Caring for the superhero carers
Being a carer can be demanding and tiring but over time I have learnt how important it is to take care of yourself too.
"In the event of an emergency, oxygen masks will drop down. Fit your own oxygen mask before helping children fit theirs."
This is part of the safety message airlines provide prior to take-off.
In my mind this message is one that carers need to listen to as well. It is certainly one that I needed to learn as a mother and carer to a son born with cerebral palsy.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
When my son was first diagnosed with cerebral palsy, being a positive kind of gal, I thought I could do it all.
I would be supermum and put myself last - surely this was the right thing to do?
At one point however I must have shown the signs of burn out. And my son's therapists warned me "This is a marathon, not a sprint, you need to start pacing yourself or you will burn out!"
I scoffed. But how right she was.
Taking care of someone living with a chronic illness or a person with a disability is most definitely a marathon. At times it can be draining both physically and mentally.
I used to feel disloyal saying that, almost like I was saying the role of carer was a burden.
Loving and caring for my son is no burden but it is demanding and tiring and over time I have learnt I need to take better care of myself.
1. Take time out
Finding time to do something I love helps rejuvenate me.
Sometimes this is as simple as going to the movies with my Mum. Being transported into a different storyline helps me forget about my life for 90 minutes.
A family day out enjoying a shared activity helps reminds us that we are a family first and carers second. Time out having fun also helps our family dynamics.
2. A date
Relationships can be tested when you focus so heavily on caring for a family member with a disability.
Walking out the door with my husband and spending time together as a couple with uninterrupted conversation helps my husband and I reconnect.
Looking after your own health can be difficult when you are time poor. I have to make a determined effort to make time in my day for exercise.
It is still a struggle to fit it in, but I feel good when I manage to do something for myself and I need to stay strong for my family.
I hate the word respite. Once again it seems to imply that caring for someone is a burden.
It took me a long time to use any respite service for my son but it turns out he loves it. The rest of the family also use this time to relax and recharge.
When he returns I feel invigorated to push ahead with goals and I am far more patient.
5. Accept Help
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Even superheroes need a helping hand from a trusty side kick from time to time. Friends have delivered meals, helped with my daughter’s activities and offered child minding.
People like to help and it isn’t a sign of weakness to accept.
I am painfully aware of just how difficult it can be to take care of yourself when you are a carer. I have used all the excuses in the book. But as the safety message suggests, you need to help yourself before you’re able to help those around you.