for others (you guessed it!). Yet it is impossible to understand what all goes into caregiving unless you are personally providing care for someone else.
When we think of caregivers, we tend to think of those who work in nursing homes, hospice care centers, hospitals, etc… We also tend to think of elderly couples where one person’s health is in serious decline and the other must provide around the clock care. These are all true scenarios and many others exist as well. However, there are several circumstances in particular that I believe go overlooked. Many involve those who care for loved ones living with chronic illnesses such as endometriosis, fibromyalgia, Chron’s, and many others. This is obviously close to my heart because my wife lives with several chronic illnesses. The past several years have been very challenging. In addition to Jamee’s health struggles, we are attempting to raise an energetic three (almost four) year old. In case you do not know, ALL three year olds are energetic. It’s just how they are!
So if you are providing care for someone, how can you stay positive? Healthy? Sane? By no means do I have caregiving perfected, but I have learned a lot over time and would like to offer you some encouragement and advice.
You have to take care of yourself
When we’re so focused on taking care of others, we tend to overlook our own well-being. How can we care for those we love if we are not taking care of ourselves? Depending on your situation, it may be difficult to find time for yourself and truly care for yourself. You may be the only one providing care. Nevertheless, sometimes we have to learn to ask for help and realize life is not meant to be lived in isolation. Lone rangers end up dead rangers.
Make time to do things you enjoy
This continues m first point. A part of taking care of yourself is not forgetting who you are (your likes, interests, hobbies, the things that make you feel alive). For me this means having time (as limited as it may be) to do personal reading, to play guitar, to jam with other musicians, and so forth. What about you? Sometimes we end up feeling so numb to the world. We lose interest in the things we love to do. If we are not careful, we can end up neck-deep in depression and burnout ourselves. Again, by taking care of ourselves we are able to better care for those we love.
Talk to a mentor/counselor frequently
I am not ashamed to tell you that once a week, I speak with a counselor. I am blessed because I live within a mile of Gardner-Webb University (where my wife and I attended undergrad and divinity school). As an alumnus of GWU, I can speak with a counselor free of charge. I realize not all people have this luxury. If you can not afford to talk with a counselor, make sure you are talking with a trusted mentor. This needs to be someone who you can say whatever you want to say and whatever you need to say to express your frustrations, disappointments, victories, losses, ups, downs, and so forth. The human body is not meant to hold in certain amounts of grief/pain/loss.
Lean back on your faith
I am not sure about your personal beliefs, but the main way I pull through as a caregiver is plain and simple: the love of Jesus Christ. I personally believe that God is love (see 1 John 3). I believe we do not understand what love truly is until we have a relationship with God who after all, IS LOVE. I do not possess within me the strength, love, patience, and grace needed to care for my wife. However, Christ does. By staying connected to Him, I learn how to love as He loves, serve as He serves, encourage as He encourages, and so on. It is only through my relationship with Christ that I am able to truly love and care for my wife.
I hope some of this helps. Again, all of this is easy to type, but hard to live out every single minute of the day. Hang in there. Do not lose hope. Cling to the love of God.
God always ~ John