It has come. Covid-19 has come to Cardiff, my hometown. But I’m not as worried as you might imagine. For a long-time caregiver like me, this is just another ‘day at the office’. I’ve taken care of my husband, Rhys, who suffers from Guillain-Barré syndrome for so long that nothing can phase me anymore.
But many of you may find yourself being a caregiver for the first time in your lives if, God forbid, a member of your family becomes ill. So here are some things you need to know to help you cope and take care of your mental health as you embark on being a caregiver.
We all want to succeed. We all want to be good at what we do. Like it or not, our self-esteem is enmeshed with how well we accomplish the tasks that come our way.
Well, you can forget about ‘succeeding’ right now.
Whatever ailment your loved one suffers from, whether it be cancer, Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia or, God forbid, the coronavirus, the sooner you realise that you didn’t cause it and you can’t fix it…the better you’ll be able to cope.
My big mistake was believing that I could ‘cure’ Rhys’ Guillain-Barré syndrome through devoted nursing. I thought that if I plied him with the right herbs while cooking nutritious meals and caring for him hand-and-foot that surely, Rhys would get better.
So when his health got worse, it destroyed me. I felt a failure. That’s when I realised that I’d been playing God. That my super-inflated ego was completely enmeshed with Rhys’ health,over which I had no control. It was a hard lesson but one I’m happy to pass on to you.
Forget your precious ego! To be a caregiver, is to perpetually fail. A beautiful meal your patient relishes one day will nauseate them next week, bringing on gastrointestinal distress, gas and diarrhoea. Don’t blame yourself. Just let it go.
When someone is ill, their sleep patterns are always changing as well. This affects the whole day and the schedule of everyone in your home.
Sometimes they need their breakfast at six o’clock, sometimes at nine o’clock…and sometimes their pain is so severe, they can’t swallow food at all. Again, don’t take it personally. Caregivers always have a lot of lovingly prepared, delicious food mouldering in the back of the fridge. It’s not your fault.
In regular life, there are certain parameters, certain goals. If you hit them on time and on budget, you’re doing fine.
Well, you can forget about that right now. A caregiver’s life is one of constantly moving, shifting goals. What works one day, won’t work the next day. You’re constantly strained, exhausted and over-budget. Your life is chaotic. Rushing around. Putting out fires. Overdrawn physically and financially.
Frankly, after awhile, it can get to you. It certainly got to me.
I began to feel like a failure. I ran from morning til night, making meals, fetching medications, calling the physician, running to the shops, paying the bills, rubbing on ointments, fetching this, doing that.
No matter what I did, Rhys’ conditioned worsened, while his pain went from a 5 to a 10 despite my devoted, slavish nursing.
Then, for no particular reason, Rhys began to feel better. Life got a little less hectic. Meals were actually eaten on time. He slept at normal hours. He still suffers from Guillain-Barré but, at the moment, his suffering has diminished.
Did I finally ‘succeed’ as a caregiver? No.
Had I failed before? No.
That’s just the life of a caregiver. It’s a crazy ride where ‘success’ is a concept you should really discard. In fact, throw out all the rules for how to live. Just wing it. Fly by the seat of your trousers. Trying to anticipate is futile. Be okay with being responsive. It’s all you can do.
Being a caregiver is second nature for me after so many years. But many of you may soon find yourselves thrown into the role for the first time. Hang loose. Be spontaneous. Roll with the punches.
Most importantly of all, don’t blame yourself for anything. Another person’s ill health is not your fault. You didn’t cause it. You can’t cure it. All you can do is care for their needs, treat their symptoms and love them always.
Oh, and by the by, don’t forget to take care of you too.
Photo by donaleen