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When the Care Giver Crashes
by Janice Williams

As I lay in the intensive care unit feeling sicker than I had ever felt before in my 62 years,  I realized that my body was telling me something.  The doctor put it very succinctly.  "You were an hour away from life support and you are very lucky to be alive."  I could no longer ignore my life overload. As is my mantra, I was ignoring symptoms because I didn't have time to go to the doctor. I was caring for my 86 year old mom; I had just started  a new job and I was maintaining a household for my husband and mother. In trying to do it all, my health became compromised. Instead of being the caregiver, I suddenly and frighteningly became the one in need of care. I almost died and I was scared.

The irony of all of this is that I am master trained in an amazing evidence based program called, "Powerful Tools for Caregivers". For two years I taught caregivers how important it is to take care of themselves while they are taking care of others.  The tools that are taught with this program help the caregiver with *self-care behaviors: (e.g. increased exercise, relaxation and medical check-ups); management of emotions: (reduced guilt, anger, and depression); self-efficacy: (increased confidence in coping with care giving demands) and use of community resources: (increased utilization of local services). I like to use the analogy of putting the mask on yourself in the airplane before putting it on your child. My nature is one of nurturing and being the one in charge. I always felt that it was easier to do it myself than to watch others do it badly, too slowly or not at all. It is not easy to let go of a controlling nature. My survival though depends on changing this part of my nature and taking the advice I so readily gave to others. I must put the mask on myself first!

Upon my return home from the hospital and rehab (after 2 weeks), I decided to face the reality that I was not super human but in fact I was very susceptible to self abuse behaviors. I had to recognize that I was always in denial on how much I could do (as I suspect most caregivers are). I called a family meeting (a recommendation from the Powerful Tools for Caregivers) and together we came up with a bigger and better plan on how I could get some help with my mom's care and ease the stress on both my mind and body. We searched and found an agency (**Priority Home Care Services) who could be more helpful with the tasks for my mom (showering, dressing, meal preparation, cleaning, companionship, etc.).

Then I started looking for healthy behaviors for myself. I asked the physical therapists at rehab for an exercise program that I could do at home as I knew I would never make the time to go to the gym. My daughter bought me an exercise bicycle. Turns out that the 15 to 20 minutes a day I spend doing these exercises has multiple benefits of not only keeping me healthier but it relieves stress and is time spent on myself.  I also plan one outing a week with my husband or a friend that takes me away from my day to day work and care giving. Even if it is for only a few hours, it relieves the sheer monotony of the day to day routine and gives me an opportunity to talk about things that matter to me. And last but not least, I have learned to accept that not everyone loads the dishwasher the same way but that the dishes still come clean.

My journey of learning to take better care of myself while still maintaining my career, care giving and marriage is far from over. I suspect that it will be an up and down continuum that will require frequent focus and adjustment. My brush with death has empowered me with a new found knowledge that maintaining my health is the most important element in being a care giver, worker and wife. Without my health, I become the person needing care. I learned a powerful lesson the hard way. I hope that all care givers can think about their own care first and ask or find help before ending up in the intensive care unit.

*As found on the Powerful Tools for Caregivers web site: http://www.powerfultoolsforcaregivers.org

**http://www.priorityhomecareservices.com

E-mail us: priorityhomecareservices@yahoo.com
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