Looking After Yourself

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Many of us are or may become caregivers for those suffering from traumatic brain injuries. We do this because we love those who need our help. Caregivers make considerable sacrifices, and for this they should be lauded. However, it is not a role to which everybody is suited. However much you love someone, if you’re inclined to become frustrated, have little patience, and aren’t motivated enough to provide what may be thankless and constant care – then it may be best to seek alternative solutions to your loved one’s problems. Finding someone else to provide practical help will not leave you compromised and frustrated when it comes to providing important emotional love, help, and support. If, however, you are more up to the challenge of caring for someone with neurological issues, then be prepared for an often tough and frustrating process. Of course, it is also a process which is intensely rewarding, and which rarely fails to strengthen and deepen the bond between carer and sufferer – but nobody should start down this path without being prepared for some hard times along the way. There are, however, a few things to remember and tactics to try which may help to lessen the burden – both emotional and physical – upon the carer.

One of the major issues surrounding carers is that of frustration. If your loved one is no longer responding to you or to other things in the way that they used to, if their attention wanders, if they fulfil tasks poorly, have mood swings, or simply grind you down with their needs, frustration swiftly mounts. Even the most patient and loving of people will occasionally crack if frustration is allowed to build up 24/7. Frustration, however, can be combated through a combination of learning about the scientific nature of the injury or trauma, comprehending how it affects the loved on personally, acknowledging the inherent hardships and unpredictabilities involved, and appreciating that healing will take time. Importantly, it is vital to practice at developing patience – which can in turn only be done if you are prepared to learn about your own frustration triggers, and to develop a self-care plan which will defuse and rejuvenate you when you’re at snapping point. Nobody can care for someone else if they’re not prepared to care for themselves at the same time.

Emotional and physical tolls are also hard to deal with. It is important that the carer makes time to deal with their own needs – that they get enough food, sleep, and relaxation time. Without this, it is hard to look favourably upon a suffering person and their demands. The urge to belittle or snap at people may get the better of nobler impulses, simply as a vent for negative emotions. Learn to withstand these impulses, and work at fostering a sense of safety, love, and comfort – both for the sufferer and for yourself.

Whether you’re a caregiver drowning in the life of a loved one’s struggle or a caregiver on the verge of walking out the door, the following ten tips can help reduce the turmoil and get things back on an even keel.

Learn: Study how the brain experiences functional, structural and chemical changes that increase anxiety and decrease emotional control. Knowing the science will help you have creative insights.
Comprehend: Realize that trauma is very personal; what seems traumatic to one person may not seem traumatic to another. Suspend judgment and deal with what is.
Recognize: Acknowledge that Big T (major life-threatening events) and little t (stressful daily experiences) traumas combine in unpredictable ways that challenge survivors’ ability to cope and maintain recovery promises.
Practice: Commit to patience. A very essential recovery ingredient and tied to acceptance, patience means increasing your capacity to tolerate circumstances.
Withstand: Resist the impulse to belittle, shame or blame; this doesn’t provide positive motivation and always makes things worse.
Appreciate: Healing takes time; there is no way to speed it up. As a matter of fact, slow recoveries lead to more long-lasting effects.
Rejuvenate: Put in place a) your personal overload warning signs, b) a decompression process that you activate when you need a break.
Spot: Signs and symptoms of PSTD. Four categories of symptoms include avoidance, re-experiencing, mood alterations and hypervigilance.
Foster: Everyone in recovery needs a sense of safety and control. Also important to create: a sense hope and belief that things can and will improve.
Invite: The tendency is to take over for your loved on but in truth, encouraging him or her to make healthy choices and actions based on coping and recovery goals will be more helpful.

Remember: Caregiving Does Not Define You

Necessary in every recovery relationship are days, times and experiences that are unrelated to recovery issues.

The caregiving role has many challenges, two of the toughest being how to maintain a positive and healthy relationship with yourself and also your loved one.

There is no perfect answer, but practicing a conscious awareness of the problems, plus implementing some of the solutions listed here helps create an environment of empathy and connection that can generate bonds able to weather the (sometimes fierce) recovery storm.

*Content courtesy of Mel Wilson
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