From “Giver” to “Partner”

8 Jul

I had a brief chat with a neighbor today about taking care of myself as a “caregiver.” She was concerned about my taking the time to take care of myself in this role.  As much as I appreciated her concern,  I corrected her and shared that I now refer to myself as a care-partner vs. a caregiver.

What does this mean?  For three years, I found myself struggling to take care of my husband, the household, financial, and our family needs.  I look back and realized that I actually did a pretty good job of it!  But, when I looked in the mirror at myself, I found a very tired, overwhelmed, consistently anxious person staring back.  I chose, however, not to take too long of a look at that reflection, and kept on “keeping on” because I felt I had to do so.

Then, early in 2012, a friend shared a statistic that woke me up:

Sixty-five percent (65%) of caregivers die before the person they care for does!  

As a woman who always took pride in multi-tasking and handling it “all,” I found this hard to accept.  Could I be included in this statistic?  I was still 20 years younger than my husband and had gone through some tough times before — this was, indeed, the toughest though,  But I am strong, in good health, and young!  I responded.  I can handle it!

That’s what you think, the friend continued to tell me,  I am not trying to hurt your feelings but I have been seeing a different “you” for a while now and you are extremely high-strung and walking on egg shells 24/7, she honestly said.

I certainly had not paid much attention to myself and thought I was handling everything as well as to be expected.  I took little notice to my feeling short-of breath, having less healthy eating habits, and lacking good night sleeps.  Life was always in a rush and taking care of matters that dealt with my husband and the many A.D. challenges was at the forefront.  I found I turned down things that I enjoyed, made lists and accomplished the many daily tasks only connected to his needs, the financial needs, and my family’s needs.
Exhausted, I found the most enjoyable part of my day sitting zombie-like in front of the television set when Ernie had gone to bed.

I realized that I had changed and, in the midst of this, lost the confidence, the creativity and positive energy for which I was known to have!  With this, my relationships were more strained — with my husband, my daughter and her husband, my students in class, and my friends!  My language became more negative and my spirituality seemed to wane.  This, indeed, wasn’t me!  And how would I get myself–as I used to be–back?

The answer was by changing my role as caregiver to care-partner!  I reached out and found help from the local Alzheimer’s Association and other senior services, found a local senior center for my husband, hired a wonderful man who was eager to make a little bit of money to take Ernie to and from the senior center, used Hospice Transitions’ team to make occasional visits and called on the friends who offered to help. I had so many partners helping me and helping my husband instead of trying to do it all myself.

I began to put my needs into the equation of the life I was having to live with a less-abled husband.  I took a little vacation with a good friend, signed up for a trainer at the gym, took daily walks, took time to meditate and do yoga, and met with my friends for an occasional “night out.”

Now, Ernie is in a senior facility and I know he is in good hands while I have more time to live my own life, as well.  All of this did not happen over night, it took time, faith, creativity, and thinking outside the negative “box” to move ahead.   Life around me has changed. My energy is back, I feel physically healthy,  my view on life is more positive and my relationship with family and friends –even Ernie — is less strained and more comfortable and accepting.

I can confidently say, Margo is back!  I still am molding the person I want and need to be at this point in my life and I’m actually having fun reinventing as I go.  I have a bucket list into which I have already started digging!  And although my sadness returns every now and then with the continued challenges of my husband’s disability, it is easier to get myself back.  I am now partnering with others in order to continue being a loving care-partner to my husband.

I am thankful for the good friend who was honest enough to point out what was happening to me and scare me enough to wake up to do something about it!

To those who identify with the caregiver role, do what you can to change the role of caregiver to care-partner.

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2 Responses to “From “Giver” to “Partner””

  1. boomer98053 July 8, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

    You have a gem of a friend there and everyone in the care-partner role needs one. My article: “Caregiver: put on your oxygen mask first” http://babyboomersandmore.com/2011/11/19/caregiver-put-on-your-oxygen-mask-first/ addresses the need to think of yourself first, and then you can be the person you need to be for everyone else – especially your loved one. Sometimes we feel guilty even thinking about taking care of ourselves. Take time for myself? Are you kidding????!!!!! I’m glad you are gaining back the you that you were meant to be. Carry on and relish the opportunity to remain your husband’s care-partner while others do the hands-on work.

    • mebwoodacre July 9, 2012 at 3:21 am #

      Many thanks for your response. The oxygen first is so true — and the tips are extremely helpful. I will post both your response and your blog on marriedtoalzheimers.com. You have so much to share. Best, Margo

      Margo Ewing Woodacre, MSW mebw14@aol.com marriedtoalzheimers.com Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; it is about learning to dance in the rain.

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