By Hester Hill Schnipper
Before Helping Others
Lessons from flying and other tips for caregivers
By Hester Hill Schnipper
Remember the lecture given on airplanes before take-off? We are always reminded to put on our own oxygen masks before assisting others. Caretakers, too, should heed this instruction: In order to care for someone else, you must take care of yourself. It's the most important rule for a successful caregiver.
In the midst of never-ending tasks, it can be tough to focus on yourself. When your workload is overwhelming and you feel that you can't possibly accomplish what needs to be done, especially then, you must step back. When the dirty dishes are piled high, there are prescriptions to be picked up, the sheets need to be changed, a doctor's appointment is approaching or your loved one chooses your most overwhelmed moment to ask for a snack, a back rub or another errand—times like these may be exactly the right ones for a time-out for you. As long as there is no crisis, this is your time for a cup of tea, a stroll around the block or a short phone call with a friend. First, take a few minutes for yourself. Then, deal with the problems.
It is equally important to plan time away. If the patient can't be left alone, schedule a regular substitute so that you can get away once in a while. Ask other family members, friends and neighbors to be your backup. Consider assistance that may be available from your church, temple or mosque, a local civic or social group, or a community agency. Create a list of times you could use coverage to go to a movie, have dinner with friends or take a long walk.
Include your errands on this list, too. People want to be helpful and often don't know what to offer. So keep your list by the telephone, and you will have a response when someone says, "What can I do?" You might want to try Lotsa Helping Hands (www.lotsahelpinghands.com), which is a wonderful web-based program with a free group calendar that enables your friends to sign up to help you in ways that you designate.
If finances are not a major concern, think about tasks for which you can afford to pay for help. Hire someone to clean your house, use pickup laundry service or pay a local teenager to mow the lawn and shovel the sidewalk. If money is tight, think about swapping some services with friends. If you double recipes and provide dinner two nights a week for your cousin, she may have time to do your weekly errands or weed your garden.
Above all, be gentle to yourself. Try hard to eat right, get enough sleep and exercise. One of the hardest things in life is caring, day after day, for someone you love. You are sad and worried, and the work is also immense. It may seem counterintuitive, but putting yourself first sometimes will enable you to care even better for the person you love.