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Why Finding Your 'Vitamin Sea' Is Necessary for Caregivers

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As a caregiver, many times I’ve noticed I set my needs aside to make sure my husband or daughter gets what they need. My husband has been disabled for about 11 years, and my daughter has had several ankle surgeries that prevented her from taking care of her everyday needs. So there have been times during these years that I’ve been caring for both at the same time. In addition, my mother has gone through breast cancer and emergency spinal surgery due to a fast-growing cancer. During her recovery, my sisters and I helped our dad take care of her. It was difficult for him to allow our help at first, but he soon realized he needed our help.

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I think it was at that point I realized  I’m quick to help take care of someone but forget I need to take care of me, too. My sisters and I were adamant that my dad allow us to help him because we could see he was beginning to be worn out. Caring for my mom 24/7 was too much. He wanted to do everything he could for her. After 56 years of marriage, (58 years as of this writing), it was hard for him to give in and let us help. Since she had spinal surgery, there were medications, braces, special exercises, assistance getting up and down and a plethora of other things to take care of. He would sleep in the bed next to her, and if she made any noise or slight movement, he was awake to tend to her. So even when he was resting, he wasn’t really resting. My sisters and I set up a schedule for one of us to spend the night every other night, so he could truly rest. We also made sure he was getting out of the house to meet others for coffee or simply go for a walk.

One thing I’ve learned is vitamins are a must. As a caregiver, we must make sure our immune system is strong and that we are not deficient in any vitamins. Of course, the typical vitamins include those typically covered in a multi-vitamin. But that’s not the type of vitamin I’m talking about today.

Recently, my daughter and I went to the coast for a week. It was a much-needed time of rest, relaxation and revitalization for me. I needed to reflect, meditate and think about how I want 2018 to be different than my last few years. My daughter made a post about how hard it was to leave the beautiful California coastline to go back home. Someone responded to her post by saying, “You look beautiful and refreshed. I think vitamin sea is having a good effect on you.”

You guessed it – “Vitamin Sea” is the vitamin I’m talking about. Obviously, it isn’t an actual vitamin, but the comment made me think. As caregivers, we need to have some of that type of vitamin to restore and refresh ourselves. I know what you’re thinking. “But I’m a caregiver. How can I take time for myself like that? Who’s going to take care of my family member?” Those are both extremely good questions, but a very important question you need to think about is this: if you don’t take time to get some of that time away, how is your health going to be affected and how well will you be able to really care for your family?

I have been a caregiver for approximately 11 years. My husband’s health began to deteriorate after working longer than the doctors advised him to work. In 2007, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, which is compounded with other medical problems he’s had for many years. Finally, in 2012 he medically retired from law enforcement. The reason he waited so long was to make sure his retirement income would be enough to sustain us. I can’t express how grateful I am for his dedication to our relationship and financial stability, but I am extremely grateful he has finally retired. His health has not improved, but I do believe he’s still with me today because he did retire.

During these 11 years of caring for my husband, he has understood and actually encouraged me to take time for myself. He’s encouraged me to take a cruise with my mom, go across the country with our daughters and granddaughter as well as shorter trips to the coast. My “Vitamin Sea” has helped me be restored and able to come back home ready to continue helping him and taking care of his needs. Before my trips out of town, I prepare microwaveable meals for him. I also purchase easy-to-heat-up food. He is not completely reliant on my assistance at this point so food preparation, laundry, a full tank of gas and anything else I can do to make his time easier is done. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not fully comfortable leaving him for longer than a few days. Therefore, I confirm that friends and family will check in with him and I also make arrangements for his sister to come for a visit during that time. It’s good for them to see each other and good for me to get away.

Let’s get back to your questions about how you can take the time you need for rest and relaxation. Maybe your “Vitamin Sea” isn’t an actual trip to the coast. Perhaps it’s simply an afternoon to get a manicure, pedicure or a massage. Maybe it’s taking time every day to go for a walk to clear your mind or to the gym to pound out some frustrations. If you are a full-time caregiver and someone must be with your loved one all the time, reach out to your friends, church and family for some help. Explain that you need some time to yourself. Even if those hours need to be split between several people, schedule that time for you. You are important to your loved one, and I’m pretty sure they want you around for a long time.

I know not everyone can take days or weeks away from their family member to go on a cruise or the coast, but it is important for you to find what your “Vitamin Sea” is. Do you like to draw or write? What encourages you? What about dancing? Want to find a dance class and get exercise while having fun? Is there something you always wanted to do like start a business, take more classes or sell your items on Etsy? Do you have other ideas that help you relax and restore you physical and emotionally? Start or join a support group for caregivers. Share your ideas with them, and allow them to share their ideas with you.

So, find your “Vitamin Sea.” Soak in the sun, sand and water. Take your vitamins so you can be the best caregiver you can be to the one you love, and show yourself some of that love as well. Your loved one will be able to tell a difference in you and will love you even more for taking the time you need.

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Photo by Ethan Robertson on Unsplash

Originally published: February 14, 2018
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