July 1, 2003
Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis
I WATCHED my granddaughter, Torie, and her friend on her seesaw the other day. Her friend was a head taller and outweighed Torie by several pounds. When Tories side of the seesaw touched the ground, she gave an extra hard push up to balance out the difference in body weight. It made me think of how similar our lives are as caregivers.
As caregivers, there are times when we need to consciously give ourselves an extra boost to balance our lives. We may not be able to handle today what we could handle yesterday. The balancing act goes on and on.
Most of us find it difficult to lead the same life we had before we became caregivers. When we're thrust into the caregiving role, our first thoughts are how to take the best care of our loved one. But, in order to balance the scales, we must practice self-care. That means not always putting our loved ones' needs before our own. Self-care means not burying our own needs in the caregiving process. The scales begin to tip when our involvement with caregiving becomes more important than taking care of ourselves. Correcting the balance doesn't mean we don't care for our loved one.
At one point in my life, I found myself ignoring all my emotions. I was becoming numb to my feelings, good and bad. I couldn't laugh or cry. I was afraid that, if these emotions were released, I would do or say something I would regret-perhaps something hurtful about my husband's MS.
Yet when we shut our emotions down, we're vulnerable to burnout. We're also at risk for overindulging, whether it's with alcohol, food, or sleep.
Practical Tips for Emotional Balance
You can take care of some of your emotional needs by trying these suggestions:
* When you feel tears welling up in your eyes, give yourself permission to have a good cry.
* It's always okay to have a huge hearty laugh, even when it's at your own expense. Nothing is more healing than learning to laugh at yourself.
* Keep your mind sharp by reading a good book, working a crossword puzzle, or taking a course by mail.
* Keeping a journal allows you to say anything to, or about, anyone you choose. If you want to write a love letter to Tom Hanks or a secret crush, that's permissible. It's your private journal and for your eyes only.
* Do anything that promotes healing or relaxation. If you have the space, try planting a garden, even if it's only in a window box. Try doing yoga or Ta'i Chi. My body doesn't bend enough for yoga, so I do T'ai Chi.
* Don't neglect your social needs. Phone a friend and go out to lunch. Those times when I couldn't get away, I'd invite a friend to come over and we'd have a picnic in my back garden. We named the birds and made up ridiculous stories about the squirrels-the more outrageous the stories, the more we laughed. It helps to see the humor in difficult situations.
* Seriously contemplate your role as caregiver. Caregiving is one of the most meaningful, yet stressful, things you will ever do. When you're exhausted and your spirits are low, it's impossible to give your loved one the compassionate and tolerant care he or she deserves. Try to see the positive side of caregiving.
* Bask in your respite time, no matter how short it is. This is your time to do something for yourself. When Mary has the money, she goes to a nice restaurant and is catered to. When she doesn't have the time, she creates her own private respite by taking a long, perfumed bubble bath. She places lots of candles around the bathtub. When she steps into the water and lights the candles, she pours herself a glass of wine. Mary says her mind can take her to wherever she chooses to go, even to some exotic country.
Above all, be kind and gentle to yourself. You're the only person who
will be with you for the rest of your life.
Copyright © 2003, Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis