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Taking Care of Your Caregiver When They Won't Take Care of Themselves

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I could take it no longer — those horribly ripped up and smelly shoes my husband/caretaker continued to wear around the house and on outings. How could it be that he would never allow me to go without a pair of decent shoes, yet he would deprive himself?

I understood that my progressing disability has meant he is more and more my caregiver, but rejected that it has meant he could not take better care of himself.

When I would beg him to allow me to buy him a pair of shoes, he would say “No!”

When I would beg him to go shop for a pair of shoes, the answer was always “No!”

Here was my sleep-deprived, refusing-to-eat-well, never-any-down-time husband who wouldn’t even allow himself a reasonable pair of shoes. I used to think his selflessness was sweet, but as his wife, it has lost its charm over time. There is nothing funny about someone neglecting themselves to such an extent.

I was a caregiver without support for years. I had no partner to prop me up when I was a mess. My 21-year-old son is now so independent and taking classes at college, but he was diagnosed autistic when he was a child. He was a dream, but advocating for him in school took a lot from me. There is no way I want anyone in my family to go it alone, and that includes my caregiver husband. I may be the one he is caring for, but he still has me in his corner.

In the category of marital fighting, the most frequent topic of argument has been about this very issue of my husband not taking good care of himself. The typical argument is this back-and-forth banter of me saying he needs to provide better self-care, and him insisting that he’s just fine. He gets very upset with me for pushing the issue. I don’t give up, but don’t know whether to laugh or cry when he gets angry about me wanting him to have something like shoes that aren’t falling apart.

I mean, come on? I’ve heard of spouses being upset when their beloved acts without concern for their welfare, but this is the opposite. It’s curious.

“What a witch you have for a wife!” I said sarcastically to him. “She want you to have shoes that aren’t ripped up and for you to have a life that any human would deserve. Oh the horror of it!”

The last time I said this to him, he did allow himself new shoes that very day. He said I gave him no choice. (Guilty as charged). He does enjoy having better shoes.

Here are my recommendations when your spouse or family member is your caregiver:

1. Identify what your caregiver ideally needs in order to stand a chance to take care of him or herself.

This month I targeted reducing his time doing errands and increasing his down time. Also I wanted to see healthier foods he likes finding their way into the home.

2. Care-give your caregiver = set them up for success when they aren’t willing to do that for themselves.

Talk about a slam dunk!

I signed us up for groceries to be ordered online and delivered the same day. This has accomplished two goals: providing him a few hours of down time a week, as well as I personally make sure he has the food he enjoys that is healthy in the house.

This may not sound groundbreaking to some, but a little thinking on my part and taking some responsibility for what I am capable of doing made the difference.

To my surprise it hasn’t cost us more money at all. The money for groceries is spent more thoughtfully and we are eating better for the same amount of money.

3. Make yourself more self-reliant. I let my doctor order me a wheelchair for inside the house. This has allowed me to do more around the house. Now, I’m not ready to hire myself out cleaning houses by any means, but I am not stuck to being in bed or with my legs up on the sofa all the time.  I cook more and can assist on eye level, simple tasks at times. That is great for both of us.

4. Nurture your marriage. I remember at all times that our marriage needs love and care. Marriage doesn’t become less work in these situations, it becomes more important to make sure the efforts from both of us continue.

5. Nurture your family. Weekly family meetings have helped a great deal. Besides the daily caregiving going on, we have one of our kids living at home who is attending college, my husband works for his employer from home, we have pets, doctor appointments, hair cuts, and my son has social engagements. All of this and one car that I can rarely drive and a public transit system that is far from perfect.

Family meetings are the place for us to make sure we are all on the same page. Ideas, feelings (otherwise known as “the other ‘f’ word”), schedules, problems/problem solving, and sometimes spiritual discussions take place. Words of encouragement for all three of us are always part of the unofficial agenda.

6. Gratitude, kindness and forgiveness always. We have to be grateful for each other because there are so many who have no one. It would be a fool in my shoes to not feel gratitude. It’s important to learn and grow from mistakes and oversights and forgive each other and ourselves.

There is a high rate of depression, financial struggles, and being prone to physical ailments when someone is disabled or a caregiver. No one needs the milk of human kindness more than those in need. Don’t forget to constantly refuel each other.

Make sure that if needed, professional medical and emotional care is available to all involved family members.

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Originally published: November 11, 2017
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