Caregivers are unfortunately good at guilty. Most of us feel guilty that we become angry at our persons. We then beat ourselves up. Feeling guilty that we got guilty. There were times when my dementia dad would get angry at me and in response something would burst forth from my mouth eventually followed by an apology. Then I would stomp off embarrassed and guilty that I got angry. It’s time we invest at least equal energy in celebrating our successes.
I know you are successful at what you do. But, usually you judge them small things which you are hard pressed to count as more than simple moments when you finally adopted a caregiver skill (berating yourself for taking so long to get it). Or it may be when you create an activity that does produce contented involvement! Or, how about that time the visit at the doctor went well because of your planning! My proposal here is that we need to learn to celebrate our successes much more! Just as you have to keep learning about your person to know what moves them toward contented involvement, you also need to be self-aware about meaningful rewards for your successes. We may not be able to afford to buy ourselves a new car each time, but perhaps we could: have a scoop of ice cream, enjoy a really good cup of coffee, close our eyes, breathe deeply and dive deep into a rich smile, utter a “Thank You!” just loud enough, or call a friend who will listen and smile with us. We need to bank an interior reservoir of good that we can drink from when times get tough.
That November is declared National Caregiver Month is a testament to all this. I, personally, value the time, commitment and energy you offer, and so does your community. You make North Central Florida a better place to be. When I was at the Gainesville Alzheimer’s Walk on October 10, I was blown away by the number of people who turned out even in the rain! Now that is commitment worth applauding out loud! In November National Caregiver Month, you are recognized publicly for all the work you do in private, but I am pushing you further. I want you to learn to pat yourself on the back.
I realize your mother may have taught you never to give yourself this kind of attention. She called it “necessary sacrifice.” Maybe even you attended a church that said this was participating in the sin of pride. I am here telling you otherwise. In fact, this is medicine for the heart and the soul, and, quite frankly, the body as well. In Savvy Caregiver Training we help caregivers to get a “handle” on their emotions, but most of the class time is spent on the negative ones. The best and most savvy caregivers also learn to relish their good emotions, basking in their contribution to the Florida Sunshine.
Don’t wait for the New Year to make a resolution to celebrate your successes. Please take good care of yourselves!
Written by Tom Rinkoski
Caregiver Coach at Elder Options