Don’t we just get on with it as best we can? It’s as if taking care of ourselves is selfish - a needless indulgence. People of Faith often overemphasise self-denial and minimise self-care.
Taking time to strengthen or heal, or just plain rest seems somehow wrong. Yet when we overdo things, and get to the point of running on empty, we have little left to give to others. If we find the red flags of irritability and resentment waving, it’s time to pause and reflect on the legitimate need for self-care.
This is a particular challenge for people in the “Sandwich Generation,” in their 30s to 50s, who are caring for both children and parents. I’m witnessing intense pressures on an island family coping with extreme demands after a mama’s stroke.
Self-care is not even considered. Children need clean uniforms for school, food on the table, and continual nurturing. When someone falls ill here in the Cook Islands, typically the family does not leave their care to hospital staff but stays with them 24/7 to bathe, feed, massage and pray.
When I stayed in the hospital, the place felt more like a family hostel, with rellies sleeping on spare beds or the floor. Patients weren’t left alone for a moment. This level of devotion and care increases the pressures on those trying to take care of everyone and everything. Often they have a small business that won’t run itself without their time and energy. So a crisis such as a stroke creates financial havoc while at the same time upsetting the family routine. Some studies say that more than 30 per cent of caregivers die before those they are taking care of!
What’s a caregiver to do? When my husband and I got the overwhelming news that my younger brother John had a Glial Blastoma brain tumor, a fast-growing terminal cancer, we immediately cancelled all our speaking engagements to care for him.
The doctor gave him three months to live, but he lived for over a year. At one point, although we lived only a few miles away, Dan said, “We need to move in with him.” I said, “You’d do that for John?” He said, “No, I’m doing it for you. You can’t stand to be away from him for more than an hour.”
I cooked three meals a day, became John’s drug czar, doling out his many daily medications after making a complex chart to keep track, and kept him company.
Dan drove him around, and kept the house and laundry clean. I can’t imagine the pressures of doing this if my children had still been at home to look after. Even without those added responsibilities, it became impossible to keep up the pace.
What was to be a sprint turned into a marathon. I had to have help. I had fallen into the strange syndrome that develops for some caregivers – the sense that we are the only ones who know what to do or can look after our loved one properly. It’s like a badge of honour. When we slide into martyrdom from lost sleep, poor diet, exhaustion, and depression, it’s time to stop and reflect on the virtues of Humility and Moderation.
It’s essential during this new normal to find help and to delegate, to drink water, eat regularly, take breaks, and get good sleep. 1 Corinthians 6:19 – 20 says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?...Therefore honor God with your bodies.” Self-care is one of the greatest gifts to give not only ourselves but everyone around us.