Caring for the Caregiver, Part One.
No one ever says “I want to be the parent of a chronically ill kid.” No one. Ever. Yet, here we are, extra worry, extra stress, sometimes extra pounds due to poor eating choices. We move forward because we have to, there is no one else who is going to carry this burden for us, though we cherish our friends all the more deeply because they do lighten our loads in more ways than we thought possible.
So you take care of your sick kid, and you take care of your family, and you talk to doctors and pharmacists and insurance companies. You take care of your house, animals, house plants if you have them. But do you take care of yourself? Have you taken steps to make sure that you are as healthy as you can be?
I know the answer: probably not.
Because we always put ourselves last.
But that’s not the right thing to do, for a number of reasons. First of all, you are showing your kids that it’s ok to not take care of your body. In this world, that is not what we want to be showing our children, we want to show them that their bodies are super important and will carry them through the rest of their lives. When my daughters get their new teeth in, I say to them, “Take care of that tooth, it has to last ninety-five more years,” and they laugh at me, but I’m being serious. This is the only body they get. Yours is the only body you get. You have to show them that it’s sacred.
Next reason: you can’t be the best person you can be unless you take care of yourself. You will eventually collapse. It’s true, and you know it. We all want to think that it won’t happen to us, but we all know, secretly, that it will. But we can’t create more hours in the day, so what exactly do we do?
When I was a stressed out college student, I went to the counseling center, and the counselor there gave me a week’s calendar. It was broken up by hour. Twenty-four blocks for each day. Imagine. Then he had me block off eight hours for sleep a night and three hours for eating. That was eleven hours, and it still gave me thirteen. After then blocking out the time for each class, and time for studying for each class, I was amazed to see how much time I had left. I am a visual learner, so this helped me actually see my days.
This is a great excercise, I highly recommend doing it. (Make sure you give yourself the 8 hours of sleep and three hours to eat!)
Ok, now you can see your day. What are you going to do for you? Small steps yield big results. I would first recommend daily meditation.
You read that right: daily meditation.
Here’s what you need to do. Find a spot, the same spot every day. Sit down. Clear your mind, breathe, and just be. I know, I know, you think that this is impossible, that you have too many things running in your brain to shut down, and I can tell you, it takes practice, it takes discipline.
I sit at the side of my bed, on the floor cross legged. I concentrate on my breath, four counts in, four counts out. I ground myself with a mantra. Everyone’s mantra is different. It’s the thing that you can say that tells you that this is your moment. My mantra is two sentences. I say them, and then I let my thoughts go. And I sit in breathing stillness, for about ten minutes.
I didn’t start with ten minutes. I started with two. I would set a timer. And then I worked out to three, then four, up to ten. My girls know that this is an important time for me, because I’ve told them so. Actually I told them unless they’re bleeding or on fire not to interrupt me during my ten minutes.
Here’s what happens. My breathing slows. My mind sometimes thinks of things, but I let them go. My body tells me what is hurting, so I often do a few stretches after the meditation. (I actually call this my stretching and meditation time.) Sometimes my intuition tells me to check in on certain people during the day (It’s amazing what your subconscious picks up and you don’t realize it. Which kid is feeling left out, who is acting stressed, etc.) Then I end with thanking God (or the Universe if that’s what you prefer) for all of my blessings, sometimes naming them, sometimes not. Then I take a deep breath in, breathe out, stand up, and start my day.
So basically, I take deep breaths, I listen to my body and my intuition, and I express gratitude.
Not so hard, right?
I try to do this every day, but in reality I might miss once or twice a week. In those days I notice that I’m more scattered with my thoughts, I might get flustered or angry easier. But the good news is that the more you do it, the better you feel. And though I do it first thing in the morning, you can do it anytime. I have been known to meditate another time in a day if I know my evening will be stressful, it’s not often, but I know I can go back to that space and give myself a few moments to collect myself.
This may seem too New Age for you, and I get that. But taking a few moments every day to check in with yourself can only help you. If you start, let me know a few months down the road how you’re doing.
Time management and giving yourself time. Imagine how much better you will feel. Good luck.