How long has it been since you've distanced yourself from caregiving long enough to decide what is good for you? How long has it been since you've had guilt-free breaks from the needs of others, so that you can actually relax? How long has it been since you asked for help – hired or volunteer – so that you can be your own person for just a bit of time?
Too, long, I suspect. This is a new year, which makes it a good time psychologically for an attitude adjustment on your part. Changing your attitude toward your caregiving responsibilities doesn't mean that you don't love the person you are caring for as much as ever. Changing your attitude may even be evidence, once you think about it, of the depth of your love.
Think about what your elder would want for you
It wouldn't be unusual if your elder is sometimes – if not always – demanding. After all, he or she is most likely in frequent emotional and/or physical pain. Add to that the fact that losing the ability to make decisions about one's own life is emotionally taxing, and you've probably got a crabby person on your hands. This does not mean that the person doesn't care about your welfare. It just means that sickness is preventing the person from thinking much beyond their own misery.
The world keeps spinning without my constant attention
As a caregiver to many people, I've been a poor example of taking care of oneself. During the years my parents were in a nursing home, I would visit them every day on my way to my job, and then again most evenings. I'd make longer visits on weekends, as well.
More than once, the head nurse at the home told me I needed to take a day off, but I just couldn't do it. I'd make all kinds of excuses, but mainly I just said "they need me." This was a facility that I'd visited nearly every day for over 15 years. The staff was excellent, they had my contact numbers memorized and they loved my parents and treated them with great kindness. Why, indeed, couldn't I take a day off now and then? It was my own attitude that prevented me from taking better care of myself.
I'm thinking of one time when I was quite sick with a flu bug and couldn't visit my parents for a couple of days. You know what? Everyone survived. They not only received the care they needed, but aside from a longer wait for a couple of frills, they really didn't miss out on much. This brief time helped me realize that the world would still turn if I didn't handle everything myself.
Did the attitude change last? Well, sort of. I did skip a visit now and then, letting my elders know ahead of time. I did try to take better care of myself. I now know I didn't alter my routine enough, but at least I did change my attitude a little.
What can you do?
If your elder lives with you in your home, you can hire an in-home care agency to have a caregiver take over for a few hours, a day or a week. If your elder is in a facility, and you know the care is good, you can take some time away from your visiting schedule now and then. Play hooky. Go to the park or do what I did – read a good book. Pamper yourself by doing something for you.
In the end, while you may have a hard time believing this, you will become a better caregiver if you take care of yourself. A refreshed caregiver is going to be a more creative, patient caregiver. Your attitude and body language will tell your care receiver the story. When you are refreshed, you really are glad to see him or her. You really are happy to help.
What can you do differently than you did last year to elevate your caregiving? You can adjust your attitude to include decent self care. In the end everyone will benefit.