How to take care of yourself while being a caregiver

Me and moms hands

It’s been almost four years since my mother went to Heaven. Even though she was in my life for over 30 years and we made a lot of memories, the ones I really remember the most are the last eight months of her life. When she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer I immediately went home to be with her and our whole family rallied around to take care of her. Instantly I was fearful. I was in shock. But I knew work needed to be done. I didn’t want to get a phone call that something happened. I wanted to be there if it did.

But being one of her caregivers was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

Watching her body give up on her but witnessing her mental strength really inspired me to keep moving. Being her caregiver was really important to me because I wanted her to know that I was there for her. But I quickly realized that while I was by her side I was losing a part of myself. I think it’s a natural thing that happens. When you decide (or remember) that your family is important to you it can send your emotions, your ego really, into a kiddie panic attack. Your ego and your need to be there will eventually collide. I knew I wanted and needed to take care of my mom but I also had a huge case of FOMO and I still wanted to do cool things… like go see Rihanna in concert for free or have Sunday brunch for five hours with my good girlfriends. And because I still wanted to do those things for myself I started to feel guilty.

I had to learn how to manage caring for myself and caring for her quicker than I thought because I was falling apart.

Keep a journal

things I wish I knew

There were some days where the overwhelming feeling of taking care of my parent would take over my mind and leave me beyond unproductive. I had these feelings which seemed irrelevant next to all the things I was watching my mother go through. But those feelings were still worthy of my attention and if I continued to ignore them I’d fall deeper into a depression.

I opened up my journal and just wrote.

I wrote down every feeling I ever had about the process, about my mother, my family, about me and my family…I wrote down everything. Before I knew it I had basically documented my process which were a huge therapeutic win for me. And landed me my first book deal (read about that here). Journaling became my all-accepting, non-judgmental friend who listened attentively every single time. And isn’t that why we pay for therapy. We just want someone to listen us, without interruption, without judgment. Experts say that journaling will not only stretch your IQ (and who doesn’t want to be smarter) but increase your emotional intelligence and boost your memory and comprehension.

Eat, drink water & sleep

 costa rica food

I know this sounds really simple and almost silly to even list but I would forget to drink water, my meals were reduced to once a day and me and 3am had become the best of friends. I’d have my coffee in the morning and maybe in the afternoon and maybe at night. So actually my meals were reduced to coffee. My mother was the one who pointed out that she, a cancer patient, was eating more than I was and she was barely eating. So when I fought with her to eat her food, I did the same for me. You cannot be the best at taking care of your loved one if no one is taking care of you. And only you can take care of you!

Breathe (& fall in love with yoga)

costa rica yoga

This tip might also be another one where you’re like, duh Ty! But seriously stop and breathe. And not the kind of breathing that is required for living but the kind of breathing that allows the world to pause a minute in order for you to get still. It’s the only way your mind and your body truly connect. Breath is the foundation of both yoga and meditation, it combines the focus of the mind with the life of the body. Allowing your mind to clear by experiencing the sensation of breath can have a powerful impact on your sanity. It’s the best way to care for yourself. Now sometimes I just stop and breathe!

Let go of your need to control

things i wish i knew

Sometimes I felt like I didn’t do enough. I felt like I didn’t move quick enough. The reality of this beastly part of life that I was experiencing was that my mother was dying. Period. And what’s worst was, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I felt like I had failed as a caregiver. As a daughter. As a woman. For months after my mother’s death I was crippled with the thought that I could have saved her. It lead me down a spiraling road of depression and paused my healing to halt. I first realized it when I began writing my book, “Things I Wish I Knew Before My Mom Died“.

Your loved ones needs your care and support. You are not, cannot and will not be the miracle that will save them. That’s a hard yet truthfully pill to swallow. But once you do you will begin to breathe again.

Let the thugs tears loose

For so long I saw tears as a sign of weakness. “What are you crying for?” “Damn is it that serious for tears?” Yes, actually it is! And now I cry at everything. Every sappy movie, every nice gesture I spy out in public…you name it I am a ball of emotionally tears now.

What they don’t tell you is that tears are the release of those emotions. It’s a way of letting you know that the emotion is now free. You are free! Those emotions are no longer holding your heart, your time or your healing hostage.

So let all the tears escape. It’s good for you.

Here’s what I know for sure:

Taking care of my mother made me an adult. And to think, I really thought I had been adulting for all these years. But I stopped being her daughter and become a woman who was taking care of another woman. It made me grow up. Quick! And I have no regrets.


To all the caregivers out there, we recognize how strong you are: http://bit.ly/CareStrong. Find support for your strength at aarp.org/caregiving, and join the conversation at @AARP Black Community.

Disclosure: While this post is sponsored by AARP, you beauties know that all thoughts and opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that make my blog possible!

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5 Comments

  1. November 21, 2016 / 5:22 pm

    Ty,

    Thanks for sharing, and I purchased and love reading your book “Things I wish I knew before my Mother died”. It’s made me treasure and be patient with my Mom and her aging process. Slow down and just appreciate everything even when I don’t feel like it or want too.

  2. November 27, 2016 / 8:33 pm

    Thanks for this incredibly important post. So many people get wrapped up in giving care they forget they need it too. It’s important not to set ourselves on fire to keep others warm– it’s not sustainable! I so appreciate your courage and honesty when talking about one of the hardest chapters of your life.

  3. December 2, 2016 / 11:45 am

    I appreciate your honesty and for putting up an enlightening post such as this one. It’s an eye-opener and at the same time can serve as fuel to family caregivers who are struggling to carry out their duty. Thank you for sharing these tips that will help a lot of caregivers, which 50% of those are adult children taking care of their aging mothers.

    I have high regards for caregivers that I called them everyday superheroes in one of my posts. I’ve highlighted their sacrifices; unconditional love, care and support as my way of spreading long term care awareness. I also highlighted the kind of caregiver support they need and most companies have responded well by adjusting their rules and regulations in order to accommodate the needs of family caregivers. Nowadays, 53% of these companies allow flexible working hours. This is a good sign and I hope more will follow in the future.

    You can read more about our everyday superheroes here: http://www.altcp.org/family-caregivers-the-everyday-superheroes/ and I hope this can also serve as an inspiration for other family caregivers.

  4. Pat
    March 18, 2017 / 9:59 am

    I’m caring for my mother now. Its the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. This week alone I’ve cried 3 days at work. Some days i feel like I’m losing it.

  5. April 17, 2017 / 5:15 am

    Great read! Taking good care of someone is a big responsibility. Good thing we have articles like this to guide us through. Looking forward to more inspiring posts.

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