Being a caregiver is a tall order for a strong, compassionate person. Compassion is what made you decide to take on this role. Strength is needed in order to follow through on your decision.
Caregivers are often people who put the needs of others before their own. That tendency will be put to the test the longer the caregiver is meeting those needs of their loved one.
This can be a challenge that will require some re-evaluating of how you deal with yourself and others. If you want to avoid exhaustion, depression, anxiety and possible collapse, that re-evaluation can be vital.
Don't misunderstand me. Caring for your loved ones is a wonderful thing. There are countless vulnerable people who would not be able to make it without such selfless folks.
But someone has to take care of the caregivers, and one of the things that means is that you must also care for yourself, even if you have never done it before. Especially if you have never done it before.
It's not selfishness. It's just reality.
I wish I and my husband had realized this before he was caregiver for his father during his last year of life. It was a learning experience that changed the way we looked at ourselves and our lives.
Having other people in our lives, and caring organizations, to lean on and learn from made a great deal of difference for us. They were people who cared about us and who gave us guidance and reassurance that it wasn't wrong to delegate and to take breaks.
The sense of guilt at not always being there at every moment, at sometimes making mistakes and not being experts in the situation was enormous and constant.
The lack of sleep because of dealing with someone else's daily needs and worrying late into the night that stayed with us for several years after the caregiving role was completed.
The feeling of never being enough, never being able to do enough, of watching the person suffer and not being able to make it all better, left us both dealing with depression and exhaustion for a long time.
Cancer.net and Mayoclinic.com offer suggestions to caregivers as to what to watch out for, how to protect yourself and how to cope.