Contrary to popular belief, self-care goes beyond lighting a few scented candles and going on a nice long bath (although these little things can be helpful, too). True self-care is a holistic approach that takes into account the person’s entire being—their physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual health.
More than anybody, those caring for disabled or chronically ill loved ones need to remember that they deserve just as much love and care as they provide. Caring for ourselves and caring for others are not mutually exclusive; the truth is, the only way we can truly and effectively care for our loved ones is if we are properly nurtured and healthy as well.
If you are caring for a disabled or chronically ill loved one, here are some practical self-care tips you need to remember.
Accept help wherever and however it presents itself
It’s easy to default to thinking that we must be able to do it all and achieve it all. After all, we took on this responsibility—we chose to care for our loved ones, and we need to be the best at it, especially if our day-to-day choices and performance are a matter of life and death. However, we need to be able to receive help however it may look like and wherever it may come from. Here are some examples:
- If you find that you are running low on funds for medical bills and treatments, exhaust every resource available to you, like government aid. Consider applying for disability claims on behalf of your loved one so that you can have somewhere to run should something go wrong with your loved one’s insurance, or if you run out of funds.
- If another family member or a trusted friend offers to care for your ill or disabled loved one for one day or evening so you can take a breather, don’t feel guilty about saying yes to the offer. Taking one day or night off won’t kill you or your loved one, and you need to trust that other people are just as capable as you when it comes to taking care of them.
Establish and maintain a strong support system
Here’s one thing you need to remember, especially if you tend to default to hyper independence: Your greatest resource is your community. You don’t need to go through this process on your own; there are plenty of people around you who have been where you are and know what you’re going through. You just need to know where to look. Here are some ideas about how you can build and maintain a strong support system:
- Join a support group for the specific illness or disability. Your loved one can meet other patients or people going through the same thing, and you can touch base with other caregivers who have some wisdom and knowledge about your experience.
- Connect with your loved one’s doctor and other medical professionals. While their physician must maintain certain boundaries between them and you, you would benefit greatly from having rapport and genuine connections with them so that you and your loved one can feel a sense of safety whenever you go for checkups and treatments.
- If you are a person of faith, lean hard on your faith community during this time. Let them take care of you and nurture you as you care for your loved one as well.
Treat yourself with gentleness
There’s a reason why the Golden Rule has resonated throughout the ages. But to truly love others as yourself, you must also learn how to love yourself. As a caregiver, you must acknowledge that you will make mistakes, you will snap and be frustrated sometimes, and you will not always be the paragon of a patient and gentle caregiver. Every time this happens, be gentle with yourself and know that you can’t do it all. Acknowledge the difficult seasons because denying our emotions is bad for us.
This is where your trusted community can come in: They will be your sounding board and safest space whenever you’re having a difficult day. While you don’t need to take it out on your disabled or chronically ill loved one, you can be honest with your community, and you can let them help you gain perspective on the situation especially when overwhelming feelings are clouding your judgment.
You deserve just as much tender loving care as you shell out. Strengthen your borders by caring for yourself, and you will be in the best position to care for your disabled or chronically ill family member or loved one. You are not alone.