Caring for yourself means taking care of yourself emotionally, mentally and physically. Before we look at these specifically, let’s look at the big picture of how you think about caring for yourself.
- · How did you care for yourself before the diagnosis?
- · How did your loved one with MS help care for you before the diagnosis?
- · What are things you put off doing today that you would probably do if you were not a care partner?
- · On a scale of 1-10 how good are you at taking care of your physical needs? Emotional needs? Mental needs?
No one takes care of themselves in every way they should. Let’s see if we can discover the areas where you need to care for yourself more and what might be getting in the way of you doing it.
Your physical health is vitally important to your loved one with MS’s quality of life. This is true not only because of the physical care giving you could not provide if you were sick but also the stress that would come to a person with MS knowing their carepartner is sick. If you get sick what would happen to your love one?
- · Preventive care- It is tempting as a care partner to avoid getting everything from colonoscopies to mammograms to dental cleanings. Why? Unfortunately there’s lots of reasons not to. Resistance to further medical bills, fear of bad news, believing they are “fine” and dislike of doctors are just a few. But if early detection helps to avoid bigger problems, seeking preventive care is important.
- · Chronic conditions- Care partners can also neglect their chronic needs like high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma or high cholesterol. Let’s face it, most chronic medical issues do not seem as relevant as MS. Don’t let the issues concerning the treatment of MS keep you from focusing on your own medical issues as well.
- · Exercise- When the list of things to accomplish this week gets put together on your calendar or in your mind, it’s very tempting to not place exercise on the list. The truth is that regular exercise has been found to be a huge factor in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps you have never needed a lot of exercise to remain healthy. The truth is that as your stress which comes with being an MS care partner increases, so does your need to reduce your stress through exercise. Not to mention, the older we all get, the more important regular exercise becomes.
- · Worry- Whether you are a worrier or not before diagnosis, MS has a way of putting a new layer of concern for yourself and your loved on into your life. Some level of focusing on the possibility of future problems is helpful. It’s good to
- identify a possible future problem.
- think of possible solutions.
- take action to be prepared.
- stop focusing on the problem until it arises or some further action is needed.
This is harder to do than it sounds. Which one of these steps is hardest for you?
- · Refocusing your mind- Finding ways to relieve the mind of stress is a valuable skill. This can be done through reading a book, listening to music or focusing on a new task. You can also learn specific focus techniques such as meditation. In addition to improving your mental state, using any of these skills to refocus your negative mental energy can improve your blood pressure, digestive issues and sleep patterns.
- · Taking action- Don’t settle for less than you deserve. It’s tempting as a care partner to believe that your physical problems such as sleep problems, exhaustion, eating issues or sexuality are not worth dealing with in comparison to MS. They are. Remember, taking care of yourself is not something that diminishes your loved ones needs but relieves the relationship of extra burdens when you’re not OK.
- · Future- Making decisions about the future can become difficult for families dealing with MS. The one thing you know about MS is that in some way it will always be part of your future. At times, the disease will progress to a point where decisions need to be made about employment, selling a house, remolding a house to fit needs or finding additional equipment or people to help provide the best care possible. Denying the need to have these conversations only serves to increase the burden on both care partner and the loved one with MS.
- · Loneliness- Many care partners become disconnected from family and friends either physically or emotionally after diagnosis. This is due in part by the tendency of people not knowing how to be helpful in a situation they are frightened and confused about. But it also comes from a care partner not wanting to always be a downer by talking about the changes in their lifestyle. “They don’t want to hear it.” And “I don’t want to talk about it.” Are both real issues to overcome in order to find a connection. Finding a relationship where you can literally ask permission to talk about the burdens you are carrying can help remove the loneliness that comes from care partnering.
- · Frustration and anger- Thank goodness anger and frustrations are normal reactions to coping with a loved one being diagnosed with MS. But it’s important to realize that the frustration and anger is typically a reoccurring emotion. Just as things seem to become stable, some new side effect or symptom is added to the equation. It becomes difficult to catch your breath. Acknowledge your anger but find ways to use your frustration to problem solve rather become destructive to you or those around you.
- · Hopelessness- This is the one emotion that should send red flags to you and to those that love you. If the burdens in your life have begun to make you feel hopeless, tell a doctor, a pastor, a friend and seek some professional help. Being hopeful is different than being upbeat and positive all the time. You can be angry and have hope, be sad and have hope be sick of being around people and have hope.
Things that get in the way caring for yourself:
- Understanding the needs
- Acknowledgement from others