In honor of World Mental Health Day today, I wanted to take a minute to recognize the importance of making time for our mental health and well-being, both individually and within our communities. As a caregiver juggling a lot at any given moment, prioritizing my needs and my mental health isn’t always easy.
In addition to marking a full year of my grandmother’s move into long-term care this month, we are also going through a particularly difficult phase in her dementia journey. As her caregiver, I see her reality on a nightly basis, and it’s hard. From what used to be a peaceful visit to feed her and offer comfort as she drifted off to sleep, has now become hours worth of trying to soothe an agitated patient. On some nights, my efforts to get her out of her own loop will work, and I can leave with peace of mind. But on other nights, the hours of chit chat ends in frustration on both our parts, neither feeling like we were able to reach the other. Sadly, we’ve had more of the latter kinds of nights lately. Seeing her in this state makes it difficult not to feel like I have failed as a caregiver, but more importantly, like I haven’t failed her as a granddaughter. As much as I understand that the emotions aren’t directed at me personally, knowing that I can’t resolve them and that it’s in both of our best interests for me to end the visit is the hardest thing to do.
While I don’t have all the answers to remedy this situation for my grandmother, what I do know is that on nights like those, the most important thing I can do for the both of us is to take care of my own well-being (think, you can’t put from an empty cup, here).
Here are some ways I do this as a caregiver:
- Verbalize the emotions: Being a caregiver is hard. You will have good days and bad days. And your loved one will have their moments, too. It’s okay to admit when you aren’t at your best, to take nights off from visits, and to practice self-care by doing something you enjoy (for me, that’s taking a sanity stroll or spending time at the barn).
- Talk to a professional: If you aren’t sure how to help your loved one or you need help coping yourself, find someone to talk to. I speak to the social worker at my grandmother’s facility weekly about how my visits are going, and she often reminds me to take care of myself…and to get some rest!
- Join a community: I co-founded The Hospital Bar because I felt more conversations needed to take place around caregiving and because caregivers needed a place they could come to for support. Head over to The Hospital Bar on Instagram for more on caregiving and mental health.
So today, on this global day of prioritizing mental health and well-being for all, let’s reach out to friends we haven’t spoken with in a while, buy the person in line behind us a cup of coffee, and, most importantly, check in with ourselves.