Friends Don’t Let Friends Care Give Alone: Cultivating Friendships in Your Caregiving Years

August 8, 2009 at 12:27 am Leave a comment

The easiest thing in the world to do (as a caregiver) is to isolate yourself.

The hardest thing in the world to do (as a caregiver)  is to find the energy to find new friends or keep a friendship going.  It may feel hard, but the benefits are well worth your efforts.

Caregiving is a time in your life when you need support. You are asking an enormous amount of your body, mind, and emotions–and without finding a way to replenish the well, you’ll run dry. So on top of caregiving someone else, you have to find ways to nurture yourself. This may sound like yet one more thing to do, but it’s your lifeline–literally.

Caregiver burnout is real. It can cause a host of physical and mental ailments. The Journal of the American Medical Association at the University of Pittsburgh conducted a study and reported that “elderly caregivers are at a 63 percent higher risk of mortality than noncaregivers in the same age group.” When I read this, I decided that taking care of “me” definitely got moved up on the priority list!

It’s easy to remember to pop a multi-vitamin and you already know all the things you should be doing–getting enough sleep, taking a 30 minute walk a day, eating more fruits and veggies–but it’s less easy to remember what friends add to your life. Nothing is more stress relieving than a good conversation–when you feel you were heard and understood. This is the best way to stay healthy and to find the joy and purpose that caregiving requires. 

Five Simple Ways to Cultivate Your Friendships During  Your Caregiving Years:

  • Have at least one friend who is currently caregiving–or has been a caregiver. You know the old, “Misery loves company?” Well, let’s spin it a bit, “Caregiving needs company.” There’s nothing like two people who have been through something similar–that knowing nod, how easy it is to open up, vent, and be honest when you’ know the person you’re talking to has experienced what you have–it’s comforting, you don’t feel judged, and it gives you a new-found strength. If they’re making it, so can you.
  • Have one friend who isn’t a caregiver. It’s important to keep the other parts of “you” going. If you were a quilter and you don’t have time to quilt, don’t throw out all your friendships–call a fellow quilter and talk fabric. Turn that caregiver side off for a few minutes–and be something different–a knitter, a poet, a hiker, a gardener, one of the college girls…whatever reminds you that you have many facets.
  • Keep friendships going online. You may not be able to take a trip with your girlfriends right now, but you can email or Facebook each other. Check out some online caregiving chatrooms–you can give–and receive advice online. Before you knock it, know that many people have found true and lasting friendships that started online. It’s something to look forward to–something doable, even when caregiving keeps you at home and takes up much of your time.
  • Cut any friendships that are draining you. This may sound like anti-friendship, but let’s face it, most of us have held onto a toxic relationship or two for far too long. Toxic people make you feel guilty, heavy, foggy,and they’re always negative and pulling you down–or they’re drama queens and their issues are way more important than yours. You leave their presence or hang up the phone feeling worse than when you started! Caregiving isn’t the time to have this kind of weight in your life. Use (or blame)  your exhaustion, lack of patience, and quickness to become irritated as an easy way (okay, excuse) to let go of these kinds of relationships–at least for now. I let go of a couple of toxic relationsips when I was caring for my mom who had Alzheimer’s, and years later, I’m so glad I did! My mom’s Alzhiemer’s helped me see how precious life was, and I simply couldn’t deal with people who pulled me away from that.
  • Be your own best friend. You know that internal monologue you have playing your head? You know what I’m talking about–all the guilt you heap on yourself–all the less than kind things you say about your body, the way you beat yourself up all the time about every little thing? Would you let anyone else in the whole world talk to you the way you talk to yourself? It’s time to talk to you the way you’d talk to a good friend. Even when you need admonishment, you’d do it in love.

Surrounding yourself with friends is a surefire way to stay healthy, to feel supported, and to sustain yourself in your caregiving years. You’re also doing your friends a favor. We learn from each other, and sharing the lessons you learn while caregiving could make it easier for someone else.

Entry filed under: caring for parents, elder care, family caregiving, sundown syndrome.

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This Blog

Hi, I'm Carol O'Dell. This blog will include stories and lessons I've learned while caring for my mom, and now as I speak to caregivers around the country. I hope to offer suggestions, ideas and insights that will help others.

While this blog is supported by Dakim Brain Fitness, I’m not blogging to promote the Dakim company or products. Instead, I’m writing about how caring and being cared for affects your life and your family. My hope is that this blog gives you a place to learn, reflect, gain new perspective to make it another day.

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