Caregiver Question | 04/20/23

I think I might scream the next time someone tells me to take care of myself.

DEAR CARALLEL: I’m sixty-five and my wife is seventy-one. Married later in life, our first 6 years together were like a dream. We bought our perfect little condo, traveled often, and were active as could be.

A bicycle accident a couple of years ago changed things. It sparked a chain of events that left my wife reliant upon me for just about everything, every day. It hasn’t been an easy journey.

Life isn’t what we expected now. Yet we are still here, trying to make the most of every day and I must say that we’re pretty happy all things considered. Now having said that, being relied on for everything, all the time, is work. I love her and I’m happy to do it, but it is work.

One of the things that really frustrates me is when people tell me to take care of myself. I hear it so often that it makes me want to scream. I know I need to do that but there’s only so much time in the day. How is it possible when I can barely get fifteen minutes to myself? — Denise in Albany, NY

DEAR DENISE: Your email left me simultaneously smiling and sharing in your frustration.

I was smiling at the thought of you and your wife buying your dream condo, planning and going on trips, and still even after the accident, doing your best to make the most of every day.

I was shaking my head in shared frustration at the thought of you being told to take care of yourself because I felt the same way when I was caring for my mother. You put it perfectly, it made me ‘want to scream’ too.

And like you, as frustrating as it was to repeatedly hear, I knew it was true. So here are a few ideas that might help. 

Start small 
I learned that I didn’t necessarily need to set aside several hours or days to ‘take care of myself’ while I was helping my mother. Those bigger chunks of time would have been ideal, but I could still find things to do for me, in whatever little slices of time I could find. 

Things that worked included fifteen minutes of reading, a short walk outside, and watching a bit of my TV show. The small chunks would go quickly and there were definitely times when I wanted to extend them but knew I couldn’t, yet getting those small doses of me-time consistently seemed to have a positive cumulative effect.

While I believe everyone who is caring for a loved one should have frequent breaks that are measured in hours and/or days, I recognize that is not always possible. 

And thinking small is one way to get started. 

Talk with your wife 
If you’re able to have a conversation with your wife about how you’re feeling, I recommend that. These conversations can sometimes be challenging but it is worth considering. 

From the tone and tenor of your email, it’s clear that you’ve put your wife first since her accident and something tells me that you will continue doing so. But your needs are equally important–to you and to her. 

On that note, you may find this Carallel webinar helpful: Unique Challenges of Caring for a Spouse and How to Manage Them. The featured guest, Mary Hahn Ward is a caregiver for her husband Tom and shares some very valuable and practical perspective. 

Talk with other caregivers
Support groups can be a great way to meet others who are caring for a loved one like you are. While they’re not for everyone, many people take comfort in the camaraderie and judgment-free zone they provide. 

Your local Area Agency on Aging or community center could likely recommend some local in-person options. And there are lots of virtual support groups now too. 

Try to get yourself respite
Respite care is a short term break for people who are caring for a loved one. 

I’m not sure if you have family or friends who could potentially spend time with your wife to give you periodic breaks, but if you do, it is worth asking. Oftentimes friends and family want to help but don’t know how. 

And of course, the benefits of friends and family stepping in to help this way would be two-fold: your wife likely knows them and the help would conceivably be free. 

If friends and family aren’t an option–which they are not for many people–some non-profit organizations, senior living communities, and in-home care agencies offer short term respite options. 

This website, Arch National Respite Network, is a helpful resource to find some available options in your area. 

I’ll be thinking of you and your wife, Denise! 

All the best,

–Jennifer, Carallel Care Advocate

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