By Wednesday or Thursday last week I wasn’t feeling particularly sad anymore. Instead I was channeling all my energies towards “progress” and being productive. I needed to be active because I didn’t want to reside in a place of sadness for too long. In the end, what I felt was numb and disengaged. I was also exhausted. On Friday night, while talking to a good friend she mentioned that she was concerned about my significant weight loss over the last month. I’m a fairly slight person and without getting into specifics, all I have to say is that she’s right and I’ve lost too much weight. In addition to my exhaustion and weight loss, I’m also dealing with hives, which has always been my way of stress management, if you can call it that.
When we learned of my dad’s illness, my body went into overdrive, deciding it needed neither sleep nor food. If I slept, it wasn’t long. There were times I thought to myself, “why do I normally sleep for seven hours anyway?”. If I ate, it wasn’t much. Friends and family would often remind me to take care of myself and I would respond, “thank you, I will”. And the thing is, I genuinely believed I was taking care of myself. I was showered and properly dressed every day. I was talking to family and friends, and playing with my dogs. I was even finding time to run my household. But in spite of what I thought, I wasn’t really caring for myself. I forfeited sleep and drove to the hospital every single day, crying in the parking garage each morning and night because I didn’t want dad to see me hurting. When I returned home, I would cook and clean for hours even though my fiance desperately tried to help. When I was actively engaged with my friends, family, and dogs my mind was lucid and clear but when left on my own, my mind was a blur.
Again, I have to emphasize that my dad’s illness was brief and I can’t imagine what it is to be a care-giver for an extended period of time. However, I know that this process isn’t over. I now have to learn to care for people differently including my mom, who is navigating entirely new terrain. So I vowed that I would take care of myself this weekend. I didn’t try to over-schedule my days and I gave myself time to rest. I got my hair cut. I went for walks, enjoying the warm weather and sunshine. I visited my mom and saw my friends. I lay in bed and watched Netflix (which I know isn’t a great habit). I cried when I saw my dad’s account and all his favourite movies. More than anything, I concentrated on what I needed.
Care-giving is a demanding experience but somehow setting aside time for yourself can feel more difficult. Having someone you love, need you in so many ways, is physically and emotionally challenging – it’s living with a part of your heart outside your own body, always at risk to be crushed. Care-givers have a tendency to become heavily involved, compromising their own well being for the ones they’re caring for. It’s not deliberate or purposeful but it’s also not helpful. We do it for the people we love but it doesn’t mean it’s easy and we hear this conversation come up frequently, not only in the realm of cancer and illness but also for parents (single or married), particularly those caring for sick children.
Online communities are available to offer emotional support but there are also other resources to assist care-givers and the resources below are just the tip of the iceberg. As I wrote last week, you never have to go it alone. Be kind to yourself and if ever you need help, ask.