Being a Caregiver When You Have a Chronic Illness
Having lived with multiple sclerosis (MS) for over 12 years, I have learned firsthand how important it is to have a strong support network. Friends and family are vital to helping me manage big and small tasks, stay socially and physically active, and have more time to focus on my health and wellbeing.
My husband is my number one caregiver. He does most of the grocery shopping and carrying of heavy or large items up and down the stairs at home. I’m capable of doing these things, but splitting the work between us is very nice and my osteoarthritic knees are thankful.
In recent months, my husband and I have been occupied with taking care of his mother. She has experienced a series of unfortunate health complications that require us to devote a significant amount of time tending to her needs. As a consequence, there has been much less time available to tend to my own.
This experience is teaching me the importance of taking care myself first before I can be of much help to someone else. This goes beyond the familiar analogy of putting on your own oxygen mask before assisting others in an airplane emergency. As your mental and physical energy are depleted, you must focus on your own needs to protect against sheer exhaustion, potential relapse, or full collapse.
As people with chronic illnesses, the quality of our caring is rich, but our capacity is limited. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we run the risk of slamming into that proverbial wall.
Ways to care for yourself
- Focus on your own health and wellness. Eat right, sleep well, and exercise. It’s too easy to skip meals or become sedentary when you are sitting for hours in hospital waiting rooms, doctors’ offices, or patient rooms. Keep up with your own medical needs.
- Determine what type of help you can realistically provide and don’t feel guilty for not doing everything alone. Accept help from others and be prepared with a quick list of ways someone else could chip in when they ask.
- Don’t ignore signs of caregiver stress and burnout. If you feel low, depressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, take time to decompress and step away for a while.
- Do stay connected to friends and your own support network. Taking mental and physical breaks is an important part of being able to provide care for others when you can.
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