I have been lucky to find a caregiver support group that meets once a month. This small group of 6-8 members has been invaluable to me. I can be away from home for about an hour and a half at a time, so this time out of the house has become very sacred to share experiences and to know that I am not alone.
Last month, a professional counselor came to our group and shared information with us that I was not prepared for. It’s her belief that for every year you spend as a full-time caregiver, you (the caregiver) will age three years. Umm. Wait, what did you say? Three years? That hit me hard like a ton of bricks right in the face. What a realization that was.
You should know that it was Christmas of last year when it became apparent that I must leave my job to stay at home to be full-time caregiver for my disabled husband and his father. And it has now been one full year of caregiving. It’s an anniversary to remember the days of dressing my husband, preparing our meals, assorted toilet adventures, and sponge baths. I really do feel three years older on this anniversary. As I reflect on this past year, the counselor’s words echo in my head when I think about the physical, mental, and emotional toll of caregiving.
The evidence of this toll came in the form of a list. Last week, I had my annual physical with my primary care physician. For the first time in 52 years, I went prepared with a list of symptoms. My general aches and pains were signs of a tired and frazzled caregiver. My doctor is a wonderful and sweet man. As he reminded me of the importance of “self-care”, he allowed me to shed a tear as he removed his medical hat and put on his psychology hat while I rambled about caregiving for a few minutes. He even gave me a prescription for an anti-depressant that sits on the table and stares at me while I decide if I will actually get it filled. I’ve never taken this kind of medication before, so I’m reluctant not knowing what it will really do for me.
I’ve resigned myself to asking for the anti-aging cream in the big gallon drum container. Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel like putting up Christmas decorations, or maybe I won’t. Christmas is in my heart and will come even if I don’t physically drag everything down from the attic to commemorate it. I think God will understand.
Regardless of whether the years are measured on a calendar or by the wrinkles on my face, I must pace myself and take care of myself FIRST in order to serve others. I hope you will practice self-care, too.
I wish you Peace and Hope during this Season of Love.