I have supported and worked with many carers throughout my career. Having elderly parents and being an only child, I found myself in the same role, looking after others. I never felt I ‘had to do it’, I just did it, naturally, never questioning whether I should. I think that is important to remember. Most of the time, people end up being carers, not through a conscious choice, but through a sense of responsibility. Through love and a feeling that you want the best for your loved ones. Sadly, my Mum passed away suddenly last year. My role changed. I became the main carer for Dad, who, over the past few years, has struggled with his health and a number of hospital admissions and close calls. This means juggling a busy private practice, a family, elderly Dad and three dogs (two of which came with Dad). We’ve managed to get a semblance of routine and work together the best we can for our fun little family.
I suppose the main reason I wanted to write this was to share with you what I have learned about being a carer. Not that i’m the oracle, or know all the answers of course. So here goes:
- Talk. It’s so important to communicate with others, share how you are feeling. Not only with your loved ones but friends and people outside your circle.
- Look after yourself. If you don’t look after yourself, how can you expect to care for others.
- Take time out of your busy day to have a bit of ‘me time’.
- Learn how to relax. I tend to use deep muscular relaxation for tension (heres a link to my favourite exercise on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKDnPJ6q8ps). Find something that works for you.
- Keep a diary. If you’re juggling work, life and lots of appointments, planning your time can really help. I also find it really useful to jot down what happened at each appointment, incase I need the information at a later date. Its amazing how quickly you can forget when you’re busy.
- Get some rest. We all know sleep is important, but rest also helps us get through the really stressful times. I like a nice walk, to sit, on my own, in a coffee shop and read (a bit like I’m doing now, while I write this!).
- Accept help. Don’t feel like you have to be superman or wonder woman (although I’m sure you secretly are). If someone offers to help, say yes! You won’t get any medals for doing everything yourself.
- Make life easier if you can. The little things can help; get someone to do your ironing or persuade your other hand to do it, like I have ;-), use a slow cooker, plan your meals, get your big food shop delivered…there’s lots of little things you can do to help take the pressure off.
- Accept that you will feel guilty. We all know that feeling, a deep ache in the pit of your stomach. A sense of dread. It’s easy to try and push it away by over compensating and doing more. Try this instead. Notice the feeling, identify where you feel it in your body. Give it a shape, a size, a colour and give the shape a texture. Notice the shape and breathe into it. Try not to avoid the feeling, instead, focus on the shape and just allow the feeling to be. You will find, if you can do this, that the uncomfortable feeling will start to pass on it’s own.
- Fresh air and exercise. A tonic for the soul. Even a walk up the street and back can help. Practice mindful walking (here’s a link if you’re not sure what to do: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/20/meditation-in-action-walking-meditation_n_3279958.html
Most importantly, remember that being a carer is a difficult but rewarding job. Make sure that you care for yourself too 🙂
Heather (Photo is me, age 10 and my Dad)