Guest Blog post by Gillian Padgett. When someone we love has a stroke, a multitude of feelings come to the surface: shock, fear, and the disbelief that someone who seemed strong and capable has been rendered weak or disabled in a matter of moments.
Then, very often, we find ourselves thrust into the practical business of caring for the stroke victim. Often this is a 24/7 job for which we are ill-prepared, but we must cope.
Many of my clients have told me of the exhaustion they feel ALL the time; the resentment they feel because of the never-ending treadmill that their life has become; frustration for having little or no time to themselves; grief over the life they have lost; anger at the “friends” who have distanced themselves; sadness as they watch their once vibrant and capable partner struggling to do the simplest things; and the worry and fear of having a stroke themselves – then how will they survive?
All too often, the caregiver feels trapped in a lonely, isolated life. They may have little sleep; are running on adrenalin; feel anxious and on edge; have strained muscles from lifting and bending differently; or be poorly nourished because they are too tired to eat when they do stop for short spells of time.
While it’s highly unlikely that anyone will experience all of the above, many of us will feel at least some of those normal, natural negative feelings. Instead of blaming ourselves we try to be superwoman, or superman, here is a suggestion. Recognize that these thoughts and feelings are a message to love yourself, take moments for yourself, and care for yourself.
When every single moment is accounted for the big question, of course, is “HOW”? This is when we need to remember the emergency instructions when flying: put the oxygen mask on yourself first, and then help others. Our own self-care is a priority.
Qualities that a caregiver is likely to cultivate over time are: compassion and courage; discipline and flexibility; vulnerability and strength; and a deep sense of humanity – but only if they avoid burnout and attend to their own needs as well as those of their patient. Here is a five-step guide on how to survive and thrive being a caregiver:
- Energy and Sleep
- Be sure to have enough sleep – 6 -8 hours a night
- If necessary, see your health care professional and ask for a non-addictive sleeping pill to take for a short period of time, to help develop a pattern of regular good quality sleep
- Allow yourself to nap in the daytime if you feel tired, overwhelmed or have to be awake a number of times during the night
- Notice your thoughts
- If they are overpoweringly and consistently negative, turn your mind to something or someone you love: or write your negative thoughts on a piece of paper and shred or burn it
- Begin a gratitude journal and write in it regularly, and read it to divert your mind from the negative
- Be sure to eat 3 nutritious meals a day: avoid rich food and excess sugar
- Walk daily and stretch
- Drink water: avoid alcohol
- Find support: a group on Facebook, a local volunteer group (the library or your doctor may have info)
- Be prepared to make new friends
- Ask for help when you need it; many people benefit from having someone come in once or twice a week to allow YOU TIME; out of the home, for a coffee with friends or alone, to walk, refresh and recover (NOT to be used for shopping, dental appointments and so forth)
- Love and value yourself for who you are
- Find at least one thing that is beautiful every day; a dandelion or a daisy, a butterfly or a bird, a piece of music etc.
- Imagine playing with a child, a puppy or a kitten
- Lift your spirit with laughter; find the funny side of situations
Create a plan for yourself, or else print out the five strategies above, look at them often and tick off what you will incorporate next and when, and gradually build your resilience.
Gillian Padgett www.stresswisdomsolutions.com
Author of: Let Stress Heal Your Life: Uncover Your Amazing Capacity to Thrive
and the upcoming book From Trauma to Tranquility: A Guide to Inner Peace
I was Bob Mandell’s caregiver and was totally unprepared. So many of us are!
We had only been married for 18 months, and so yes, I thought Bob might be in a nursing home at some point – perhaps 25 or 30 years into the future – but not 18 months. But there I was!
Quickly, I had to shift gears. Bob was at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut for nearly 2 weeks after his stroke. He slept most of the time since he had the hiccups, and they could not resolve it. One day suddenly, an administrator told me that he was being released in a day or so, as there was nothing more they could do.
I was shocked, to say the very least! I took off from school where I was a teacher and administrator and ran around alone for a day visiting 7 different facilities, some in Connecticut, and some over the state border, in New York. But before I did, I put together a check list for each of the places I visited. I was particularly looking for neuro therapy expertise and experience, what looked like decent equipment in the rehab area (what did I know), cleanliness, some men in residence, location convenience, the possibility of a private room, and at least a reasonable physical plant.
In Fairfield County, where we were at the time, there were no in-patient rehabilitation hospitals which made it difficult. All the choices were a compromise. I finally decided to put him into a fairly new nursing home which had a rehab wing and was near my school, my family and on the way home so that I could visit him every day. I knew he needed that encouragement and so did I.
I kept working though the Principal cut me some slack. And that is an important lesson for all caregivers- to the extent possible – keep up your life, your job, and activities. I agree with Gillian – find time for yourself, though it may be difficult. If the caregiver gets depressed or too stressed out it will be a very negative factor in the survivor succeeding in their recovery.
Gillian, thank you for your important post. I would love to read about other’s experience’s.