I’d never really listened to the plane emergency instructions given before takeoff. In the event of an emergency, I’d always figured I’d just look around and figure it out. With my only traveling companion being my more than capable wife, I knew if anyone were to be putting an oxygen mask on anyone, it would be her putting one on me (besides, I’m sure if I tried to put one on her, I’d just mess up her hair).
That mode of travel changed when I first stepped onto a plane with my firstborn cradled in my arms. This time, I paid attention to the safety instructions and made sure I knew where our exit was located. Looking down at my son, I thought, “Put my oxygen mask on first? No way, this little guy gets top priority!” Why do they say put on your mask before helping others, other more vulnerable and needy others? Isn’t that selfish? Would a captain of the ship push aside the women, children and men to get on the first lifeboat as his ship sinks?
Not quite. We need to put our own masks on first so we can be in the best position to help those around us, especially those who are incapable of putting on their own. What help would I be to my infant son if I’m passed out and unable to help him?
When caring for an aging or disable adult, it can often times feel wrong to take care of one’s own needs above those of the ones depending on you. We think, “This is my mom, who sacrificed everything for me and now it’s my responsibility, my duty to make sacrifices.” Often, caregivers will push themselves to a place where they suffer physical and mental repercussions themselves from the endless daily demands of ongoing care.
It’s easy for someone outside the situation to suggest that the caregiver needs a break or a little time off. However, for many caregivers, the logistics of organizing that “time-off” can be just as exhausting or even more so, than simply staying home. To add to the stress and exhaustion, often the care receiver, intentionally or not, can make the caregiver feel guilty for leaving them – by hurtful comments or difficult behavior with those stepping in to help with care.
Care for the caregiver is necessary in all circumstances. It is not an act of selfishness. It’s an act of survival; it’s what allows the caregiver to keep on going. Finding those times of respite and renewal are not without drawbacks, of guilt, problems and issues. The greater difficulties are the ones that arise from a caregiver's never taking care of him or herself and becoming ill or exhausted and completely unable to provide any care to anyone.
Sometimes, it might be as simple as having a friend or other family member come over to the house while the caregiver takes a walk or goes for a haircut. Even better, it’s figuring out how to get at least one day a week, completely off from any responsibility. In long-term care situations, multiple days and/or weeks off are necessary.
If the resources are available, it is totally justifiable to hire home health aides. Remember that this is a viable option even if the care receiver is not as happy with an aide as with the primary caregiver. If you have the added stress of financial limitations, there are other options. One may qualify for In Home Supportive Services. Also, do not be afraid to call on family, friends, your faith community or other volunteers to step in to give the caregiver time off to tend to their own life and needs.
Unfortunately, it is rarely easy to schedule time off for the caregiver; it is often filled with logistical problems and complications. However, the consequences of not promoting self-care can be even more costly to all parties involved. When mapping out a care plan for a loved one, care for the primary caregiver needs to be factored in as a crucial part of the overall care. Having spent hundred of hours with families in these situations I can tell you that it is just as important for the well-being of the care receiver that the primary caregiver is given time off as it is that the patient takes proper medication each day.
If you’re the caregiver make the sacrifice of taking care of yourself so that you can continue to care for your loved one. If you know someone who is in the position of being the caregiver, make every effort to encourage and facilitate self-care. With our own mask securely fastened we are free to assist those we love to safe passage.