How to avoid losing your own identity when you are a caregiver
We all start our caregiving journey for different reasons. We each have our own story of how it came to be. Some come to caregiving out of a sense of love and devotion, some out of necessity and duty, and some because it is just the right thing to do. But no matter how you came to be a caregiver, it is only part of who you are. Over time, your stories and your loved one’s stories intertwine. You start to lose your sense of self.
This happened to me when I was caring for my dad. I realized I was losing my sense of self when a friend asked me how I was doing. A straightforward question, right? But instead, I started explaining how my dad was doing; that he was still in the hospital but getting out soon and going to rehab. I continued to tell her that we would need to find help, so he wasn’t alone while we were at work.
My friend stopped me and pointed out that she asked me how I was doing, not how my dad was doing. At that point, I wasn’t sure how to answer her. I think I just mumbled, “I’m fine...just fine.” This was my AHA! and OMG! moment. I realized I was consumed with caregiving and starting to lose who I was.
Warning signs of losing your identity
- Using we instead of I in your conversations.
- Your thoughts are preoccupied with your loved one and your caregiving responsibilities.
- Not taking time for your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
- Losing interest in things you used to care about.
- Feeling powerless, overwhelmed, heartbroken — without even realizing, these feelings can spiral down into exhaustion, anxiety, social isolation, depression and physical health problems such as high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and/or a compromised immune system.
How to avoid losing yourself
- Set boundaries: These are a set of guidelines on how you want to be treated, what you are willing to do and not willing to do, and how you want others to behave around you. Once you’ve established what your boundaries are, you need to communicate those boundaries to your loved one and set consequences for when they are crossed. Consequences should not be punitive, but a reminder that their behavior crossed a line.
- Maintain activities: It is important to maintain activities that make you feel fulfilled. Prioritize a few activities that provide joy and engage in them regularly. Examples of these can include a hobby or creative outlet or meeting up with a friend for coffee.
- Stay connected: Caregivers should continue to stay connected to family, friends and colleagues. Host a game night or other gatherings to bring people together. Attend family celebrations, join a book club or make lunch dates with colleagues. Staying connected to the people who provide positive energy will help remind you that you are still part of a greater community.
- Schedule free time: Plan and prioritize time that is solely devoted to you. This can be as simple as taking a walk, reading a book, or getting your hair cut. Or use this time to pursue goals that were put on hold due to caregiving responsibilities.
- Take care of your health: Even when your loved one’s health comes first, it’s important to take care of your own physical and emotional well-being. This can mean getting adequate amounts of rest, eating balanced meals and engaging in low impact forms of exercise. Exercising regularly and mindfully can also help to reduce levels of stress and maintain overall health.
- Find support: Seek support from friends, family and caregiver organizations. These are all valuable resources that can be relied upon in times of need. Talking with a counselor and attending support groups can also help with stress relief and provide an outlet to talk through the challenges and successes of caregiving.
Here are some ideas:
- UK HR Elder Care/Support Group
- UK HR mental health therapists
- Alzheimer’s Association Help & Support
- Alzheimer’s Foundation of America
This all sounds a lot like good self-care; that’s because it is. When you take care of yourself, all the pieces start falling into place; your needs are met, your interests are recognized, and your relationships are strengthened. Just know it is OK to think about you. It is easy to lose yourself in all the caregiving stuff.
Stay well, stay healthy, stay connected,