In Pursuit of Self-Care: One Caregiver’s Summer Journey to a Healthier Place

FIN is just getting started on planning a new event in May 2019 that will focus on supporting caregivers. So many of our families affected by disability include caregivers who need support as they manage taking care of family members affected by disability, other children, marriages and jobs. There is often not enough time to ensure they are taking care of themselves as well. In the following article, Karen Jackson shares her own experience as a caregiver and some strategies for moving toward a healthier lifestyle. 

In Pursuit of Self-Care: One Caregiver’s Summer Journey to a Healthier Place

I am writing this article for that mom or caregiver out there struggling to take care of herself, overwhelmed with the responsibilities of taking care of multiple children, maybe some with special needs and some just at a challenging age. He or she also takes care of her home, her spouse and probably holds down a job.

Everyone tells her how important “self-care” is, but she can’t seem to get a grasp on truly putting herself ahead of all the other people and responsibilities in her life. If that is you, I hope you will read on. If its not, then I am guessing you know someone like this; caregivers who need your love and support…And the encouragement and opportunity to take care of themselves as well.

As a 23-year veteran parent with one out of the house, one high school-er and an adult child with special needs, (not to mention recently having turned 50!) the self-care dilemma had come to the forefront of my life. Facing pre-diabetes, high cholesterol and a multitude of other issues, I had to admit, I wasn’t taking very good care of myself…and I needed a plan.

This past summer I embarked on a little project I called “A Healthier Me”. My project included self-care aspects regarding my physical, emotional and mental well-being.  Ironically, it was also an extremely stressful summer caring for my daughter, Samantha who had been struggling with extreme anxiety. Somehow, with a combination of stubbornness (I have plenty of that), faith and a good plan, I made it through this summer and can honestly say I am now in a healthier place. I may not be exactly where I want to be ultimately, but I have made progress.

The following is an outline of my experience. I pray it is helpful for you and might inspire you to get to a healthier place too.

  1. Faith

Before I even began setting goals, I prayed for God to bless this experience and help me find the time, energy and resources I needed to make it happen. In mid-May, He led me to a local personal trainer business called Fitness Together.  One of the owners just happened to be a recent author of a faith and fitness book called 365 Power Diet, How to Overcome Obesity and Strengthen Your Faith with New Habits that Last a Lifetime by Marti Carrier. I took it as a sign and not only purchased the book but registered for my evaluation and first ever personal fitness training session.

  1. Support and Encouragement

I started a secret Facebook page (did you know that was a thing?) and invited ten of my most encouraging friends. You know, the ones who build you up and keep you going. I am blessed with a lot of those kind of people in my life but really you only need one or two.

On my secret page I posted about food, exercising and a lot about my personal training experience. I also tried to be honest about my emotional challenges. I had lots of great comments and feedback from my friends.

My husband was also very encouraging and, despite the extra cost associated with the personal training and healthier food, encouraged me to do it. He was also up extra early in the morning sometimes if I was out exercising helping take care of our daughter. I am very blessed to have his support and I also enjoyed sharing my little successes along the way with him.

  1. Goals

I am a goal setter and this was a prime opportunity. I set some specific goals, like working with a trainer, finding a nutritional plan that would work for me and running a 5K. Posting my goals, even if only for a few friends, helped me to stay focused and motivated.

  1. Emotional Eating Issues

I am the textbook definition of an emotional eater which is one of the reasons I was so overweight. A bad day teaching? Not enough sleep? Medical problems with my daughter? My answer was usually comfort food at some point in the evening.

My biggest prayer in the beginning of the summer was to find the self-control and strength to fight the urge to de-stress with food. I relied heavily on my faith here and as I made this issue a daily prayer focus, I could feel myself developing more self-control. Of course, I had relapses, but I have made big strides.

  1. Nutrition Plan

There are more diets and nutritional plans out there than anyone can count. I think I have tried most of them. For me, a lower carbohydrate, higher protein diet has helped me stabilize my blood sugar. I have done Whole 30 in the past but currently consider my diet Paleo. Whatever you choose, make sure you check in with a doctor to ensure it is a healthy plan for you.

  1. Exercise

Mandy, Personal Trainer at Fitness Together

I delved into personal training 3X/week for most of the summer. The time of day that had the least impact on my family and caregiving responsibilities was 5:30 AM. With my daughter getting very little sleep (and therefore getting very little sleep myself) there were mornings I barely could get out of bed. I had an awesome trainer though. She became an great personal support and didn’t even mind when I had the occasional breakdown because of my lack of sleep. Thank you, Mandy!

I also began getting more cardio exercise. I used to love to run but had injuries that kept me from running and sometimes from even walking for exercise. The strength training helped build up my back and core enough to get my body in a better place to be able to run.  Yesterday I registered for a 5K race. Even if I come in dead last, I will consider running the race a victory.

  1. Emotional and Mental Health

Taking care of someone who has special needs, not to mention if they are going through a particularly difficult season, is not just physically draining, its mentally and emotionally draining as well. I wish I had the answer for everyone here, but some things I found that helped me were developing my prayer time and finding ways to physically relax. In the past I have gone to counseling, which I highly recommend, but did not pursue this summer.

I have long been in the habit of taking time in the morning to read the Bible, pray and journal. Lately, however, I felt like I was in a bit of a rut. My journaling had become more complaining than anything else. So, I began to use my journal time to ask God questions. “What should I do about this or that?” “Should we try a new medication for our daughter?”, “Who should I call for help on Sat. night?” etc.…And then, I just waited and I listened. Miraculously, my stress level came down as I handed over questions to God and was urged one way or another with answers to my questions.

Physically relaxing also became a pursuit for me. Since I love being in water, (and summer is a good time for that) I tried to get to a pool or the ocean as much as I could. Toward the end of the summer, as my daughter was feeling better, she came along too. Between a little more time in the water, a few professional massages and more quality prayer time, I began to see a reduction in my stress level.

Moving Ahead

Author, out for a run in early September

The summer is over and I am very glad to have taken the time to make some significant changes in my self-care strategies. I am hopeful to continue to take better care of myself and get to an even healthier place. My “A Healthier Me” project gave me the focus I needed to jump start a transition to healthier habits.

An important, unintended result of my summer endeavor was realizing that I could focus on taking care of myself, even during difficult times and even as a mom to a child with special needs. I felt like God wanted me to know that He not only loves and cares for me, but He wants to help me be the best I can be. It is not selfish to take care of myself, rather it is an important part of my journey. I am blessed to be able to keep learning and hope you too will be inspired to put self-care on the top of your list as you continue to be the best caregiver and person you can be.