March 29, 2017 marked the one year anniversary of the death of my father. Last year at this time, I was caring for my mother who had been diagnosed with Alzheimers disease and was feeling exhausted in every way imaginable. I could barely get my weakened body out of bed to begin another day of caregiving. I didn’t know that I was about to hit rock bottom emotionally, psychologically and physically. I remember the day oh so well. It was a Saturday morning and my day started with dragging my mom out of bed, bathing her, cleaning her dentures and dressing her. We strolled down to the kitchen so I could make her breakfast with our two dogs by our sides. My husband was working, as he usually does on the weekends.
As we sat at the kitchen table staring at one another over coffee, my phone began to ring over and over again. I did not want to answer it, as it was yet another task to endure. Yes, as a fulltime caregiver, even answering your phone calls can be extremely burdensome. The person behind this call was relentless and persistent in ringing my phone and forced me to answer. As I pushed the accept button, a voice of a middle-aged man asked for a “Heather Oglesby”. I sighed and reluctantly confirmed my identity. The man stated he was a private investigator looking for the family of Paul Oglesby, my father. He began to share the news that my father had passed away. As I listened to the details of his death, tears poured down my face like a raging waterfall. I could not speak or swallow, thinking, “is this really happening? I had not seen my father or spoken to him in 20 years since he walked out of our lives. I, now, would be the “designated survivor” of my father’s limited affairs on top of the responsibility of being my mothers full-time caregiver.
That day took me further down a path of despair as I tried to figure out how I was going to handle all the responsibilities that were drastically dumped into my life. However, what I didn’t know about myself, was the level of resilience that would emerge from the depths of that despair. The following day, I got up out of bed with a determination, a fervor, that I was going to make it. We all have an internal drive for more; a deeper desire of human fulfillment. Being a caregiver will create an environment in which that drive can be diminished, squashed and devalued. The caregivers primary role is sacrificial, denying every need to meet all the needs of someone else. However, my life experiences and the receipt of love from others along the way was now going to be the catalyst and life raft I desperately needed.
Over the past year, I have taken the steps to actualize the human potential that still resides within me to heal; to move beyond the confines of the caregiver role. Below are the brief steps I took to fight my way back to a healthier me:
- Mental: Address your mind first. Make a mental determination that you are a priority and you will not allow the caregiving role to take you down. Following the news of my fathers death, I picked up the phone and made an appointment with a psychologist. I was on emotional pain overload. I knew it was time to get the psychological support I needed to work through the impact of my parents recent events. Seek the support however you can. There are free community case management programs and counselors that you can tap into through your Local Area Agency on Aging. Google.com is the caregivers best friend and resource. When one agency shuts the door on you, don’t give up. Keep seeking.
- Nutrition & Health: The neglect of the caregiver’s health is a common challenge. We are so busy caring for our loved ones that before we know it, its been a year since we have seen a doctor and we forget what a dentist actually does. If you are fortunate enough to have health insurance and a comprehensive primary care doctor, ask for functional testing for your thyroid, cortisol levels, vitamin deficiencies, adrenals, and autoimmune antibodies. Stress can do a number on our bodies. If you cannot afford testing or do not have health insurance, begin to read about natural healing through the foods you consume. An anti-inflammatory, heart healthy and brain healthy diet (way of eating), can support your immune system while under great stress. Essential oils are also a great way to supplement your health needs. More information on doTerra Essential Oils can found on my doTerra business site.
- Physical Exercise: Get Moving! It does not matter how you do this. Just move. Climb stairs, walk outside with your dogs, stretch, buy a yoga DVD. I was so fed up with my fatigue and ongoing weight gain due to stress, that I literally got up one day, drove to the local Walmart and bought a bike. That was one year ago and I am now biking 70 miles a week. Do what works for you. There are inexpensive ways to take care of your body, but just realize that it takes time. Persistence is the key and no fad diets or 30 day cleanses are going to solve the effects of stress on a caregiver. You must change your lifestyle bit by bit over time. Take the small steps now and huge rewards will come.
Remember that this walk as a caregiver is one of the most unsupported roles in our country today. It can be an extremely stressful time of your life, with little to no support from friends, family or your community. Think outside the box and get creative. Ask for help from unconventional people and places.
In the last 6 months, I have been bringing my mother to my local gym, Lifetime Fitness, with me so that I could exercise and not worry about how I would find care for her. I can’t say enough about the staff at this gym. My mom can’t work out and I can’t leave her alone, so in order for me to take care of myself, I bring her along. She will sit on a bike and stare into the abyss, but she’s supervised for free by me. They do not question me or her about membership or deny me access because she is with me. The kindness of the staff at my gym has saved my life and increased a caregivers quality of life exponentially.
Step outside the typical boxed-in thinking as a caregiver. Approach businesses and let them know what you are experiencing and ask them for their support. You might be surprised in their response. The above steps I choose to make for myself can be seen in the results below, one year later.
A caregiver make-over, organized, funded and supported by a caregiver, myself.