Above all, as caregivers, we need to take care of our needs. To me, self-care means doing the things I need to do for myself that enable me to continue to perform well as a caregiver. Self-care includes things like showering, eating at least two to three meals per day, exercising daily, and getting enough sleep. It also means treating myself to coffee when I have a spare few minutes, having my hair cut, and taking care of my nails. Doing everything that gives me the energy required to recharge my batteries and make it through those long days.
When we first started struggling with our son’s medical difficulties, I thought it would be best to sacrifice my needs for his. Day after day I continued to do less for myself than I needed. Eventually, I was so tired I couldn’t even do basic math calculations in my head. Finally, my husband realized the desperate nature of the situation. He stepped in to make sure I got enough sleep and had time to eat at least once a day.
Eating meals which provide enough energy to sustain the work required as a caregiver is non-negotiable. Also, drinking plenty of water as dehydration alone can cause fatigue. I also need to shower every day, or I just don’t seem to function as well as I would like. Exercise, at least 30 minutes of walking, is also imperative. These are the absolute minimum things I need to accomplish to feel like I’m successful with self-care.
Nice to Haves
When things are going well, I enjoy exercising with my son. We take long walks together at various parks around the community. I love to treat myself to coffee and him to ice water after our walk. I also enjoy having my hair cut once every two to three months and taking the time to groom my nails once every month or two. When I can function at this level, I feel like my life is more “normal.”
When I’m having a tough time making it through, I take a bath with bath salts and bubble bath. I don’t get to do this frequently but when I do it helps get me back on track. A hot bath, a glass of wine, and a candle or two helps me unwind in a way nothing else can. I feel more relaxed just thinking about it.
The Self-Care Movement website has more tools you can use to make sure you’re taking adequate care of yourself through chronic illness or when you’re caregiving for someone else who has a chronic illness.
A large part of caring for myself successfully is making the time to do so. I’m thankful from the bottom of my heart to have a supportive husband and family. I certainly would have a hard time getting enough sleep and taking a long hot bath without someone to take care of our son if he needs immediate help. If I had to take my son with me to get my hair cut, I just wouldn’t be able to do it. It wouldn’t be worth the tears and struggle.
Self-care means taking care of me so I can take care of everyone else. I’ve encountered the harsh reality of how difficult things get if you try to take care of everyone else and sacrifice caring for yourself. It won’t last forever because it can’t.