When It Takes Two to Canoe – Part 1

Being a Good Care giver

Do you find yourself feeling anxious, to the point of panic?  Are you frustrated, tired, have feelings of isolation, hopelessness or helplessness?  Are you irritable, and angry to the point of exhaustion?  Or are you ambivalent or perhaps in total denial, numb from the stress of being a caregiver or care receiver?

What?  Caregiver OR care receiver?  Loretta, you made a mistake.

No, I did not.  Caregivers and care receivers share many of the same emotions.  They are seated in a canoe but without teamwork the canoe will spin in circles aimlessly and threaten to capsize in the rough white waters of Medical Mayhem. Prior to the medical adversity both the care giver and the care receiver are controlling their own canoes.  But when they come into white water, they often find that the caregiver comes on board into a canoe that has now become a two person canoe.  Neither chose to go white water rafting, nevertheless they find that they must become a team in one canoe in order to survive.  Neither the caregiver nor the care receiver is very comfortable at first.

I have found myself in just such a situation more than once.  Are you there right now or have you been in the past?  Let’s unpack the canoe to find out what it takes to balance caregiving with care receiving.

Caregivers are often pressed into service suddenly to take on another’s life and care; their lives never to be the same.  Caregivers are not born equipped; often feeling overwhelmed, untrained, and uneducated as they are thrust into this new job and life. Here are a few suggestions to help you if you are in a caregiver’s role

Ask and accept help to care for your love ones. Include siblings, church family, friends and neighbors.  Lose the “I can do this all by myself!” attitude we had as children.  It takes a community of love to be a good caregiver. If someone says they cannot help drive your loved one to a doctor’s appointment ask them to help in another way.  It may be they don’t enjoy driving but would love to spend an hour or two visiting and reading; thereby allowing you to run errands or even a dinner out.

Educate yourself on the medical condition your loved one is facing.  Education is empowering and can equip you with the ability to know when something doesn’t seem right. It helps to minimize fear and worry to know what can be expected of a particular disease state.

Write down what you are learning and keep a notebook filled with provider contact information, insurance information, medicines, test results, etc.  The more you put down on paper, the less you need to keep in your head, allowing you to think clearly and provide the best support you can.   Don’t be afraid to ask questions and keep asking until you feel secure that the best care is being served.

Take time to care for yourself.  This is not the time to cancel your doctor’s appointments, your walking program, or your weekly date night with your spouse.  Work hard to maintain healthy eating, and getting enough sleep.  Continue to do the things that help you relax or provide joy in your life.  All these things help maintain and lower stress levels and make for a better caregiver.

Know yourself.  Don’t let guilt impair you from making wise decisions for both you and the care receiver.  Not everyone can be a caregiver for many reasons: distance, physical, emotional, financial, etc.  There are alternatives to at-home care and you can be involved in finding and maintaining the standards that both you and your loved one can live with.

Grow a funny bone.  When my husband, Thad had his right shoulder replacement he woke up to bulky bolster sling with a small rubber exercise ball held on by Velcro.  Thad is a survivor of testicular cancer, so when he realized he had this exercise ball he said to me “Look, Loretta, they gave me my ball back!”  To which I replied that if he didn’t do everything the nurse told him to do, I would take it away!  We had ourselves a good chuckle to the dismay of the nurse, until we filled her in on Thad’s medical history and then she joined in on the jocularity.  Once you look for humor, you will find it in the unlikeliest places.  Humor can help you get through those moments that are embarrassing, or fearful.  Humor is good for the soul.

Are you or have you been a caregiver?  How did you balance your life with that of a caregiver?

Next Week:  When It Takes Two to Canoe – Part II – Being a Good Care Receiver

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