Guest post by Ron Whitaker
Whether you were a primary caregiver or shared responsibility for caregiving being a caregiver had a major impact on your life. You may have had to cut back on work hours or resigned from work, entirely. Your life changed; sometimes, drastically.
Like all phases and challenges in life, “This, too, shall pass.” Your role as a caregiver will end.
That’s why after I stopped being a caregiver for my parents, I wondered:
What will I do now?
What will I do to get back to a normal life routine?
Answering these questions was more difficult than I could imagine.
The following are the 3 steps I took as a former caregiver to get back into normal routine:
Step 1: Detach
I recall a television interview with actor/comedian Mike Myers after the first Austin Powers movie was released. At one point during the interview, Barbara Walters asked Myers about his father’s passing.
Myers was very close to his father and he went through a period of deep despair. The gloom he felt soon became so overwhelming he could hardly function.
One day he expressed his deep sadness to his wife, “I just don’t feel like doing anything.”
His wife replied, “Then don’t.”
“I just don’t feel like doing anything.”
For those who’ve lost a loved one the feelings of emptiness, sadness, and loss can be overwhelming. These feelings, mixed with the energy we spend feeling so sad, leave us sapped of energy and life.
Detach. Don’t fret it. Don’t try to fight it.
As a caregiver you’ve been through a challenging time and now it has ended. You deserve a break. Just let it happen.
If you were still employed while being a caregiver and your employer offers bereavement time off, take advantage of it. If not, and you have some vacation or sick time available, take it instead.
Whatever you do, take time for yourself, if at all possible. You need this time to heal before moving on.
Step 2: Baby Steps
I remember the days after my mother passed away. I wasn’t working at the time, having been a caregiver for her the last two years of her life.
The emptiness I felt was almost paralyzing. I didn’t want to leave the house, except for my morning workout at the gym (see Step 3).
The things in my parents’ house were my last link to them. I was alone, living in their home after my father having passed away five years earlier.
If I left the house, I felt like I was being torn away from them. But if I stayed in the house, the loneliness and emptiness I felt, being surrounded by so many memories, was so overwhelming, I could hardly breathe. It’s interesting how the walls can really begin to close in around you, almost suffocating you, especially as the sun begins to set.
What did I do?
I began doing what I called “my afternoon errand.” Each afternoon, I took a small step. I got out of the house–whether to the post office to mail a letter or to put some gas in my car. Just something simple to get me out of the house and doing something.
You can do it. Find something small to get you into a simple routine.
This simple routine will eventually allow you to return to a normal, larger routine.
Just do it!
Step 3: Exercise
I know. I know. You’re sick of hearing the whole exercise spiel.
I personally can’t say enough about exercise. I’ve been working out for over 20 years, and it’s been at times like the passing of my parents that have made me appreciate it even more.
And don’t worry; you don’t have to work out two hours a day to receive the benefits of exercise.
MayoClinic.com informs us that just 10 minutes of exercise per day can help with feelings of depression. Thirty minutes at least 3 times per week provides the best benefits and results.
Simple exercise boosts your energy, stimulates the immune system, and enhances your metabolism.
According to an article on depression and exercise at WebMD.com, during periods of exercise, your body releases endorphins. Endorphins interact with the receptors of the brain, reducing your perception of pain.
So hey, just a walk around the block can do wonders for not only your physical, but your mental well-being as well.
If you’re feeling up to it, perhaps take that walk with a friend or family member. This will get you socializing, another great benefit.
Hopefully these steps will help you adjust to your new life.
Ron Whitaker spent six years as a caregiver for his parents. His father passed away in 2006. After his mother passed in 2011, he spent the next year creating BoomerBazaar.com for leading-edge baby boomers.
(Guest post edited. TCV Ed.)