Saturday, February 6, 2016

Salute to the Caregiver

A true “caregiver” embodies both halves of the word.  First and foremost we care about that person who needs us.  And the right level of care cannot happen unless we are willing to give of ourselves in almost every way.  That unconditional love that we give, we give because our special person deserves to be treated with compassion and dignity and respect.  We are determined to treat that person better than we even seek to be treated ourselves.  We are caregivers because we accept that role, and because in our hearts it is what we want to do.

I have considered being a caregiver to Tyler to be an honor.  He has always been an amazing person whose courage and determination continue to inspire me.  He and I always had a bond where on some level he understood that I looked out for him and I could tell in his own way that he appreciated that.  Much of our communication was unspoken, but the level of love and respect for each other easily came through.  No matter what we ever went through I was proud to be there for him.  Which made the next part so hard…..

At some point I became so involved in every detail of his everyday life that I lost track of my own life.  And for years I convinced myself that doing that was “ok”.  As long as everything I did was for “the good of the team” I felt as though neglecting myself was an acceptable price to pay.  It was as though if I did something that was not directly related to Tyler I was somehow doing him a disservice.  When I was with him I was constantly on a state of high alert and hyper-attentiveness.  When I wasn’t with him I was still in a state of high alert and worry about what might be happening.  When I traveled I was terrified that each trip would be the one where something awful would happen.  When bad things happened to Tyler or because of Tyler, I blamed myself because I should have planned better and protected everyone better.  The stress was almost like a drug, you can’t image how to continue dealing with it, and you can’t imagine how your mind would adjust without it. 

Worst of all I did the unthinkable….I got older.  With getting older came an important lesson, you can’t ignore your own well-being forever.  The message my mind decided to send me came in the form of panic attacks.  I believe that I had spent so much time swallowing stress that I couldn’t push it down anymore, and it began to leak out of my pores.  When I called the doctor they said I was no longer a patient.  As it turns out it had been so many years since my last visit that I was removed from the active files.  I wish that were a joke, but it’s not, it was a wake-up call. 

I believe that caregivers, whether caring for a parent, spouse, child, or otherwise, all tell ourselves the same lie; that we are alone in our pain.  The truth is there are so many of us with so much in common.  We all wake up with a sense of cautious optimism that today will run smoothly.  We all look at our special person and wish with all of our being that we had the power to sacrifice a piece of ourselves so that they may have something more.  At the same time we pretend not to wish for a more “normal” life for ourselves, and feel guilty when we do.  We know what it’s like to dread a message or a phone call when someone else is caring for them.  And we know what it’s like to lay down at night and feel thankful if we felt like we broke even for the day.  Then we lay awake at night and think about everything that keeps us from falling asleep, wondering how we will possible keep everything going again tomorrow.

So to all caregivers I salute you for selflessly making a difference in someone’s life.  You are not alone, but rather you are special and you are part of a special community.  You have to believe that the love and the peace you are bringing someone will be graced upon you someday as well.  This is the real truth, and the only truth that can sustain us.

Be well and good luck.  Tom

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