Carers need self-care too

For 12 years I was a single parent, taking on the role of both parents with very little family to support me. To add to the challenges I faced daily, for four of those years I cared for a daughter with constant health issues. And then my mother had a stroke and could no longer speak, so for many years I became her ‘voice’. For much of my adult life I have taken on caring roles that I immersed myself in so completely that I constantly overrode my care for myself.

There has been a belief, deeply ingrained in many of us, that to care for ourselves first before others is to be selfish. I have witnessed this playing out for generations, with people often putting everyone else’s care ahead of their own, which was subsequently placed way down the list of who to care for. This way of living has been accepted, in the main, as being totally normal.

But is ignoring our own needs and our body’s wellbeing really a normal thing to do?

  • Have you ever been in a situation where you have had a sick child, a parent, or another family member needing full time care?
  • Did you throw yourself into the caring with no regard for yourself, staying awake all night, not eating properly, maybe even holding off going to the toilet when your body was telling you that’s what it needed you to do?
  • Can you remember feeling so tired that you didn’t know what day it was and you were just hanging out for the moment you could get some sleep?
  • But instead of listening to what your body was telling you, you put any thoughts of looking after yourself aside and focussed all your care on the person that was unwell or injured?
  • And then, down the track when they had recovered, you finally allowed yourself to ‘collapse into a little heap’ . . . and maybe you had even become unwell yourself?

I lived exactly like this as a young mother, and then from the age of 32 as a single parent for the next 12 years, for four years of which my daughter suffered from extended ill health. One very dark day during this time I remember thinking about my life, wondering why I was so very tired all the time and sick quite often and how could I stop this exhausting cycle that seemed to be endless?

It became very obvious that I had chosen to place myself so far down my ‘to care for’ list that care for myself was almost non-existent.

Sadly, I had accepted that this was the way it was and so life continued as it always had; in truth, I just didn’t know how to get myself further up the list. Looking back now I can see that I didn’t challenge this situation, probably because I was too tired to do so and also because I simply considered it to be normal, especially as so many around me were living in the same way; I did not know that there actually was another way to live.

In my late 40’s I really began to feel the effects of not putting care for myself at the top of the list when my mother had a stroke. It didn’t impact much on her body, as she had full use of her arms and legs, but what it did affect was her ability to speak and to write, so for the next six years until her death I was her ‘voice’.

This was a very challenging and often exhausting role, but of course a very necessary one. I was her ‘voice’ at the doctors, at the dentists, the lawyers and occasionally at the hospital, doing the best I could to translate what she was wanting to say. At times I could understand her easily and other times I struggled so much that later on I would get into the car and scream with frustration. As I had with my children, I became so focussed on my mother’s care that down the list I went again, and with it went the quality of my health and my wellbeing.

During this time I slowly began to see that something was definitely wrong with this picture so I started to finally ask – “How could I look after me, when I was also looking after someone else, in such a way that I wasn’t draining myself of the energy that was so needed at this time?”

I began to imagine that every morning when I woke up I held a ball of energy within me and this was my energy for the day. It made sense that if I were using this precious energy for everyone else first there would be nothing left for me. So, what did I need to do to turn this around without appearing to be selfish to those around me?

I realised that I had to learn to put myself first and not feel guilty for doing so.

I knew that whatever I did to support my care, it was still important to ensure that my focus on the care for the person needing it would not be any less – that it would come with a quality . . . a quality which I still didn’t quite know how to access. It was from the presentations of Serge Benhayon and Universal Medicine that I began attending two years after my mother’s passing that I finally began to get the answers to all the questions I had been asking for so long.

I began to understand what self-care is, and that it is essential to care for oneself first, and that to do so was not selfish in the least; it was actually a self-loving and self-honouring thing to do. This made so much sense for as I had already begun to see that if as the carer I am worn out or sick, how can I truly care for anyone else?

It’s understandable that when someone is unwell, permanently infirm or injured, the focus goes on to him or her, with everyone understandably doing all that they can to ensure that they heal as well, and as fast, as possible. If the health issue is bringing their life to an end then of course all the focus goes on making their last days as comfortable as possible. But what I see so often is that this care is undertaken with such absoluteness that the carer has very little time or energy to care for themselves and they end up exhausted and often sick, but still continue to place their own needs to the side.

I know this choice so well as it was the choice I had made many times during caring for my children and my mother, but I have gradually come to see that it is so very vital for the carer to care for themselves first and foremost. To do so made sense, as the energy they have for caring for another is not totally expended but is available in a much deeper and lasting quality.

On a practical level there are many simple things I’ve learnt as a carer that you can implement into your daily rhythm to maintain your own health and wellbeing, such as:

  • Taking little stop moments in your day. By simply closing your eyes and breathing gently in and out of the tip of your nose, with the Gentle Breath Meditation®™, even for a few seconds, brings a feeling of stillness to the mind and body.

  • Make the time to prepare your food; freezing meals so there is always something nourishing to eat when things get really busy. Eating the sugary, carb-filled food that is so easy to grab when you’re tired actually makes you more tired once you’ve passed the sugar rush.

  • Don’t ignore your body’s call to go to the toilet – this is always a great opportunity to stop, close your eyes and take a moment for you.

  • Plan to go for a walk at least once a day, even if it’s just a few laps around the garden if that is all the time that is available. Most find that getting the body moving and being in nature, even for a short time, helps you to feel clearer and more energised.

  • Ensure that you have plenty of help; don’t hold back from asking those who are available, both family and professional, to support you in whatever way they can. You don’t have to do it on your own and believing that you do actually prevents others from offering their support.

There is so much more that could be added to this list, especially if you are a carer in paid employment, as a nurse, rest home carer, child minder etc. It all comes back to the fact that whatever your role, paid or unpaid, the first person that you need to take the time to care for . . . is you.

Taking the time to listen to what our body is asking for, what care it is needing at any moment in time, is the most loving act of all. And from treating ourselves with this love there is a beautiful ripple effect that naturally begins to flow on out to those around us, sick or not – and from there the world, that definitely needs caring for, will have the opportunity to begin to heal.

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ExhaustionFatigueGentle breathWell-being

  • By Ingrid Ward, Community Support Person

    I am a forever student of life, people, nature and the Universe. As an elder I have a huge responsibility to share my lived experiences with others so they may understand life a little more; that responsibility is a true joy.

  • Photography: Dean Whitling, Brisbane based photographer and film maker of 13 years.

    Dean shoots photos and videos for corporate portraits, architecture, products, events, marketing material, advertising & website content. Dean's philosophy - create photos and videos that have magic about them.