I’ve been a caregiver for my Dad for three years now. He needs round the clock care and I’m an only child, so there’s no one else to do this job. I want to care for Dad, since I owe him so much, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy.
A year into caregiving, I realized that my emotions were all over the place. I was at once frustrated, angry, helpless, guilty and drained. I went to sleep every night thoroughly exhausted and often woke up in the middle of the night for caregiving duties. I hadn’t seen my friends in months and my social interactions consisted of a few scattered text messages from my more tenacious buddies.
Then I read in a magazine that between 40 and 70% of family caregivers suffer from symptoms of clinical depression. Boy, did that make me nervous!
I arranged for a friend to come stay with Dad for a few hours and went to see my doctor. He said I wasn’t clinically depressed, but that I was putting myself at risk for depression by trying to do too much. He made some suggestions about how to change my lifestyle, and I took his advice.
The first thing I did was arrange for paid help three times a week. Once I had three mornings free, I dedicated them to self-care. One morning I attend a support group for family caregivers, which gives me strength and helps me feel less alone. Another morning is for errands (they never end, do they?) and the last morning is for doing something for my soul – reading a good book, meeting a friend for coffee or just sleeping off my exhaustion.
Next, I bought a big thick notebook and christened it my journal. I don’t always have a lot of time to write, but I find that when I jot down my negative feelings, they are suddenly less overwhelming. And when I’m in need of a mood booster, I can flip through the pages to see where I have recorded the funny and joyous moments of caregiving.
My doctor pointed out that physical health and mental health are interconnected and recommended that I start exercising. At first, I looked at him like he was crazy. How was I going to find time to exercise in my busy schedule? But, with a little out of the box thinking, I found a solution. It turns out that Dad likes to watch exercise videos on TV – the music is cheerful, and the constant movement keeps him interested. I’m not sure he even notices that I am doing the exercises right next to him.
Caregiving is still hard. I didn’t have any idea how challenging it would be when I started out. But taking time off, writing in my journal and doing physical exercise have all made a difference in my life. I feel healthy, both mentally and physically, and I know that this helps me be there for Dad in the best way possible.