Care Partners Also Need to Take Care of Their Own Self

Care Partners Also Need to Take Care of Their Own Self

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

In a recent meeting of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society, I was introduced to a novel and interesting concept, "care partnering."

Care partnering is different from "care giving." Care partnering, to some extent, involves mutual caring for each other and sharing of responsibilities. Care giving implies one person taking care of another person. Not everyone with a chronically challenging condition requires care giving. People at an advance stage of Alzheimer disease of course require care giving. A vast majority of people with MS might require care partnering.

Whether you are a care partner or a caregiver, you must also take care of yourself. That's the only way you can care for another person on a long-term basis.

Once, on a talk show, an overworked and overstressed mother was adamant about not accepting any outside help because "They are my children and it is my responsibility to take care of them." The psychologist on the show, stressing the wisdom of accepting help, said something to the effect, "Your stress is killing you. What good would you be to your children if you were dead?"

In order to take care of someone else, one has to first take care of oneself. In order to understand how to take care of someone else, you have to know how to take care of yourself. For example, you have to know when to stop, take a break, eat, sleep or hire a house cleaning service.

The feeling that you are able to care for someone you love and care about is a precious gift that you can give yourself and to your partner. You can grow from this experience in wonderful ways. It can boost your immune function and raise your self-esteem and self-worth. It can even give you a "helper's high," a joyous sensation created by the action of helping and/or thinking about the help you gave or are going to give. However, watch the stress factor. Stress can ruin that wonderful feeling.

An extreme level of stress can make you feel helpless, overworked, exhausted, cranky and demoralized. Watch it so you don't begin to suffer with a sense of loss of control over y9our life. Accepting an offer of help may help you to keep the stress at a manageable level.

A client of mine once visited a center for assisted living for her parent. She spotted a member of the staff in a side room attached to the lobby and asked if she could come in to inquire about services for their residents. The staff member said, "I am taking a break but I will be with you in 15 minutes."

"He has some nerve," she mumbled under her breath. She sat down under protest thinking, "Why do I have to wait 15 minutes? Who is this person who thinks his break can't be interrupted." Then it struck her that she too at times needed those breaks in order to recharge her batteries. She recognized that if she took a break, she was able to care for her parent more effectively. The thought hit her like a flash of light, "Hey, taking a break may be a good sign. After all, how can he be effective in his work, if he doesn't take a break when it's due him."

You don't have to do everything yourself. If possible, contract others to perform services such as the laundry or the housecleaning, so you can do the most valuable part of care partnering.

If you or your partner has acquired an illness that significantly limits your movements and activities, you may lose some of the friends with whom you participated in those activities. They may stop visiting you because they might not know what to say or do. Don't be disappointed. It's time to make new friends and some of them may be those who have crossed hurdles similar to yours.

The loss of ability can deal a blow to your partner's self-image and or cause social discomfort and embarrassment to both of you. Don't succumb to it. Say something positive of funny about the embarrassing behavior rather than trying to control and suppress the embarrassing behavior and hoping nobody noticed it.

A good example of saying something about a symptom to lighten the moment was in TV interview with Janet Reno sometime after Elian Gonzales' rescue. Ted Koppel, towards the end of the interview, began to ask her about the problems related to her Parkinson's Disease such as, how did she deal with her hand tremors during public appearances. The matter of Elian was of course a very stressful time for Janet Reno and tremors tend to increase during stressful times, hence the reason for asking the question.

Reno's attitude towards her disorder impressed me. She was very matter of fact, candid and honest, not to undermine the sense of humor. She said that when in tension, psychologists advise you to wiggle your fingers and toes. So, when in tension, her increased tremors was her way of relaxing and reducing the tension.

When life pushes you, push back. When you push back against the resistance without going under the blame, resentment or other negative emotions, you may discover strengths you didn't know you had.

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Copyright 2001, Mind Publications 


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