Never forget you still matter as a caregiver
“I matter. My life matters. My feelings matter. I am doing powerful, important work for my loved one — but I still matter.” — Cindy Laverty
Some caregivers find their life purpose in caregiving. However, many caregivers accept the caregiver role out of a sense of duty, loyalty and love. Caregiving is not what brings purpose to their life, and that is fine.
In fact, life as a caregiver can be mundane and monotonous. It can be a life of routine and sameness; it can feel as if we are on autopilot. It’s one of life’s contrasts: a set daily routine is important for our older loved ones — especially those with dementia — but that same routine takes a huge toll on the caregiver’s emotional and mental health.
Everything we do now has to be thought through and planned. Sameness and routine are what caregivers have always experienced. It has always been harder to be spontaneous and break out of routine when you have other people’s needs to consider.
Cindy Laverty, author of "Caregiving: Eldercare Made Clear and Simple" offers six steps to help bring back purpose and meaning to a caregiver’s life:
Acknowledge and separate your purposes
Taking time and caring for yourself is one of the most important and one of the most overlooked things you can do as a caregiver. Caregivers have two primary purposes: self-care and caring for an older loved one. We need to understand the differences between our purpose as a caregiver and our life’s purpose. Laverty points out, “When it comes to caregiving, your role is not to give up your life to fix everything that is wrong in your loved one's life: it's to help them live in as much dignity and grace as possible, given the situation.”
Make a plan
A care plan lays out what is needed to manage the health and well-being of an individual. Circumstances change, care needs change and options for care change. Having a care plan can help you navigate through all of this. Although every care plan will look different for every family, there are some basic steps that should be included:
- Talk with your loved one about their wants and wishes for both current care and future care needs. Include them in as many care decisions as possible.
Identify their current needs:
- Physical health and medications
- Legal documents
- Finances, including medical and life insurance policies
- Home safety
- Day-to-day living activities — meals, bathing, dressing, mobility, etc.
- Create a support team. This team can be made up of family members, close friends, neighbors and anyone you trust who can step in and help out. Keep a list of community resources and agencies that are available to assist. Don’t forget to ask for help for yourself — let your needs be known and let people step up.
- Put it all down on paper and make sure all those included have a copy. Review and update as needed.
Know what your physical and emotional limits are. Compile a list of what you can and cannot do, what you are willing and unwilling to do, and what you have time for. Establishing boundaries can help you maintain a sense of balance over your caregiving situation. When healthy boundaries are not established, feelings of disappointment, anger and resentment build up, leaving you exhausted and stressed. Establishing boundaries is essential in making sure your caregiving relationship is mutual, respectful and supportive. As Laverty says, “Most of us were never taught how to set boundaries.”
- Goals need to be realistic and must fit into your life without major disruption.
- They need to be specific and measurable. Wanting to be more patient with your loved one is not a specific goal. But telling yourself to step back, take a deep breath and count to 10 is a specific way to manage stress before reacting to your loved one.
- Develop an actionable plan to obtain your goal. Instead of saying to yourself, “I don’t want to be stuck in this house all day taking care of mom,” arrange for someone from your "support team" to care for your mother every other Sunday afternoon from 2 to 4 p.m.
- Don’t forget to reward yourself after you’ve achieved one of your goals; you deserve it.
Laverty points out that, “We are conditioned to stay stuck in our spot because going out of it is just too scary." If you feel your life purpose is being overshadowed by your caregiving responsibilities, and that you simply cannot move forward with your life because you are a caregiver, ask yourself if you have just learned to accept your caregiver position because you are afraid to move forward. It might scare you to say, “I matter too." It’s OK, go ahead and scare yourself!
Discover your higher endeavor
To start to re-ignite your own passions, Laverty suggests asking yourself, “How do I find adventure in the day-to-day drudgery?” It’s easy to lose yourself in your caregiving role. Caregiving can change who you are, how you feel about yourself and your life’s passions. Let caregiving be an opportunity to learn more about yourself and what excites you. Let it be a launch pad to re-elevate your life and interests above and beyond caregiving.
As a caregiver you need to remind yourself that caregiving is not your whole life. You are your own person separate from the person you are caring for. You have a right to your own ambitions, dreams and having your own needs met. Finding a balance between caring for a loved one and respecting and loving yourself is a fundamental part of being a caregiver.
Stay well, stay healthy, stay connected,