By MG Guest Blogger Wanda Sevey, MDiv, LMFT A retired professional and active volunteer at a local museum reached into her pocketbook and pulled out a picture from her wedding day fifty years ago. She said, “I brought this to show you because the day I married my husband we didn’t know then what the future would be like and I feel the same way now that he has become ill and I have become his caregiver.” As is the case with so many couples this caregiver had been living a full life with many interests, friendships and commitments that brought her great joy. When her husband suddenly needed her she felt pulled by her desire to show her love through caring for him, but was stung by the fear that she would lose herself and many things she loved about her life. My conversations with her and with other caregivers—who care for a spouse, a parent, or a child—often focus on creating strategies to maintain both a connection and commitment to a loved one and at the same time hold onto one’s own identity. Here are a few ideas to get you started: Make A Date With Yourself. Each week set aside some time strictly for your enjoyment. It could be coffee with a friend, a walk in the park, a movie with a grandchild or time for a hobby such as writing or painting. Accept Support. Sometimes support can come in surprising ways. One caregiver discovered that two friends in her synagogue were also taking care of loved ones. They agreed to provide needed emotional support for one another. Through conversations and phone calls they were able to reassure one another that they were not alone in their struggles. Often caregivers hold back a little when they discuss their situations because they don’t want to seem disparaging of those they love, don’t want to complain and believe that others may be tired of listening. Because these three caregivers were also friends, they felt free to discuss their less-than-lovely thoughts and emotions and could reassure one another that their concerns and feelings were “normal” for their situations. This acceptance and support helped each of them know they were not alone and gave them permission to share deeply from their hearts. Stay In The Moment. All of us have to make plans for future events and contingencies but living too much in the future can be overwhelming and lead to anxiety. Try to stay in the present moment. There are difficult moments in a caregiver’s day but they pass. There are also moments of grace, and even happiness. Watching birds at the bird feeder, enjoying a favorite food together or hearing a favorite song can bring a moment of connection and peace. Make it a habit to look for those moments, notice them and enjoy them. You can practice staying in the moment by teaching yourself to relax using visualization, affirmations or a technique known as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction that help you develop your ability to observe the present moment with acceptance. You can find resources specifically to help caregivers with these techniques at www.healthjourneys.com.
Wanda Sevey has a Master’s of Divinity and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She is focused on helping people develop healthy relationships and self-care. She has a practice with the Council for Relationships in Voorhees, NJ.