How to Prioritize Self Care as a Caregiver
Elizabeth Miller shared the difficult caregiving story of her family in yesterday’s blog post. Today she shares how caregiving directly impacted her daily life, her job and her very essence of self care. Join her as she began to find answers through the chaos.
Mom, Work, My Life
The emotional complexities, stress and feelings of guilt consumed me as the primary caregiver. Each part of my life demanded and deserved time, but there is only so much time.
I don’t know how many days I was away from the office in 2014. Luckily for me, I was considered a valued employee and my management team let me know I could do what I needed to do. None of us knew how long the spiral would last. Even when I was working remotely or at the office, my emotions and thoughts were understandably elsewhere.
I spent many lunches at the office eating at my desk making appointments or talking to mom and other family members. I relied heavily on Amazon Prime and Instacart to ensure mom had what she needed to be comfortable. I left work each day with my laptop, cords, and paperwork – always ready to work remotely from wherever when a crisis would suddenly happen.
At least once a week, I left work and went directly to mom’s place. I’d pick up dinner on the way over and we would have a ‘picnic’ in her room. I’d tidy up the place and often feel guilty when I left because I had to decline her offer to watch a movie. Tears in the car or on the way home were inevitable.
With mom’s chronic conditions, frequent doctor appointments were necessary. I asked all around for doctor recommendations. Mom’s doctor was great. He was what they call a ‘concierge’ doctor so he was available by text and phone and during our visits he was very thorough and she never felt rushed.
Mom’s doctor visits would take me away from work and the office for at least a half day. Mom needed oxygen and a wheelchair at this point. She needed help getting ready and I always moved way too fast for her. After the visit, we’d usually go out for lunch or a frozen yogurt since it was one of the few times she got out of the building. Valuable time. But again – time.
Lost in the Dark without a Guide
Not once during any of these hospitalizations or doctor visits did anyone mention that I was a ‘family caregiver’ and that there were resources ‘out there’ that may help me. I was also never contacted by anyone in Human Resources where I worked about assistance that may be available. Not once did anyone I work with mention the Employee Assistance Program.
I was in the dark without a flashlight just feeling my way around for clues and validation.
Between my kid’s appointments and my mom’s, I found I was neglecting my own. I also could have used some regular therapy during this time but how would I manage to squeeze that in?! My husband was doing all he could juggling his own job, the house, and his mom’s care.
During this time of driving back and forth and caring for my parents, it was clear to me that if I didn’t figure out how to integrate caregiving with my life I was going to end up just like my parents. The last thing I wanted to do was to be a burden on my children. We caregivers end up putting our own health and sanity last – and to what end?
While I was juggling all these competing responsibilities, I began to figure out how to prioritize my self care and become happier and healthier. I began sharing my learnings on social media, as I wanted someone to have more resources than I did. I started my own #100DaysOfHealthy challenge on Instagram to help me focus on healthier habits. In February of 2015, this intention grew into a blog and a business called Happy Healthy Caregiver.
Like most family caregivers would probably agree, caregiving forever changes you. It certainly has changed me. Through my interactions and Happy Healthy Caregiver, I hope to reach and give a little peace to family caregivers who feel like I once did – isolated and overwhelmed. There is hope.
Elizabeth Miller is a family caregiver and a Certified Caregiving Consultant (CCC). Her personal experiences caring for aging parents with chronic and terminal illnesses as well as caring for a sibling with developmental disabilities (while working full-time and raising teenagers) inspired her to create Happy Healthy Caregiver. Elizabeth is a national speaker, workshop leader, and global advocate for family caregivers. Through her consulting services and free resources, Elizabeth helps family caregivers integrate caregiving with their busy lives. She also leads the Atlanta Daughterhood Circle – a social support group for family caregivers and is the host of the Happy Healthy Caregiver Podcast on the Whole Care Network.