By Diana B. Denholm, Ph.D., LMHC
Continued from part 1 of this article…..
Jean learned not to “enable” Joe by doing what he really can and should do for himself. Enabling creates invalids. She also avoids micromanaging what he’s able to do – even if he doesn’t do it well. In their discussions, they agreed on what they’ll expect of each other and what she is willing to do and not do. She actually creates precious time for herself by not taking on jobs that should be done by others. If you do less enabling with everything and everybody, you’ll have more energy for yourself and less anger.
Managing well-meaning family and friends removes another burden.
Jean was beside herself dealing with incessant calls about Joe’s condition and un-announced visits from their children and other relatives. Their routine and privacy were disregarded as relatives just took over. Jean learned that whether family relations are close or strained, people want to help and they want information. This is to be expected and respected, but not necessarily acted upon. She then used the communication tips and tools to have discussions with family members and friends to establish expectations about visits and phone calls.
Giving yourself permission for self-care is difficult, but worth it!
All the strategies mentioned above are actually forms of self-care. So you may already be on the right path! But when it comes to doing nice things directly for yourself, this is the biggest stumbling block for most caregivers. Jean was no exception. Never able to do it for her own sake, finally she did it for Joe’s. Her doctor’s not-so-gentle admonition that if she were dead, she wouldn’t be much help to him, got her attention. But whether you do it for him, your kids, because the doctor said so or any other motivation – any reason is good enough!
It’s okay to have fun!
Jean learned that even though Joe was suffering, she could still have a life. You can do this by giving yourself permission to enjoy one small diversion, whether it’s a short walk in the fresh air or reading a book. As you become comfortable with small activities, branch out to bigger ones – even a respite trip. Keep up friendships, find at least one confidant and have at least one pastime that feels normal and enjoyable.
Discovering dos and don’ts make your life simpler.
Here are a few:
• Don’t be afraid to ask for help wherever or however you feel you need it. If you can afford hired help, insist on it. If you can’t, then ask friends, family, and agencies for help
• Don’t feel guilty that you still have a life and still can have fun. Life may not always seem fair, but that doesn’t mean life is wrong.
• Do know that your loved one’s journey and your journey are not one and the same. You’ve got different things for which to prepare, so don’t get lost on their path.
• Don’t be embarrassed about your spouse’s limitations. It has nothing to do with your character or how good a partner you are.
• Do look at the humor in your mutual imperfection and try to laugh rather than to criticize. This applies to yourself as well as to your spouse.
• Don’t be responsible for making your spouse happy. While it is your responsibility to keep your love safe, if they aren’t able; only they can make themselves happy.
While it seems that caring for your ill family member is your biggest responsibility, in truth, taking care of yourself is number one. You have options and choices to avoid being burned up or burned out. A broken caregiver can no longer be of service. Be gentle and forgiving with yourself. You’re important too!
– Guest Author, Diana B. Denholm, Ph.D., LMHC, author of “The Caregiving Wife’s Handbook – Caring for your Seriously Ill Husband, Caring for Yourself” (Hunter House 2012).
– Learn more tips and tools to reclaim the life and relationships you thought were lost. In my book, The Caregiving Wife’s Handbook, I offer strategies, tools, and resources for people caring for a spouse (or parent) navigate through a long-term serious illness. The Handbook is a wellspring of hope for relationships – and the life of the caregiver. It’s about making life work while your loved one’s health is falling apart.