We librarians each take a turn blogging here. When I learned my turn would fall in November and that is Family Caregivers Month, I was excited for the coincidence. Having been a caregiver to my partner Michael, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, I knew I had something to contribute. Initially I thought I’d talk about how important it is for caregivers to take care of themselves, but I didn’t take care of my own self, so that would be disingenuous.
Any caregiver knows how isolating and desperately terrifying it can be to be responsible for the wellbeing of a loved one. It is all-consuming to have to educate yourself enough to be an effective health care advocate. Then, you’re juggling behavior issues related to the illness, doctor appointments, meds, aides, hospital visits, police calls, finances, lawyer visits and estate planning; trying to maintain the façade of being in control so your compromised loved one doesn’t worry about you. Nevermind having a day job, pets, and regular responsibilities of daily living. Being a caregiver was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Michael passed away in 2017.
When I was a caregiver, I put myself last on the list of priorities. My strategy was not healthy but it was also not uncommon. There’s not enough space here to talk about anxiety, but as Michael’s illness progressed, I seriously neglected my own health and consequently lost 50 pounds. When people told me to take care of myself, I would know they were right and I’d nod and agree, but I wouldn’t actually do anything about it.
Caregivers should absolutely take care of themselves mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. We all know this. But it ’s not easy, and I couldn’t possibly factor me into our routine. Looking back, I would have done it all again, but I would have done one thing differently: I would have asked for more help.
IT IS COMPLETELY OKAY TO ASK FOR HELP!
When illness hits, friends and family do tend to disappear. However, for the special people who do remain in your lives (you’ll be able to identify them immediately!), ask them when you need help. They’ll want to help and support you. Of course it is unlikely they’ll be able to do most of what needs to be done, but they’ll still be able to lighten your load or lift your state of mind.
Ask them to call.
Ask them to visit with you and your loved one.
Ask them to pick up a meal and bring it over.
Ask them to grab you some groceries while they’re out shopping for their own.
Ask them for little practical things they can easily do and maybe wouldn’t think to offer.
Friends and family may not know what to do if you don’t ask. They may not even know you do need help. If you are a caregiver, I encourage you to consider asking for a little help, ask for a lot of help. Ask for the help you need.
If you don’t have friends or family stepping up, find a support group. It can be a lifeline!
If you’re friends with a caregiver, offer some help.