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My Caregiver Needs Care, Too

While there are professional caregivers, family members often provide care and support for those with bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses.

My husband of 35 years is my caregiver. He does a spectacular job — making sure I have my meds, taking me to my appointments, running the errands I have no spoons to do, keeping the house quiet when I need to sleep, making sure I eat at least one nutritious meal a day.

It’s a lot. And there are things I can give him in return. Things I believe he needs.

Appreciation. When my father was dying of cancer, my mother was his primary caregiver. One day she came to me, wanting me to tell her she was doing a good job. She knew she was. She just needed to hear it from someone else, someone who could tell her that her excellent care had been noticed and appreciated.

In my experience, appreciation — validation — can be something caregivers need to replenish themselves, to help them to keep doing the things that are so vital for their charges. And I believe it’s the easiest to give. When someone is in the depths of depression, it can be difficult to remember to say, “Thank you,” but it can mean a lot to that person’s caregiver. Now I’m mostly out of my depression (usually), and I say, “Thank you” a dozen times a day. And he always responds, “You’re welcome, friend.”

Alone time. Primary caregiving can be a full-time job. I know one thing I need in the process of healing is alone time. My husband Dan needs it, too. He needs time off, even if that’s just time to retreat to his study and watch a movie or go outside and dig in the garden. I can always reach him if I really need him — for example, if I have a panic attack — via cell phone if nothing else. But, as the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty vessel. I believe that’s part of the reason he’s able to give me so much of what I need.

Couples time. This doesn’t necessarily mean sex. It means time spent together, doing something other than dealing with mood swings and trauma. It’s a little gift we give each other. Sometimes I sit through a movie I don’t really care for, just to give him the gift of snuggling on the couch. He got me color-and-bake ceramic mugs that are great for creativity and distraction. One rainy afternoon we sat together and each colored one side of the mugs.

Life stuff. Dan does most of the chores and tasks of daily living, but I do what I’m able to. I earn money. I pay bills online and do most of the other computing, except what he does for leisure. I help with cooking to the extent I can — sous-chefing, finding recipes, breading or mixing or inventing dressings and sauces, making grocery lists. He can ask me for help, too.

Sharing my spoons. When I do find myself with a few spare spoons — a little extra energy occasionally — I try to share them. When I have spoons to spend, I like to shower and dress and go out for lunch. But the other day, I showered and dressed and went for a walk in the woods with Dan, something he’s been longing for. My spoons ran out pretty rapidly, but he appreciated that I made the effort and shared one of his delights. It was another gift that cost no money.

Caregivers need care, too. Small or large, what we are able to give will be appreciated.

Follow this journey on Bipolar Me.

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Thinkstock image by Ridofranz