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Published on July 23rd, 2013 | by Healthy Gay Lifestyles

5 Tips to Avoid Caregiving Monkhood

by A. Michael Bloom

It is a selfless choice to serve as a family caregiver. Over 60 million Americans currently provide care for a family member who is aging, chronically ill, suffering from dementia, living with a life-long disability, or returning from war. While it is true that the majority of family caregivers are female, increasing numbers of gay men are stepping up to the plate to care for an elder parent, life partner, or special needs child when illness or disease strikes.

Assuming the role of family caregiver is usually not planned, nor prepared for. Given the complex needs of their loved ones, it is understandable that all caregivers, regardless of sexual orientation experience high levels of stress and are at risk of burnout. For caregivers who are gay, the issues associated with care can be compounded when a parent who is in need of care has not been accepting of their homosexuality. Some caregivers may actually go back into the closet or even put their life on hold out of love and respect for the parent receiving care. This can be an especially lonely and depressing pathway for gay caregivers.

I understand this landscape. In 2009, my healthy, independent 82 year-old father was struck by a catastrophic heart failure event which led to vascular dementia and the need for round the clock care for the remainder of his life. As the healthy parent, my father had been serving as the primary caregiver for my elder mother, who was a frail and physically limited cancer survivor. Once my father returned from the hospital, I fully dedicated myself as the full time live-in supporter to both of my parents. As an only child who had a strong, deep and precious relationship with both parents, I did not hesitate to jump right in and assume the role of family caregiver.

During the early stages of my caregiving journey, I put 100% into meeting the needs of my parents. All other aspects of my life-career, health, recreation, and social life were put on hold. I had been out of the closet for almost two decades to friends and family. Although my parents were always supportive of me, my sexuality and relationships became an unofficial, “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Out of respect and my limiting beliefs that they did not fully embrace my sexual orientation, I chose to keep many aspects of my life private from them.

Later in my caregiving journey, I was fully affirmed by both parents and realized that my own false assumptions held me back from fully leading my life openly. My mother even specifically shared her happiness with me on the day that President Obama publicly announced his full support of marriage equality. That day ended up being one of my most fulfilling as a caregiver. Recently, I felt my parents smiling from above on the day of the June 2013 Supreme Court rulings in favor of marriage equality.

My caregiving journey was soul-fulfilling and transformative. I provided care without regret and supported my parents to age in place and die with dignity in the comfort of their own home. I live each day in honor of my parent’s legacy with a mission to inspire fellow caregivers with practical coping strategies so they can thrive during the caregiving journey.

Here are 5 tips to avoid caregiving monkhood and live a fulfilling life as a gay caregiver.

1. Put chocolate in your pill box. Caregivers generally follow through with doctors’ orders to avoid illness by taking their medicines as prescribed. Yet, these dedicated individuals remain highly susceptible to depression, disease and hypertension because they rarely provide themselves with rewards that release stress and develop the purpose for their lives beyond caregiving. Determine your special “chocolate” (which is a metaphor for something that provides ultimate joy) and dose yourself regularly so you create enduring satisfaction and success during the long journey of care. It is vital to fuel your soul so that you can more readily resume leading a full and satisfying life when your caregiving journey comes to an end.

2. Create a caregiving expectation agreement. Use authenticity and share expectations with your loved one so you can comfortably serve as your true self. You are making a choice to serve as a caregiver and deserve to live your life fully. If your loved ones respect you, they will accept you. Although this dialogue may be initially uncomfortable, it provides one of the greatest opportunities to openly share each other’s needs and desires. You can learn more about the power of caregiving expectation agreements by requesting a free download of preview chapters of the forthcoming book, The Accidental Caregiver’s Survival Guide at http://theaccidentalcaregiverssurvivalguide.com.

3. Get those stressful thoughts out of your head and say YES to requests for support. Do you sometimes feel like a “Nervous Nellie” when you think about all the things (some scary) that you must deal with as a caregiver. Throw “Nellie” thoughts and feelings out of your head by setting a 5-10 minute time block at least once per week to deal with your stress. Make a list of all the issues rolling through your mind. Put the items on paper and make plans to address them. When a friend or family member asks how they can help, be prepared with this list of tasks that others can perform to lighten your load.

4. Schedule regular breaks. Caregivers can become so consumed with providing for their loved ones that they lose joy and satisfaction with their own lives. Seek assistance from friends, relatives or volunteers so you take a class, go to the gym, go on a date, go to a spa, attend a party, or enjoy any other fun recreational activities.

5. Use High Tech to Deliver High Touch. Free, easy-to-navigate systems to build support networks can be found at http://www.lotsahelpinghands.com or the family portal at http://www.seniorcaresociety.com. Through these online communities, family caregivers can post vital medical and support information, use an online calendar to schedule volunteer assistance for activities/appointments, and send updates with just the click of a button. These tools can simplify the organizational process and provide a journaling vehicle for you to share key points along the caregiving journey.

If you are on the verge of spending your life in caregiving monkhood, seek support to implement one or more of the tips above. For caregivers who are serious about exploring ways to recharge your caregiving energy now and create a life you love, take a Free Caregiving Burnout Risk Assessment by visiting http://www.bloomforcoach.com.

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Since 2011, Certified Professional Coach and Energy LeadershipTM Master Practitioner A. Michael Bloom has helped to revitalize the careers of hundreds of family and professional caregivers with practical, tactical soul-saving coping strategies and support them in saving lives. With a wealth of practical expertise as both a family and professional caregiver, Michael serves as a welcome and sought-after catalyst to guide caregivers and health and human services leaders to stay energized and committed to work that has never been more important or vital than it is today. Having earned two Master’s Degrees in Psychology and Social Policy, Michael’s passion for life-long learning is best expressed through the practical sharing of game-changing tips that make urgent and real impact when and where they are needed most.

Whether you work with Michael in a private mentoring program, choose emergency roadside assistance coaching, or engage with him in one of his compelling and practical group workshops, you are sure to immediately recharge your energy and take inspired action towards achieving the life of abundance and joy that you so richly deserve.

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