Finding and Maintaining Your Personal Space While Caregiving

30 Comments

Caregiving often becomes all-consuming. It has a way of taking over your life, leaving its evidence in every room of your home. The kitchen counter becomes a make-shift medicine cabinet, medical supplies find their way into drawers and reading material clutters the coffee table. Soon, the relatively tidy home you kept pre-caregiving becomes a thing of the past. Combine that with the stress of taking care of a loved one, and the thought of ‘personal space' becomes a thing of the past.

While carving out some ‘me time' and a place to call your own are extremely important, caregivers often feel guilty at the prospect.

Emma Dickison is president of Home Helpers, one of the largest home care organizations in the United States. She learned about caregiving at a young age. In high school, her grandmother came to live with the family after suffering a fifth stroke and stayed with them for nearly two decades. Over the years, Dickison has cared for other family members, as well as her own parents. What she's learned from her experience is that carving out some time and space for yourself is not just something you should do; it's something you have to do.

"When you're a family caregiver, you look at it as such a responsibility," Dickison says. "It's all consuming. But like everything else, we all need a respite. In the work world, most of us have Saturday and Sunday off, and caregivers need time off, too."

Dickison has a large extended family which helped care for loved ones when she and her siblings needed a break, whether it was for an hour or a weekend. While she realizes not everyone has that luxury, she stresses that taking care of yourself, mentally and physically, is a critical aspect to caregiving. "No one can do something 24/7 and have it be healthy. You have to take time for yourself, even if it's 10 minutes to do your own interests, catch up with friends or read the newspaper. That time is crucial."

Finding time for respite

So how do you carve out that time and space? Dickison says caregivers need to schedule their ‘me time'. Why? Because what we put in our calendar is usually important to us – it becomes a priority. Dickison suggests finding a time when you know your loved one is taken care of: when they're taking a daily nap, when they're asleep at night or at a weekly appointment when your presence isn't necessary.

Creating space for respite

In addition to finding some time to yourself, Dickison is also a strong believer in creating a space that's just for you – think of it as your personal retreat, where you can re-charge yourself. That might be a separate room in the home or just a favorite chair or couch in the corner. It doesn't matter whether you live in a large house or a small apartment - this area is your ‘happy place' where you can relax, unwind and revel in whatever brings you joy.

Dickison recommends decorating the area with photos of loved ones, or have a photo album with pictures of friends or your favorite place to visit. You might also want to dress up the area with decorative pillows and/or comfortable throw blankets in your favorite colors and textures. Using scented candles are another way to loosen up, along with flowers and plants which will brighten up any space and improve your mood.

Dickison recommends that before you make your plans, whether they be redecorating or setting aside some personal time, you discuss them with your loved one first. This is especially important if you're a caregiver who may be living away from your home temporarily, such as in your parent's house, and want to make a few décor changes. However, the message of the conversation is the same in both instances. Tell your loved one that having some time and space that's your own will help you take better care of them.

Of course, it's also important to create a support system for yourself as a caregiver. Rely on friends or other family members who can be a sounding board for you, or consider joining a support group where you can share your experiences with others who are understand what you're going through.

For Dickison, caring for her grandmother changed her life. Not only did she learn so much about the woman during the time they spent together, Dickison also felt called to a career helping older adults. The responsibility she took on at a young age turned into a tremendous gift with rewards that will last a lifetime.

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30 Comments

Couldn't agree with SelfishSiblings more and I don't even have siblings but I've seen firsthand one cousin doing EVERYTHING while the her sister was just too busy (Course she wasn't too busy when her parents were well enough to pay for vacations for her etc). And FRIENDS -- honey they disappear yours AND the person you're caring for. My mom has one friend she can count on -- and you know why that friend is so reliable -- because mom PAYS her to help out. The other friends have pulled Houdini acts and thinnk they've resolved themeslves b/c they appear for quick bday and X-mas. My friends, honey I am an island to myself. Who wants to make plans 2 wks in advance with anyone just to see a movie??? Fortunately I do love my mom and have a good relationship with her.
It sounds really good, but it isn't practical.

In my house, we have an oxygen concentrator. Candles are out of the question, as is five minutes to catch up with anything other than housework, laundry and paperwork. Forget throw pillows and decorative throws as well. The budget doesn't allow for extras just so I feel pampered. There isn't any breathing room in it, either.

Who writes this stuff anyway?
I thought that the main points in this article were presented in a very positive way. While the pillows and comforters might not particularly appeal or seem realistic for everyone the point is what is important...."we need to give attention to our own personal needs and desires". I am taking care of my Father and I'm in the fifth year now since I moved him in with me. Before him I was a caregiver to both of my husbands parents until they died so I think it is safe for me to say that I do qualify to speak as a caregiver and sadly the one thing that I see people giving in to, surrendering to, is their own personal needs and love for themselves, myself included. We just lose balance between those we care for and ourselves because we really do care about them and what they are going through, in our minds their needs seem urgent and ours don't. I know that Caregiving is the most difficult experience we've ever gone through (for the majority of us) but even so I think we have a tendency to lose ourselves in the process. We usually do this for many different reasons, for some it's because of just not knowing how to ask for help, for others we don't have anyone willing to help because we've asked and asked only to be told NO or ignored, and then their are those of us who just feel like we should suck it up and do everything ourselves. Whatever the reasons, we find ourselves feeling totally overwhelmed, angry, bitter, resentful, frustrated, or just plain exhausted.

Many times the demands of caregiving are so great that it's all we can do to feed and bathe ourselves and get a little housework done if there's any energy left. Lets face it being a full time caregiver is TOUGH and most of us are doing far more than we are capable of doing because we don't feel like we have any other choice but remember many times it's the depression and negative thinking that creeps in on us that can destroy any thoughts to caring for ourselves. If we find ourselves in the "black hole" we need to admit to ourselves that somewhere we got off track in our own self care and take responsibility for our misstep and seek to find ways to include taking care of ourselves.. I think it doesn't matter if we use pretty pillows or a quiet corner in a room all to ourselves or even use our bed pillow to beat the bed with when we feel like we just can't take it anymore, the point is we need to DO SOMETHING positive for ourselves, it's part of self preservation. Honestly even the smallest, inexpensive things we do can help us survive and hold on to ourselves in spite of caregiving. Today for me it was picking a Magnolia flower off the tree as I was going from the car to the house. Just taking a few seconds to pick the flower, smell it, and put it in a glass bowl to float in some water, then putting it in my kitchen window seal to enjoy for another day reminded me that I am alive, and that I matter too. I don't have any siblings to help me but I do manage to have a little "me time" everyday even if it means that I have to say NO to one of my Fathers demands or make him wait a few minutes extra before I give him his meal, meds, etc. I make the "me time" a priority everyday. By doing this consistently I have been able to get rid of the resentment, anger, frustrations that I used to be extremely overwhelmed with. Now even though their are all the same demands being made of me I am caring for my Father and I'm a much happier healthier person. Thanks for listening to what I've said and I hope that my comments are helpful for some of you.
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