The word caregiver often brings to mind someone that's helping an aging or elderly person often with transportation, running errands and in many cases, activities of daily living. When I was in the insurance business, I talked all day long about how exhausting it was to care for someone that's sick. It made the case for many to purchase long term care insurance so they could afford to have someone else help out. But guess what? I've discovered that you don't have to have an elderly spouse or parent to be a caregiver. If you have a chronically ill child, you fit the bill and it's important that you take care of yourself.
I'll be honest, taking care of yourself when you're focused on someone else isn't easy. First, it takes time and there's not a lot of that to spare. It also takes energy, which you may or may not have but here's what I've learned in the past few months-if you don't take time to take care of yourself, you can't take care of anyone else. Here are my tips (and I plan to hold myself accountable now that I'm putting them in writing).
First, let go of guilt– It's not your fault your child (or parent, spouse etc) is sick. Period. You need to take care of you first so you don't get sick too (that happens often with elderly people). Don't feel bad if you need an hour to yourself or if you need to get out of the house. It's normal and it's good for you. Can't make it to the NICU for the entire day? You're in luck because it's fully staffed.
Have a back-up plan– Yes, you're the primary caregiver, but you need to find someone who can give you much-needed breaks. I'm lucky that both my Dad and the K-man are around and I can take the time to play tennis once a week and walk the dogs every day when Rosie doesn't feel well. On the days that she feels great, I take advantage of the time. If you don't have someone who can relieve you, look into a service that you can pay by the hour that specializes in care giving or an adult day care.
Drink plenty of water– One of the things that's so easy to neglect is hydration. Our bodies are primarily water so it's essential to drink those eight glasses a day. I count glasses otherwise I just blow it off. I love herbal tea so that helps me stay hydrated too. If I don't, I get a headache and can't cope with a thing.
Feed your body well– When I'm busy, I have a tendency to eat the way I did on maternity leave- a handful of turkey as I pass by the fridge, followed by a piece of cheese later. That's not a sandwich. Your body needs fruits and vegetables and you need to enjoy meals sitting down so take the time. Ignore junk food. When you're at home all the time, it's easy to grab a handful of this and that. Don't.
Exercise– Don't have time to leave the house? Get some DVD's and exercise old-school. I learned very quickly that if I want to play tennis, I have to schedule it ahead of time or it doesn't happen. Mentally, I start to drag if I go more than a couple of days without exercise so I get it however I can- walking the dogs, squats in the kitchen and I do a lot of stretching.
Relax when you can– Remember the old “sleep when the baby's sleeping advice?” It's important. If you need to nap, do so. If meditation is your thing, download a couple and use them during the day. I love Brian Weiss. If Yoga relaxes you, be sure to get it on your schedule. I've become a big believer in essential oils for stress-relief and relaxation the past few months and I think everyone should have a massage to unwind.
Stay in touch with friends– Be sure to reach out to people. They're busy and often don't stop to pick up the phone. Having people to visit and laugh with is important. They may not understand what you're going through, but they can sure help to pick your spirits up.