“Tips on How to Achieve Your Dreams if You’re a Caregiver”
By Georgette Howington
July 28, 2019
Caregiving has and continues to be a female dominated responsibility; we women shoulder the weight of this task whether we are raising our families, work full-time, manage households and or maintain and cultivate marriages. Some of us are single-Moms caring for aging parents and or disabled adult children. We suffer from burn-out, depression and feelings of futility not-to-mention are often burdened financially. It’s a tough road. The old saying, “It’s women’s work” rings true. Here are a few statistics that I’ve quoted from the Family Caregiver Alliance National Center on Caregiving website: (www.caregiver.org)
- Approximately 43.5 million caregivers have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last 12 months. [National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2015) Caregiving in the U.S.
- Upwards of 75% of all caregivers are female and may spend as much as 50% more time providing care than males. [Institute on Aging. (2016). Read How IOA Views Aging in America.]
After being a caregiver for family members for over 40 years, I have had my share of struggles and personal challenges. Despite those hard times I am proud to say that my loved ones have and had (my first-husband suffered from Hodgkins Lymphoma died at the age of 42 and my sister had a rare blood disorder passed away in 2013 at the age of 54.) quality lives because they received the care they needed. The fact I loved and love them made all the difference and I do believe love often involves sacrifice.
But sacrifice does not have to mean martyrdom, codependency or tolerating an unhealthy lifestyle.
If you’re a caregiver like me and on a regular basis provide care for a loved one you’ve probably discovered that it’s a good idea to have a routine. A routine helps our loved ones have a sense of security and stability plus we can be better organized with their care. Six days a week I visit my Mother to do whatever she needs help with. Three days I only stay for a few hours and three times a week we go on outings of shopping or going to the movies, etc. Since she’s homebound our visits are her link to the outside world other than TV and newspaper. Just eight years ago she was working part-time, going to the gym five days a week, caregiving for my sister (who passed away 5 years ago) and had a full social and church life. Now she can no longer drive and relies on a walker and wheelchair in her home because can no longer walk very well.
My mornings typically begin with making my tea, writing five things I am grateful for in my gratitude journal, reading daily scripture and saying prayers. For years I wanted to volunteer at my parish Christ the King, in Pleasant Hill, but could not find the time. Earlier this year I decided to become a member of the Prayer Team. We get requests for prayers online from parishioners and there are 48 of us praying. This has given me the comfort of having a silent community of praying hands. After my morning routine I prepare for the day and that always includes caregiving.
While eating my oatmeal this morning I read through the script for Video 2 I am working on with three other Naturalists. We are creating a series of educational videos about habitat for secondary-cavity nesters. (www.cbrp.org) I’ve been a conservationist/activist for over 30 years, earned a Certificate as a UC Davis Naturalist for the Mt. Diablo Region in 2017 and this is a project that’s close to my heart.
A few evenings a week when I leave my Mother’s home I stop off at the pool to meet my husband for a good round of laps. Exercise is crucial considering how much stress I experience taking care of my Mom and son. Yes, I’ve been the primary caregiver for my 44 year old son over the past 20 years because he has a debilitating mental illness, lives in a Board and Care facility and is unable to take care of himself.
When I get Aaron twice a week, I bring Mom so it’s also an outing for her! We go to church together at Christ the King Catholic Church in Pleasant Hill on Saturday or Sunday.
Working full-time up until recently (I am now semi-retired) plus being more than one family member’s main caregiver (my brother lives out-of-state) and being married with my own home, I have learned to be a time and stress manager. Since a young woman I’ve been passionate about gardening, conservation and creative writing. Through the years of caregiving there were many times when I thought my personal dreams were behind me, but Faith and desire to live my own life drove me to not give up my dreams.
So, I learned how to meditate, studied Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies as well as deepened my relationship with God by reading scriptures daily and attending Mass weekly. The practices of Mindfulness and daily prayer are essential in my life. I developed a relationship with a psychotherapist who helped me realize my weaknesses, give myself credit for my strengths and offer guidance. For instance, she recommended I take a DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy- Emotion Regulation) course and it surely made a difference. I have self-help tools for daily living.
I keep a gratitude journal, diary and set realistic goals. At one point I decided to go back to college and earned a Certificate in Horticulture. The one-and-a-half year course of study took me five years to complete because I could only take one class at a time! But was I proud to graduate. I now have a large, productive vegetable, herb and flower garden as well as a backyard habitat. The gardens never look perfect but they provide me with periods of quiet, being with God in Nature and the joy of gardening.
Creative writing is another hobby I have been passionate about since a young girl. For years I experienced a sense of loss because I did not believe I had the time to write.
Then, I slowly realized I did not need hours to write. I could write for 15 minutes if that’s all I had. And rather than focus on trying to piece together a complex novel, I wrote short articles about birds and gardening for journals, newsletters and local newspapers. Poetry found its way into my heart and I discovered I could compose a draft of a poem in a short amount of time. When I could I attended poetry readings, became part of a few poetry circles in my area and am now an award-winning published poet!
As I write this, I’m sitting next to my Mom’s hospital bed because I brought her to the ER last night. She is going to be alright. I spent the night at her home to do a few chores and take care of her cat, Mia. Later today I’ll go home, shower and pack up again to go back to her place. I have an Ekphrastic event to write a poem for this evening. And tomorrow before I come back to the hospital will water one of my plots in a community garden!
Life as a caregiver is managing time, stress and keeping not only a close-eye on our loved ones needs but being ever aware of the quality of our own lives. I am not going to try and convince you that it ever gets easy but what I do want to share is you can accomplish your personal dreams. Even if it’s little-by-little 15 minutes to an hour at a time. And, I also want to say my caregiving journey has given me some the greatest spiritual lessons of my life. I hope and pray the same for you, my friends.