Being the sole caregiver for someone can be a hard and lonely job. Perhaps it feels like something you never signed up for, but still have to do.
This can be accompanied by feelings of guilt… but I’m here to tell you, that sort of thinking is more normal than you think.
Whether it’s a parent, a spouse or a partner, taking on this role will always have its ups and downs. So in this article, we’ll cover some lines of action that you can take in order to maximize the ups, and minimize the downs.
How Did You End Up Here?
Whether you have opted to take over this role by choice or it has been forced upon you, the hard times will only get harder if you do not look after yourself.
Please don’t think this is selfish. It’s not.
It is something that will enable you to continue what you are doing for longer. So how are you going to do this?
1. Be Clear From The Beginning
Don’t feel duty bound to fulfill the wishes of someone who has said “Please don’t ever put me in care dear…”
It is easy to say “Of course I won’t” when they are fit and able, or in the early stages of a disease or the aging process.
At that point you will have no idea what you are committing yourself too, so you have to be honest.
Instead of making a promise you can’t keep, say something like:
“I will do my best for as long as I can… but please do not be angry with me if I feel I can’t do the job and I have to seek help. I would rather preserve my relationship and love for you rather than grow to resent you.”
2. Make Sure You Take Of Yourself As Well
I’ve said it many times, but it’s so easy to forget in practice that it’s always worth repeating: Don’t let yourself get so tired that you become grumpy.
This will very likely make you say and/or do things that could play on your guilt even more.
Everyone says things they don’t mean, especially if you are tired due to a lack of sleep.
For each hour of sleep you lose, it is cumulative, and it takes time to make it up.
So if you are used to getting 7 hours sleep a night, and since caring for your loved one, you end up only 4 hours’ sleep, little of which is quality sleep, you are losing 3 hours sleep a night.
That is 21 hours over week you may have lost. On top of this, your coping skills will be reduced and you are likely to get edgy and irritable.
Remember, it is not selfish to think of yourself. You are merely making sure you are in the best possible shape to fulfill your role as a caregiver properly.
3. Have A Plan B
Before you embark on this journey, develop an Advanced Care Plan.
This is where you have a conversation with your loved one that covers all eventualities that may occur.
Include in this the “what if I can’t take care of you or something happens to me?”
This may include you going to visit residential facilities to have a look at what is available so they are involved in the process. That way they can choose where they would like to live in such circumstances.
You know when you go to visit them that this is not going to happen now – it is only a Plan B.
It could be somewhere for them to go for Day Visits or to give you a break every once in awhile so you can charge your batteries in order to carry on with the job of caring.
Being proactive will save everyone a lot of headaches – even if you never have put Plan B into action.
4. Take A Time-Out Every Once In Awhile
Make arrangements so that you can take some time out for yourself at least once a week.
You can request for someone to come and stay with the person so you can get out and just do things for you.
It doesn’t have to be only necessary errands like grocery shopping or going to the bank… you can also use that break to get a massage or go for a walk in the park.
You could go and have a coffee with a friend, do some shopping, take a book somewhere quiet or simply catch up on your sleep and recharge your batteries.
Whatever it is you do, remember it’s right for you. You don’t have to feel guilty either. This is you preserving your sanity – and your loved one’s as well.
5. Watch Your Diet
When you are tired, it makes it really hard to think of some of the simple things like meal planning and cooking.
It may be easier to just pick up the phone and order anything instead of cooking. While there is nothing wrong with doing this occasionally, on a regular basis it does not help you or your loved one.
Most takeout meals are high in salt, carbohydrates and fat. They may help you to feel full, but they do not nourish you.
Not all takeout is bad though… You can plan ahead and order some nutritionally sound food from a company that provides food prepared specially for those who cannot cook for themselves.
Order a supply and keep it in the fridge or freezer for later consumption. This way you will get a meal that is nutritionally balanced that will help to sustain both you and your loved one.
Proactivity Leads To A Win-Win
As you can hopefully see now, there are many things that you can do to help you maintain your role while not neglecting yourself.
While it’s true that you’ll have to give up some things to continue caring for your loved one, some forward planning at the early stages of the process will benefit the both of you.
By being clear to them from the beginning, involving them in creating a plan B, making time for yourself and watching both your diets… caregiving can be a nurturing and bond-strengthening experience.