Caring for the Caregiver

I’ve probably said or at least hinted at this in every blog post so far.  Caregiving is hard.  Like really, REALLY hard.

It is important to find ways to care for yourself.  Honestly, it’s sometimes the seemingly insignificant little things that add up and make all the difference in the world.

One of the most important things for me has been finding those things that I enjoy doing that I can still do when forced to be home most of the time.  I find that I spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  I can experiment with different recipes, and since I’m always struggling to find ways for Grandma to keep her weight up, I get to cook with all the butter, fat and sugar I want!  (This, of course, has a down side, as my now uncomfortably tight waistband can attest.)

Chicken Pot Pies are one ne of Grandma's favorites!

Chicken Pot Pies are one of Grandma’s favorites!

I try to balance that with exercise, but it’s pretty difficult when trying to juggle being a caregiver with a job and then factor in the gray, rainy and very short winter days in Seattle.  Still…I get exercise when and where I can.  Sometimes it’s taking the stairs rather than the elevator at work, sometimes a walk around the block after dinner.  Every little bit helps.

It’s equally important to make time to spend with friends.  Take it from me.  I’ve mentioned my once vibrant social life as a contrast to my recent hermit-like ways.  Here’s an example.

Last summer I went to see a production of 14/48 The World’s Quickest Theater Festival. Check them out:

My background is in theater and I’ve enjoyed both watching and participating in the festival for many years.  One of the great things about it is the sense of community, as you can always count on seeing several friends both onstage and in the audience on any given night.

On this occasion, though, I was really uneasy sitting in the lobby as people started arriving.  I was overwhelmed not just by the number of people there, but by the number of people I knew!  I couldn’t make small talk.  Besides, you’ve never seen someone’s eyes glaze over faster than when you answer “Oh, just hanging out with Grandma”  when they ask “What have you been up to?”

That night I had my first honest to god panic attack right there in the lobby.  My heart was pounding, I started to hyperventilate and all I could think of was that I wanted to get out, to get back home.

I didn’t leave, but I did sit by myself in the theater and left as soon as it was over rather than sticking around to say hello to people.  I just couldn’t handle that much stimulus.  It was a bit of a wake-up call for me and has caused me to make sure that I get out of the house more.  It’s difficult at times to make myself go out and be social, but it strengthens my support network and helps me stay connected to my community.

I’m learning to identify areas where people can help, and learning to ask for assistance when I need it.  This is probably the most difficult thing of all.  My friends are great, and are always asking what they can do to help.  The best thing you can do for a friend who is a caregiver is to check in.  Being a caregiver can be a very isolating experience.  Just knowing that there are people out there who care can mean the difference between becoming a shut-in and remaining a functional (if barely) member of society.

Just do me a favor, and try not to act shocked when you ask me what I’ve been doing and the answer is “hanging out with Grandma”.

What hanging out with Grandma looks like. Grandma and I try out our “duck face”.

7 thoughts on “Caring for the Caregiver

  1. Joy Ray Walker

    This is lovely, Rob. I agree, being a caregiver is a big challenge! Your grandmother is lucky to have you holding space for her in this way. If there’s any way I can help, please let me know. Joy Ray Walker

    1. Rob Jones Post author

      Yeah, except instead of growing and learning physically and mentally, she’s doing the opposite. Watching someone slowly crumble is really heart-wrenching. On the bright side, there are no diapers.

      1. Boo Birds Fly

        I worked with very advanced dementia patients for a while. It is heartbreaking. Though I found a lot of similarities with toddlers in terms of what helped them cope. And some were in diapers. Sigh… Hope you don’t ever deal with that.
        The loss of a full vibrant life is hard to watch indeed.

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