If someone you love has a chronic health condition, you need to get really good at taking care of yourself.
Especially if they have an illness that is going to affect you in the long term.
For a short-term situation, like a broken bone or a cancer that resolves, you may be able get away with running your caregiving efforts on stress hormones. With the idea that when the crisis is over, you can take time to recover.
But by taking that approach, you are gambling with your future. You are assuming that the crisis will resolve, and that life will return to some kind of normal.
And that is not always the case.
First, because there is always the chance that the situation you are facing with your loved one will get worse.
Second, because a new situation might emerge.
Not taking care of yourself when you find yourself in the role of caregiver is like buying stuff on credit. Of course we all have to do it sometimes. But if you rely on it too heavily and you can’t pay down your debt, the compound interest will start to create problems all on its own.
I’m an Example
One thing I’ve never shared on this blog is that my #2 kid was diagnosed with a brain tumour at age 14.
That was seven years ago.
He and I launched an intensive nutritional and lifestyle protocol, and in less than a year he got the all-clear. As a parent, it was a devastating experience. With a happy ending. And it turned out to be a short-term crisis.
But once my kid turned out to be okay, things were already going very sideways with Matthew’s health.
So, as a caregiver, I moved from one catastrophe to the next.
Matthew’s health crisis turned out to be the long-term kind. It’s still going on.
It turned out to be the kind that dramatically impacted our financial security and totally disrupted out family.
After years of continual stress and caregiving, I ended up with stress-induced adrenal fatigue, which I am still managing today.
Stress Management for Caregivers
I considered the importance of stress management in an earlier post.
Stress management is just as important for caregivers as it is for people who are living with chronic health issues.
In fact, if you don’t find effective ways to manage stress as a caregiver, you are significantly more likely to end up with a chronic health condition yourself.
How do you manage your own stress when you are living in an incredibly stressful situation?
You get systematic.
Teat stress management as an n=1 experiment, and as one of your highest priorities. Find what works for you, and then do those things.
Another important strategy is making space for the way you feel.
Caregivers experience a lot of intense, sometimes conflicting, emotions.
When those feelings are ignored, they have a tendency to get bigger. And make things more complex.
Consciously acknowledging the existence of your strong emotions is one way to increase the knowability of an otherwise uncertain situation.
As a caregiver, you may feel:
- Guilt for considering your own needs;
- Anguish because someone you love is suffering;
- Despair because no treatments seem to be working;
- Anger that this situation has happened;
- Resentment for being in a caregiving role when you don’t want to be; and
- Even more guilt for feeling resentment.
The reality is that you are going to have manage these intense emotional reactions, or they will come back to bite you (and your loved one, probably), before long.
Managing powerful emotions: How to
Start by acknowledging your feelings. Especially the feelings you would rather not acknowledge.
Write them down. Or tell someone (not your loved one!) about them.
Get them out where they can be seen for what they are. Very powerful, very difficult, very natural reactions to a crappy situation.
Truth: Loving someone who is suffering is an intense opportunity for personal growth.
Truth: Intense opportunities for personal growth rarely feel good. In fact, they mostly really suck while they are happening.
Truth: This is advanced level work.
You have, for whatever reason, or maybe for no reason at all, been called upon to do this advanced-level work.
You can refuse it. You can stay in your present state. It’s up to you.
But there is so much potential in accepting the opportunity. Enough potential that it is possible, one day, as hard as it may be to believe right now, you may even feel grateful for these experiences.
And chances are, refusing to do this personal work will not help you deal with the situation in the long-term. In fact, you will probably suffer more over time.
To decrease your suffering, you need to experience your feelings.
It’s a paradox, to be sure.
When it comes to intense emotions, sometimes the only way out is through.
This is part 2 in a 5-part series for caregivers
- Part 1:12 Tips for Caregivers: supporting your (reluctant) loved-one to start a healing protocol.
- Part 3: Sustainable Caregiving;
- Part 4: The Shadow Side of Caregiving; and
- Part 5: Being an Advocate.
Through my own n=1 experimentation, I've learned which foods help me to cope with the stresses of my daily life. Bulletproof Foods hold up for me, over and over again.
Most people associate Bulletproof with coffee, but (though I adore it) my adrenals can't handle it very often. Instead, I eat:
- Collagen, cocoa and 'brain octane' MCT oil for my breakfast cocoa;
- Chocolate fuel bars for work sprints; and
- Collagen protein bars for quick emergency fuel, especially when I'm travelling for my consulting work. And as treats.
You need to take care of yourself first.