Thursday 7 December 2017


Last evening I presented a workshop on self-care for caregivers in my city of Ottawa, Canada.

Going in, I knew that this group had huge challenges at home and that they were pretty cynical about the standard 'just have a bubble bath' approach to self-care. These were parents who need to be hyper-vigilant in order to keep their children with disabilities safe every single day. That was all OK with me, because I agree with them - 'Five Top Tips on Caring For Yourself' doesn't cut it for caregivers looking after high needs loved ones.

So I decided that it was time to re-imagine what self-care might look like for people who are in the thick of caring - folks who know taking a bubble bath is never going to be possible or helpful.

I began by asking, "What is self-care anyway? Is it just one more thing that we're supposed be good at?" We talked about how caregiving guides often blame us for feeling tired or overwhelmed because we didn't practice a version of self-care that is impossible in our households.

Next, I asked everyone this question. "What does self-care look like for you when you're alone with your loved one?"  The answers were interesting - "I paint or draw with my daughter. That is relaxing for us both."  Another said, "I get up very early while every else is sleeping. That's my quiet time when I can really relax."

Another question: "What does self-care look like when you are together with your whole family?" One caregiver answered, "I feel cared for when our family visits people who 'get us' - who don't judge us and who feel comfortable with us." Everyone nodded in thoughtful understanding.

Then, I asked, "What does self-care look like when you are home alone?"  One caregiver responded, "I'm never home alone!" and we all laughed. Then someone reflected, "I meditate. My kitchen window overlooks a field and I look out at the open space. That makes me feel relaxed and soothed." When someone suggested that reading fiction and watching movies on television was a way to climb into 'someone else's life and story', we all agreed that fiction is a powerful form of self-care. Except when it's too much. "I find though, that if I watch too much TV, I feel worse. Like I've given more of my time than I've received in return. I feel empty after watching too much."

Finally, I asked, "What about self-care in the community? How do you care for yourself outside of home in your neighbourhood?" "Walk my dog!" said one. "Go to work and have an intelligent, adult conversations!" said another. "Go outside into the woods. Being in nature feels so good", said a tanned and fit older caregiver.

We finished our evening chat by reflecting on how self-care can realistically be embedded into our busy, caring lives. Is it possible to be more aware of our own needs as we care for others?

I pondered this question as I spent time with our son today and planned a visit to my Mom tomorrow. And in the meantime, tonight I'm going to have a bubble bath. Maybe they're not so bad after all.

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