This is an article written by Greg Pledge, who cares for his mother in Ontario, Canada.
I am writing this article with hopes that I will reach as many of caregivers out there that read Shelley’s web site. I sincerely hope that the word “Vacation” and the importance of taking one really hits home. Why, you may ask: because it is vital to our survival. I am a 44 year old man and have been caring for my Mom for about 8 years. Prior to caring for my Mom, I looked after my father for 2 years with the aid of my Mom until he passed away in Feb 2002.
Becoming a caregiver is unlike any job you will ever do in your entire life! And it is not a job that comes with a manual. Perhaps if you work in a health care facility there will be an operations manual but looking after someone at home, especially if it is a family member, or a very good friend is very difficult. My reason for saying this is that it is very hard to separate yourself from the person you love while caring for them because it is just not a black or white decision when it comes to providing for them. You have to apply “Tough Love“.
Another important fact is that it’s not a 9-5 job; therefore you can’t just clock out after your 8 hour day. It’s a 24/7 job and if you’re like myself, you give up working and earning a pay cheque to accommodate the needs and daily requirements of the loved one. We do this because we love our parents, sister, brother or very good friend. It is “Unconditional Love“. For myself, taking care of my Mom started without any warning. It began gradually prior to my Dad’s passing and than afterwards. It was day to day, week to week and month to year to year. I had to learn all the dos and don’ts of caring for someone you love. It was on the job training. I had to do a lot of research along the way and thank goodness for the internet and the available resources to access information.
Unfortunately at that time, Shelley‘s website and caregiver support via face book was not around to my knowledge. So I did what came natural to me. I asked a lot of questions and attended all doctor and specialist appointments. I even utilized government assisted resources that my Mom could qualify for and got a care assistant that comes in 4 days a week for one hour a day to help with bathing and meal preparations and just general social communication for my Mom.
So many of us we are not perhaps fortunate enough to have a million dollars in our bank accounts, so we have to draw on what resources we have, personally and with the aid of what the government will grant us. Because of my Mom’s pension income which was higher than other pensioners, she did not qualify for government assistance full time aid here in Canada, Ontario. I had to use our own financial resources combined with her pensions. Thank goodness I was able to get some help through an agency here in Canada called the CCAC (Community Care Access Centers). I have a wonderful lady by the name of Mary who comes to our home to help me with some of the daily requirements of caring for my Mom. Together we form a team and I am very grateful for her help. Mary has educated me over these past 5 years and I am so grateful for the emotional support, not just for me but for my Mom, as well.
Now that I have given you a background history to my situation, I will discuss the importance of taking a holiday. Caregivers burn out – very fast! The reason again for this is that our job is 24/7. Time management is crucial and every hour of our day needs to be planned out. AND during that day we MUST find sometime to detach, relax and gather strength to continue to do the job. If you are like me, I am sure some of you have families, a husband or wife, and/or children and you have to divide your time as best you can to give of yourself to all the important parts of your life. For me, I have my partner of 5 years and he has been very supportive with my caring for my Mom. He works full time and when he gets home he tries to help me in what ever he can to give me a break. However it has to be said and definitely recognized that being a caregiver will put a tremendous strain on your relationships! And your social life! It is extremely imperative that you take time not only for yourself but for your family, friends etc. Without them you will break! And you will collapse. You will find that without taking time off and going on a vacation, the care you are providing for the one you love will start to suffer, and you may even find yourself starting to resent them. I am being blunt and honest in this article because I am sure we all have felt this way at sometime. It’s so important that you DO NOT feel guiltyor ashamed because it’s natural and totally understandable. When you get to this poin,t it is a clear sign and “RED FLAG” indicating that it’s time for you to take a holiday! You are no good to your family, friends and most importantly to the one you’re caring for, if you are “BURNED OUT” It took me over 8 years to finally agree with my partner and go on a mini-holiday.
Fortunately for me, my partner works in the travel industry and he had won a trip to New York City, all expenses paid for hotel accommodations plus some meals and drinks. He won the trip in February of 2010 but the actual date of the trip was not until July 1, 2010. So I had lots of time think about it and prepare. YES! I felt very guilty for sometime and this is very common amongst us caregivers. But you have to “GET OVER IT” and bring yourself to the conclusion that if you don’t take some time for yourself, you are likely to run the risk of getting sick and ending up in the hospital. This would end up being even more stressful as you are the “GLUE” to keeping things together and if you’re like me, you run a well ordered and organized care facility in your home. Once you are removed, everything goes to hell in a hand basket, as they say so you MUST take care of yourself FIRST!
Taking a vacation, even if it is just a weekend trip away, will help you in so many ways. In my case, it gave me the ability of clearer insight to the situation I was living in and I was able to get in touch with myself again after so many years.
When you are caregiver you tend to lose yourself into the situation and forget about who and what your are all about as a person but more importantly a human being and your contribution to your own personal life and being able to socially interact with society. While I was away, I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed meeting new people and to laugh again and be carefree! I had forgotten what it was like to relax and not feel like I was on a 24/7 call button “RED ALERT”. I was finally able to “CRY.” Yes, I had bottled up so many emotions inside over the years and just could not let them out! And one night while sitting on the deck of our cabin with my partner after spending a fantastic day together and meeting new people, it hit me! What hit me you ask? All the emotions, anger, frustrations ect… because I just could not let my Mother see these emotions as I did not want to upset her. I cried for about an hour. I felt horrible for my partner but he actually was glad to see me let it all out. I began to re-connect back to ME! And then from within, the emergence of my being started to surface.
Over the years I had doubted if I was truly doing the right thing by caring for my Mom at home. And was I truly doing everything I possibly could to maintain her quality of life and dignity. I was able to answer yes to some of the questions but had to give more serious thought to the latter of my queries.
After 4 days, I had been able to re-charge and become more focused, giving myself permission to truly answer my questions and concerns without guilt. I had made sure that my Mom was well looked after while we where gone. Our good friend was staying in our home to be there 24/7 with my Mom. Our neighbours of over 30 years were very willing to be there to help anytime should my Mom call them. Judy, my neighbour, had been a registered nurse for many years so I knew Mom was in very good hands. However, you do need to br prepared for what I call the “Caregivers Aftermath”.
Even through all your good planning and excellent care instructions for your temporary caregivers, things can happen. In my case my Mom suffered a major panic attack (she suffers from the health condition known as “GAD” General Anxiety Disorder). She had been put on anti-depressants for a about 8 weeks prior to me leaving. The doctor said that this would help my Mom with her GAD. I had researched a lot of medical websites and the general consensuses was treatment with anti-depressants. In addition to the treatment plan, she was taking Clonazepam but Mom had been on this medication for over 40 years so it was not working like it had in years prior but because she had been on it so long she could not just come off it right away. We had been trying to slowly take her off of it under the doctors supervision. Since this was my first time ever going away, it impacted my Mom with very high anxiety. She got scared and became panic stricken, causing her to have sever palpitations which mimic the feeling of a heart attack.
When I got home I was immediately briefed by everyone, and concerns and questions where fired at me regarding my Moms state of mind and care. I had to call a general meeting with our friend and my neighbours to talk to them about the state of my Moms GAD and all that I have done over the past year to get her treatment and look into possible medications and assure them I had the situation under control.
After I had done the damage control and was able to assure all involved everything was okay, I then had to turn to my Mom and address her issues. While I was gone my Mom had two falls which was completely a surprise since my Mom had not had any falls for over 3 years, and I certainly would have not gone away had this been happening. I made an appointment with her doctor prior to me going away so should something happen, I had the appointment there to be examined. We had an MRI scheduled a few months prior to the trip as my doctor wanted to see how my Moms back was healing and if there where any further progressions from previous injuries from the past. My Mom was in a lot of pain and it was very apparent that she was much weaker in her legs since I had gone on my holiday. It took me from July 5 up to now to get things back to a somewhat orderly manner. However, something did come of this trip and even though this article is about the importance of going on a holiday for yourself and how you need the break in order to protect your health, this article will become a two part article. Look for the 2nd part of it in the near future.
Because while I was caring for Mom over the past 8 years, I had become so absorbed into her well-being and daily needs, it became a routine which just did not allow me to think clearly and logically about the health care quality for Mom.
Now that I’ve had the chance to get away and be removed from the situation by taking a short vacation and clearly my mind, I can see that I/we were doing more harm than good by keeping my Mom in our home and trying to care for her. Sometimes you end up putting the person you love and care for at a higher risk of injury and/or in some way being an enabler and cutting short their possible longevity by socially isolating them. This was the case with my Mom. She did not want to get involved with outside community workshops or senior groups. She would just rather sit in her chair and watch her TV and do nothing but complain about the things she could no longer do!
As her son and caregiver it finally came upon me to face that difficult cross road. “Is now that right time for a senior home”?
I hope this article has helped some other caregivers and given insight and provided you with some facts and the importance of doing what is right for you. One: taking the holiday but also gaining clarity of thought so you can revaluate your care provider situation and look at it with a fresh mind and see it for what it may truly be either good or perhaps not so good.
God Bless and stay tuned for my follow up article on “When is it time for your loved one to go into a senior care facility/ home?”
Greg Pledge is a writer and caregiver for his mother in Ontario, Canada.
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