Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!!
It’s always interesting to balance the ideas about living with or overcoming the obstacles of a chronic or life-threatening illness with those of the caregivers in their lives. Just like with those facing a health challenge I don’t believe that caregiving should be solely about getting by, or simply surviving the experience. I am also not going to get all hyper-optimistic and say the proverbial “everything happens for a reason” ( a bit over played). I do want to focus on the personal experience of caregiving because I believe reframing the experience can reduce a lot of anxiety for those of you providing care and support.
The first reframe comes in what you call yourself. During an earlier post I referred to caregivers as being co-traumatized. So if we look at the reality that the person with the health challenge is not the only person impacted by the illness then you go from simply providing care to being a “wellness partner”. You have just as much of a stake in the loved one recovering as the person going through treatment. I also think caregiving sounds too much like a job when in fact most provide this support with love and compassion. (I’m not saying it’s not work, just as I would never say that a stay at home mom doesn’t work, but there is a vested interest in the outcome, and that’s the return on your personal invest).
If the world has dealt you this lot in life then what are you going to do with the experience. I’m not talking about making lemonade out of lemons; I’m talking about being mindful of the experience and what does the “wellness partner” experience bring out in you that may have been hidden or not fully realized. It may be your inner strength, your level of perseverance, your commitment and love of the person you’re supporting and the list can go on hopefully forever. It’s crucial to validate the qualities within that are being fully expressed as a “wellness partner”.
I just finished listening to Sylvia Boorstein’s book (on CD) “Happiness is an Inside Job”. Sylvia is a meditation teacher and was sharing what she says to herself during times of confusion or despair. Here’s what she says to herself, “Sweetheart (referring to herself), you are in pain. Relax, take a breath, let’s pay attention to what’s happening, then we’ll figure out what to do”. She shared that saying this to herself accomplishes three things:
- Relax- Interupts the current story you’re telling yourself.
- Take A Breath- Put all your attention into your breath refocusing in the moment
- Pay Attention to What’s Happening- pay attention to feelings of distress. Understand that knowing the source of pain is helpful for creating a response.
We are all going to have challenges in life, that’s a given. How you handle them is up to you. In order to come up with solutions it’s important that you take a loving inventory of your qualities, your gifts and talents. Your support may be as simple as telling your loved one that you’re on their side every day. Maybe it’s about random acts of kindness like cooking the person’s favorite meal. Maybe you are committed to intimacy and begin reading together on a nightly basis. I’m sure you’re more adept at coming up with ways to express your support.
Being a caregiver or “wellness partner” is never about are you doing it right or wrong. It’s about asking yourself if you’re doing it from your heart? Are you keeping yourself grounded in your experience? By knowing how you’re doing you can come up with gentle and loving measures to offer support without having to sacrifice your personhood. Partnership is key and I commend each of you for being a willing partner in this journey.