It’s in parental DNA to put your kids before yourself. This is particularly true for Caregivers of young and adult children with disabilities or chronic illness. In caring for other’s first these parents can face health and fitness issues, and there seems to be no end in sight.
Even when everything is in place for a child’s care the parent struggles. My research has helped me realize that many of these parents have been told they need to take care of themselves. What I’ve never been able to find is a reasonable plan for “taking care of themselves” so I can understand if they are frustrated. From a practical standpoint the normal recommendations for fitness and stress management simply do not apply. Just try telling a caregiver of a chronically ill or disabled child that they should start to exercise, join a gym, hire a trainer, eat right and get out with a friend to relax. Really? I’d duck if I were you!
I see the blockade for a parent with a chronically ill or disabled child. I would like to suggest some practical things to help you take care of yourself. There are only two things to consider.
Motivation and Mindfulness
Motivation. This is discovering your WHY. It isn’t a goal. It’s a means of achieving a goal. Your WHY is something I encourage you to share with NO ONE. It is a deeply personal desire that should reach into your heart. It will drive you to care for yourself in the same way LOVE drives you to care for your child, sibling or spouse.
Sit in a quiet space. Read through the questions and then stir them around in your mind. Let them perk like a cauldron, stir them every once in a while. Perhaps while you brush your teeth, or shower. Keep asking the questions until the answer you give yourself makes the hair stand on your forearms.
Your WHY is the reason you’re trying to do something for yourself. It’s the power that ignites any goal. It’s not about getting skinny. It’s about doing something just for you! For once think about yourself. Take yourself off the back burner and devote time to asking, “What do I want?” “Why do I want it?” You will not be sharing this with the group.
Why do you want to feel and look better?
So, WHY is that important?
Okay. . . but WHY?
Are you being honest with yourself?
When this is done during a half, full or two-day seminar there are other tools we use to help you search for answers. The answers are different for everyone, but the result is the same.
You will find true value from caring for yourself, and the time will seem to manifest like magic.
Mindfulness. Step two is to begin a present moment awareness. Part of your exhaustion is the constant state of ALERT that you’re forced to maintain. Sleeping with one ear tuned to a sound in the night. Reviewing your lists you already have posted all over the house. Then you also have a physical response to an anniversary date of the time your child coded or when their condition was finally diagnosed.
When you cannot walk away, find respite care or feel you are too stressed to finish the day — Wrap yourself in a moment of silence. Present moment awareness, or meditation exercises won’t work for the Caregiver. But moments of respite can be possible. I’ve created a few you might use. They are all based on the Power of 3.
The Power of 3 This practice is a timing mechanism. Without looking at your watch or setting a timer you will be able to focus on any Mindfulness exercise here.
Stop Moving — Close Your Eyes — Breathe in a full, deep breath — Let the air out — Do it 3 times.(more if you have the time)
This is a situation where more is better because sometimes the stress is too elevated to release in just 3 breaths. The only other rule is that you have to mentally watch your breath, chest rise, and be present in that breath. You cannot use the time to think about what is bothering you — that will defeat the purpose. Practice the Power of 3 now.
Next I’d like you to apply the Power of 3 to the Meditations I’ve listed below.
- The Bathroom Meditation — 1 – 3 minutes. In the bathroom practice the Power of 3 for the duration of the time you are in the bathroom.
- The Shower Meditation — 5 – 10 minutes. In the shower practice the Power of 3 and pay attention to the feel of your body while you wash your hair and shave your legs. (Yes, shave your legs!) Massage your scalp and neck. Form no judgments of yourself. The last thing you need is criticism!
- The Ignition Meditation — 1 minute. Each time you get in the car put the key in the ignition and practice the Power of 3. Listen to the sound of the garage door opening, the keys moving, the breath of your child, the dog next door. Pausing you will be aware.
- The I’m Trying To Decide What To Make For Dinner Meditation — Any Length of Time. Open the freezer and stick your head in and act like you’re choosing what to make for dinner. Practice the Power of 3. The freezer will shut out the world and allow you to center yourself again. If you are on a phone call that irritates you. Ask them to hold on and do this meditation.
This isn’t a magic bullet. It certainly won’t solve every issue that comes up for you. It’s designed to help you grab small bits of Silence and Peace so you can connect with your spirit and be more like yourself. Give it a chance. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Client Light Bulb Moment of the Week: “I get it! I’ve realized that having a taste of ___ wasn’t worth the illness that followed.”