Lets talk about how you can take good care of yourself while you’re taking care of someone else. As a basis for everyday living there are six things I think will keep you in good spirits and bring you back to center consistently. As you read my stories, you’ll see that in the beginning I did few of these things I’m suggesting. My husband was extremely stressful by nature and almost impossible to deal with at times. I didn’t have anyone to make suggestions. I had to reach bottom sometimes before I figured out how to deal. Once I discovered a few good ideas, even if I couldn’t do them all each day or any of them some days, at least I knew what I should be doing and I squeezed them in as I could. Nothing stays the same for very long with your patient so it’s a good idea to have these rules in mind.
I’m assuming you get up at a similar time each morning and go to bed at a reasonable time each night. If this is not the case, and I surely know how your sleep can be less than restful, please send me a message and we’ll discuss how some changes might be made to help you. With that said, these are the ground rules:
1. Get up when you wake up naturally and start your day early if you can. You’ll feel better during the day if you don’t go back to sleep for “just another twenty minutes.” And, if the house is still quiet you can get some things done early, hopefully, something just for you (I love to read early in the morning with my coffee).
2. Have a positive phrase you say to yourself each morning as you rise. This sets the tone for the day. It’s amazing how things can go the way you expect them to, in “either” direction. So make it good and positive. Don’t laugh, I still do this; I look toward my window where the light is coming through as the sun is coming up and mentally say, “Good morning Sunshine.” My bedroom is on the second floor and I see palm trees outside the window. I make a mental note of how happy I am to live where I do and have my health. You’ll figure out your own pleasant phase. Just start the day on a positive, hopeful note.
3. If you can, take a short nap midday. If you meditate, that’s even better. Maybe your patient takes a nap and you can too. You need that if you’re getting up at your natural wake-up time. Our bodies need periodic rest. I love the custom in many other countries where the afternoon nap is common.
I learned to meditate after my husband passed away. I do so wish I had known what I know now. My stress relieving abilities have greatly increased. I’ll be sharing them with you through my stories.
4. Plan to do something nice for yourself. I remember being tired and not interested in anything that meant more work. My husband was hardly eating anything for the last couple of years and his food needs were changing constantly because the consistency of the food was critical to his ability to swallow. It occurred to me, as I was looking at a magazine in a doctor’s office, that there were many lovely, simple meals I could make for myself that I would really enjoy and feel like I was having a treat. I started putting things on my shopping list like salami, brie, olives, arugula and heirloom tomatoes. We had always eaten well, my husband was a terrific cook. Why had I stopped enjoying my meals? I started drinking a glass of red wine with my dinner, too. That is a habit that continues today.
Your special something you do for yourself may be different. I have a friend who was taking care of his wife who had Lou Gehrig’s disease. They had been married for over 50 years. Trying to figure out how to help him I asked, “What have you always thought you’d like to do, but have never done?” He said he had always had an interest in astronomy. What a pleasant surprise! We discussed how he could get on the computer or start reading books about the stars. He needed a new hobby, golf was just about impossible under the circumstances and he wasn’t enjoying it as much as he used to. Next time I saw him I asked if he had gotten into astronomy. To my surprise, he had bought a telescope and put it in their upstairs guest room. That’s a special something he can look forward to every night!
5. You need exercise. No matter what you’ve done in the past, you’ve got to do something to keep yourself healthy. About 6 years before my husband passed away, I had started walking. He was healthy then. I had read in a magazine that if you walk 10 miles a week, you will lose 30 pounds in a year. That’s exactly what I needed to lose. So I was already walking every other day when he became ill. Over the next couple of years, things got to the point where I could leave him alone for less and less time. Eventually, and because he wanted me near him constantly, we agreed that I would walk for 10 minutes (on the street in front of our house) and come back into the house, kiss him so he would know I was back (he was blind and nearly deaf) and go out again for 10 more minutes, then do that again. That way I got 30 minutes of fast walking done every other day. I, also, had started to do gentle yoga a few years before the walking and that I could do in the living room when I got him settled into his favorite chair with a TV program on.
Be creative, you need your health now and later in life.
6. Find something you can do together. My friend, who had Alzheimer’s disease, who’s care I managed for ten years, loved politics and so did I, in those days. I made sure I spent time with her every Sunday at her assisted living home. I was still working and my husband was well in those days. We would watch the Sunday talk shows and she would throw her slippers at the television. It was fun to have something in common like that. It kept her mind sharper, too.
My husband liked crime shows, I didn’t even want to look at the screen. We plugged a headset into the television so I couldn’t hear it and I read my books with one hand while he held the other and watched his shows. Love finds a way, he would say.
So… 1. Wake up at your natural hour
2. say “good morning” to the sun
3. take a nap/meditate
4. do something nice for yourself each day
5. exercise at least every other day
6. find something you can do together
In case I made it sound easy, know that I had to fight for myself all the way. I’m not a martyr and I hope you’re not either. You’re a giving, responsible person who takes on tasks only the strong can survive. Be proud that you do it with grace and love.