Self-Care: Sometimes the Only Choice Left
First of all, big congrats to my fellow Healthy Place bloggers Natasha
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Meanwhile, in nearby NYC, the buzz is about this weekend's Marathon. On the way home from dropping Ben off at school this morning, I heard a news story about one runner whose motivation is this: his brother was murdered in a Queens home invasion in September and his mother is battling cervical cancer. Runner Sal Polizzi told WCBS reporter Marla Diamond, “You really can never pick up the pieces, but you do it as best as you can.”
This is true, too, for families dealing with mental illness. During this, National Family Caregivers Month, this is one of the lessons we learn, eventually: you're never going to get it all back the way it used to be. There comes a point - a painful but necessary point - where you accept that someone you love does indeed have a serious illness, and that you must somehow go on with this new reality in place. You do what you can to help your loved one - but sometimes there isn't much you can do.
At those times, sometimes the only choice is to take care of yourself - and/or the rest of your family - and let your loved one's journey run its own marathon course without you. Yes - we step in when we can, but sometimes there is nothing to do but wait, and hope, and - as best we can - trust the process.
Self-care is not only essential to ourselves, it also gives us the strength to step in whenever that time returns. Self-care is one of the reasons I wrote Ben Behind His Voices: One Family's Journey from the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope. I needed to feel that our story could somehow help others.
How to take care of ourselves? Sometimes we forget how to do anything other than sweep up the mess from the last crisis and/or try to prevent the next one. Sal Polizzi chose the challenge of the Marathon. For me, self-care has meant many things at different times in our family journey through schizophrenia's stages. For example:
In 2001, when Ben's onset symptoms led to his homelessness in the Northwest for five months, I learned to live my life between his phone calls. He wasn't ready to come home; I couldn't run out to Idaho and rescue him. I swallowed the sorrow whenever I could and took care of my daughter. We went to London for her 16th birthday. I kept my pedicure appointments. I went to work and found time to play. And, I allowed myself the emotional adjustment time after each phone call with Ben - and believe me, I needed it.
When Ben suffered a setback in his recovery and was hospitalized in 2005, I had been scheduled to go to St. Louis to be trained as a NAMI Family-to-Family state trainer. I went anyway. Ben survived my absence (yes, of course I had to process guilt, but the important thing is that I did go on that trip) just fine - and I got the strength and knowledge to both help train other F2F teachers, and to help deal with Ben's relapse when I returned home.
Taking care of yourself doesn't mean you don't hurt, or that you don't care. It just means that you recognize when you are powerless, take time to process the pain, and go on with your life as best you can, while you can. It does not help your loved one if you choose to suffer more. It does nothing except make you miserable - and, often, those around you as well.
Yes, it sounds a lot like the Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference." And to that I add: "...and help me to know how to take care of myself - so I can then better take care of those who need me, when they need me."
So go ahead. Go out to dinner. See a funny movie. Take that yoga class. Applaud your own successes. Hug your spouse. Kiss your kids. Run the marathon, if that's your desire. Take pleasure in life. Yes, you can. The rest of it? You'll handle it when you need to. You always have, and you will again. Take care of yourself.
Kaye, R. (2011, November 2). Self-Care: Sometimes the Only Choice Left, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, October 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/mentalillnessinthefamily/2011/11/self-care-sometimes-the-only-choice-left
Author: Randye Kaye
Thanks for this very insightful post and congrats to you also for the Web Health Award, very deserving of it! Wasn't aware it was National Family Caregivers Month, so thanks for making me aware of that and I've shared it. Your message here of self care is such an important one, and as is often the case, those giving family members care can get lost in the experience and completely forget about their own needs. As you said, they are no good to anyone if this happens. Sometimes just a little reminder to take care of yourself is enough to help shift happen.
Great post! Barb