December 1, 2003
Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis
IN A RECENT SUPPORT MEETING, several caregivers asked the question, "Who will take care of my loved one if I get sick?" Anita pulled a muscle while lifting her mother into her wheelchair. Anita said she didn't know what she'd do if her backache worsens. Another said that her stomach problems were not improving and her ulcer has returned with a vengeance. Still another said, "I've already had one heart attack, and I don't want another." We all admitted we needed to get more sleep and rest. The silent question we all ask ourselves is who'll be there to take care of us if we get sick or our present condition intensifies.
Most caregivers at the meeting blamed their aches and pains on stress. Too often when a physician can't tell us what's wrong, we'll be told it's psychosomatic. This doesn't make the pain any less. Psychosomatic or somatic; if it's pain, then it's real. Pain is an alarm our body sends out to warn us that something is wrong.
Today's health care workers are aware that the immune system and illness are related. No one can deny that a stressful situation may lower the capacity of the immune system to ward off disease.
After many years of caregiving, it's almost certain a caregiver will suffer some physical debilitation or chronic fatigue. After not sleeping for a day or two, we can become irritable, have memory lapses, experience overwhelming fatigue, and be nauseated. Lack of sleep may even affect some aspects of the immune system. We can't control everything in our lives, but we can give ourselves the gift of getting enough sleep. Perhaps, old Rip Van Winkle had it right all along.
When we're under stress or unable to relax for even a short time, this may create a potentially serious problem. We know we're in a stressful situation. We may even feel there is no way out, short of leaving our loved one to cope alone. For most of us, that's not an option. We'll never have control over the progression of MS, but we do have control over how we react to it.
Changing old habits isn't easy, but if we've allowed MS to take over our life, it will be necessary to change our way of looking at it. Always remember that you don't have to live up to anyone else's expectations, only your own. Don't be too hard on yourself either. Once you get the hang of taking charge of your life and emotions, you'll find it easy.
One way to start is to accept your situation for what it is. You are the caregiver of a loved one with MS. Allow yourself to feel anger, fear, love, joy, and resentment. We owe it to ourselves.
For so long I didn't acknowledge my fears, even to myself, so I buried my fears and hid my tears. My fears eventually took over my life and affected my health. I've found it better to let my husband know my fears. Sharing my concerns brought out some of his fears as well. We were able to talk about them and reach a compromise. With help, I was able to change my way of thinking and become more accepting of my situation.
Mall walking isn't exciting, but this is one of the things I do. I take time for myself, and not just to run an errand. You may prefer to try yoga. I bought a tape of tai chi healing for seniors and found it beneficial.
Friends will be around for a while and will help on occasion, but MS is not an occasional disease. The only person you can depend on is you. We are the ones that will be with us for the rest of our lives, so we must learn to take care of ourselves. Staying healthy allows us to take care of our loved one, but we owe it to ourselves to stay well. We're important in our own right. It's impossible to have all of our needs met but, when we are in charge of our lives, we can call the shots.
So, who will take
care of the caregiver? The caregiver will.
Copyright © 2003, Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis