As caregivers, we are not generally focused on taking care of ourselves. During a crisis, we have laser focus on ensuring that our loved one is getting the best care possible. Navigating through the endless dark tunnels of hospital processes, insurance company madness and all of the necessary follow up, we work to ensure that commitments are met, things are in order and the level of care is no less than the highest possible. Additionally, especially when it’s our loved one in crisis, there are endless hours of worry, anxiety, waiting and wondering. This, for the most part, takes up all usable time. With a bit of luck, the small amount of time that is left over is used for the basic necessities of survival: nourishment and sleep.
Having been a caregiver in crisis mode for an extended period of time, I can attest that even the basics for survival still come second to the energy that is required to provide and ensure quality care. This is by no means a complaint on my part.
I imagine that other caregivers out there would agree, in the moments of crisis, there is nothing of greater importance than doing whatever it takes to ensure the best support is given and available. For me, there wasn’t another option but to “Get in support mode and support.”
I found, however, that when the serious crisis had stabilized, yet the worry and anxiety was still at a high level, that was when I needed to start to make some time to take care of me. There can be such stigma and judgement around caregivers taking time out for themselves, especially when they are parents of a child in crisis. However, in order to ensure that I was in the best and most healthy place to care for my son, I knew I needed to find the time to do this for me.
This self caring doesn’t have to be expensive or even take a lot of time. Simple quiet moments of contemplation, writing or journalling, a few yoga stretches on the bedroom floor, taking time to breathe and listen to your breath are all examples of beautiful healing things to do for yourself. It is imperative that we take the time for this. Recently, I heard a startling statistic that when we go through a crisis, especially as caregivers, the affects on our bodies don’t show up for nearly 18 months. This means, left unchecked, we could find ourselves through the crisis at hand only to end up sick, depressed, or possibly with a life threatening illness down the road, due in part to the fact we are not making the time to care for ourselves.
I have also personally found that after things stabilize, there is an additional level of emotional healing and self care that needs to happen to ensure we caregivers don’t end up ill down the road. I call this Healing the Heart.
So often when we come out of the “woods” after a crisis, the common feeling is to put the crisis behind and move forward. I agree with moving forward and not dwelling on the crisis because doing so isn’t healthy. However, acknowledging that what we have gone through was scary, exhausting or nerve-racking is a good start. Below those feelings are likely, if we are willing to look at it, feelings of anger, hate, rage, heartbreak, guilt and more. Deep soul-level emotions. Where do those feelings go, if we are not taking the time to acknowledge and process through them? I believe that they can become disease within us. Disease that may not show up until down the road, but will impact us significantly when they do. Given this, it is so important to do what you can to take care of yourself and create a support network to assist.
I have been truly blessed with an amazing group of friends and support personnel who have been there for me throughout these last 20 months. I have really had to put the effort in to reach deep inside, to name my feelings and to begin to heal them. Especially the ones that I judge myself most harshly on, the darker emotions like hate and rage. Who wants to admit to those, even privately within ourselves? But I also focus on gratitude. I am grateful for so many things in my life, especially for the fact that I made it through some tough stuff and am still healthy. Grateful that my son is still walking on this earth. Grateful that my marriage and friendships weathered the storms. This gratitude coupled with my willingness to process through some of the residual muck of my emotions is truly helping me to heal my heart.
Thank you all for your support, your stories and your feedback! I’m also working on a four part series focusing on practical information to have while navigating the complex mental health system.
Please feel free to email me your thoughts and recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can always send me an email with any questions regarding this information or any other mental health system question/inquiry.
I’m also on Twitter @farfrmparadise