The Mighty Logo

5 Ways to Care for Yourself While Caring for a Loved One With Special Needs

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Constant emotional crisis is a lot like treading water. You do everything you can to make as little movement as possible to stay afloat and keep your head above the raging waters. Years upon years of living with a loved one who has chronic disease can wipe the energy from your body all together. There can be many times when you find yourself on autopilot, like when you drive to work and can’t even remember how you got there. You have driven the road so many times, it’s embedded in your conscious and you’re just going through the motions.

But what happens when things settle and you have time to review what you have been through? You realize you have been emotionally neglecting yourself and no longer feel stable. How do you relearn how to view yourself as an important part of the equation? Better yet, how do you learn to remember to care for yourself while caring for your loved one with a chronic illness or special needs?

1. You’re your own person, not just an extension of your loved one.

You had your own identity, your own needs, your own desires and your own dreams. It’s not selfish to remember these things and to still include them in your life. After all, you still have your own life, even if it’s not exactly the life you thought you would be leading.

2. Don’t always put your loved one’s needs first. 

I know this is easier said than done, especially for those who don’t have assistance from nursing care or have medically complex loved ones. But it’s much more difficult to care for someone when you aren’t caring for yourself. Even if you can pull it off temporarily, no one can continue to care 100 percent for another human being and not care for themselves at all. Make and keep your own doctor’s appointments, change your clothes daily, shower, nourish your body with good foods and attempt to sleep for more than just a few hours a day. These things are crucial if you plan on being healthy enough to remain a caretaker for the long haul.

3. Build a village and don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

Believe it or not, none of us can do this alone. It can be difficult to ask for help when you’re in a position of caring for a loved one with special needs. Your mind plays tricks on you. It’s hard not to convince yourself that it isn’t anyone’s responsibility but your own. In all my years, I have never met a single caretaker who didn’t need a helping hand from time to time. We’re all human and can’t do this on our own. It took us years to become comfortable with the idea of accepting help from others. There are a lot of loving people in this world who are more than willing to help a neighbor.  Reach out and you will hopefully be pleasantly surprised.

4. Rediscover your passions. 

Sit down and think about what it is in this world that makes you happy. What would be a good distraction and hobby for you? I have three children with special needs and disabilities, but I was still able to carve out time for myself and pick up a hobby. For me, it was photography. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming, just something that you find special and is just for you. Having one thing to call your own outside of the world of being a caretaker can create a world of difference. 

5. Get some fresh air. 

As caretakers, how many times do we get stuck indoors? I can’t tell you how many times I lost track of the days and didn’t realize I hadn’t come up for air. The times you were in the hospital sitting by a bed for weeks or sitting in your home holding a child you couldn’t or didn’t want to put down. I know it’s hard, but every now and then it’s good to just step outside, turn your face towards the sun and breathe it all in. A quick refresher outdoors can reset your whole day. Humans were not meant to be cooped up. It wears you down and makes your mind wander to places it need not wander. If you’re like me, you can tell when it’s time to slot in some fresh air. Venture out and go get it.

Most of all, be as kind to yourself as you are to your loved one. You simply can’t care for them if you don’t first care for you. They need you around, so even if you can’t do it for yourself, add it to the list of things you do for them.

two children sitting on a bench holding hands

Follow this journey on Learning to Let Go; A Different Dream for Us.

Originally published: September 22, 2015
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home