Caregiving Rx: Developing a Resilient Spirit
Being a caregiver has many challenges and can take a toll upon the soul. Here's my article on strategies for caregivers which appear in Hitched, the online magazine.
When you're dealing with a spouse who requires around-the-clock care, be sure you're taking care of yourself, too.
“Never navigate this journey alone!
Ask and accept help from those who offer it.”
Miguel Bruna In order to be there for your spouse, you need to be there for yourself first.
BY SANDRA C. STRAUSS
Before my husband was stricken with neurological issues at 59, I never imagined how being a caregiver would transform my life in every possible way. Navigating a new landscape of living related to his neurological issues tested my fortitude to remain steadfast while meeting life’s challenges with courage, strength, and wisdom. Indeed, loved ones are typically thrust into these roles and are usually quite unprepared for all the challenges they will face when a family member develops a chronic, debilitating illness. According to 2021 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, 57% of family caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias provide care for four years or more. From my role as a caregiver, I recognized the absolute requirement for sustaining my own spirits through this siege of unknown duration. Especially for those managing loved ones with brain issues, on-the-job training in caregiving is extremely stressful when round-the-clock care is required. I felt overburdened at times as endless responsibilities gobbled up my time, energy, finances, stress quotient and other resources. We are never fully prepared for the many challenges created by a chronic illness or disability and the compounding of related issues and losses. The chronically ill, robbed of their physical health and vitality, often suffer losses in other areas of their lives—their careers, finances, relationships, and overall quality of life, further adding to the stress level and tensions affecting the whole family. Due to the possible loss of income from the stricken partner or spouse’s disability, adjustments are required for the other to serve not only as caregiver, but often in the dual capacity as breadwinner. When prolonged illnesses endure, the combination of loss of income, mounting medical bills, and expensive care costs can drain life savings and drive many into bankruptcy. Combined into this costly mixture are concerns and tensions related to their care, safety, and welfare, along with the well-being for all members of the family. In addition to handling external probabilities, I called upon strategies for navigating the inevitable challenges inherent with chronic illnesses. Ultimately, I had to come to terms with letting go of the life I had anticipated and face a new life with its unfamiliar terrain, using strategies that sustained me throughout this endurance run of heart and soul. Let go of thoughts that don’t reflect what you most desire. I am a big proponent of the "Law of Attraction"—simply stated, whatever you give the most attention, be it positive or negative, is what you will continue to attract into your life. I focused on what I desired and intended to experience by using daily affirmations to manifest my vision. "Nothing can disturb the calm peace of my soul," was one I uttered countless times a day to shift me back to a more peaceful heart. When I noticed unwelcome, unproductive feelings rising, I simply did my best to shift them to align with my goal, accepting my imperfections when I was unable to do so. Monitor both inner and outer conversations. Avoid "awfulizing" situations that only make the situation worse, such as, "This is so devastating for us!" or, "How awful that this illness has made such a mess of our lives." I did not deny my feelings of being overwhelmed. I just acknowledged them and replaced them with thoughts that ultimately uplifted my spirit. Call upon or create a circle of support. Never navigate this journey alone! Ask and accept help from those who offer it. Be specific as to what is needed to lessen stress. A supportive network works wonders for clearing away your frustrations and fears. It’s both cathartic and therapeutic, just don’t dwell upon them—a key component for finding balance and sanity throughout the turbulence of changing realities associated with neurological issues. Such a circle reinforces the enduring essence of the truth of who you are—strong, capable, wise, and resilient—important reminders especially during times when you may question these traits. By focusing upon your thoughts and intentions to create desired experiences, as well as recognizing the resilience that resides within, will uplift you through the toughest of times. These will empower you in re-engineering your life to forge both your present and future with an indomitable spirit. This also serves as both a blessing and an inspiration for others, who may find themselves whether now or at some point, navigating a similar course. As challenging as it is to accept what is and to let go of what was, ultimately allows your resilient spirit within to sustain you throughout an arduous journey of the heart. Excerpted from her latest book, "A Toxic Brain—Revelations from a Health Journey," featuring the author’s fervent search for answers regarding her husband’s bizarre symptoms and all the unexpected realities of navigating his debilitating illness. Sandra Strauss is passionate to inspire destinies of health, harmony, and happiness. She offers a collection of strategies in her books, presentations, and blog to support vibrant health and wellbeing, www.SandraStrauss.com.