One of the most brutal effects of this past winter has been its effect on my caregiving and my own self-care...and nearly cost me my sense of connection with others.
It may sound obvious, but one of the critical issues facing adult caregivers is the balance of caring for a family member and maintaining their own health. (In my case, my mother is my primary responsibility which started with a foot infection, and is now followed by her daily struggle with type 2 diabetes, chronic heart disease, and other related maladies). Between personal illness (I’m getting better – I promise!) and the struggles of maintaining a job search and other creative endeavors, my energy level has been low. Not low enough for depression, but low enough where I never felt I was getting enough “done”. Even efforts to drive a passive income, such as my writing Patreon, were being left in the dust...not out of apathy or laziness, but with limited emotional and physical resources.
(Thankfully, I have been engaging in some self-care behaviors to work through many of my issues. However, one of those behaviors – writing on a basis – was limited to journaling. That’s part of the reason why this blog has been a bit dry.)
Winter and caregiving also took a toll on my social life, as well...and that proved nearly fatal to my self-esteem. Being physically limited (after all, who wants to head out in thirty below wind chill weather) resulted in my attitude shifting towards negativity. Think of it less as “fear of missing out” and more towards believing that, at best, I was a minor player in my friends’ lives. Like many others, I was spiraling towards caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue, assuming that my life (as I knew it) was over, that my options were limited, and that quite honestly, I could easily fade out of my friends’ lives without being missed. Yes, I would be mourned if I passed on, but not acknowledged if they merely passed me by.
Luckily, there was a gradual progression in several aspects of my life that made caregiving and self-care easier and boosted my confidence. My networking efforts towards freelance consulting and full-time marketing work have progressed slowly yet evenly. (Revising my resume after a recruiter informed me that I needed to “beef up (my) resume before (she) could even consider working with (me)” was key...especially since I learned I didn’t have enough “bullet points”). Smaller victories like seeing a recent short story published by Airship 27 Productions and a Doctor Who panel approved by C2E2 helped boost my self-confidence). As my health improved, my capacity for self-care increased as I was spending more time tending to my physical health and establishing healthy boundaries.
(Spending less time on social media and more time on face-to-face interaction when I could help).
But two events this past week helped place my self-care as a caregiver and my personal connections into sharp contrast. The first was a surprise birthday party thrown for me at a recent Chicago Doctor Who Meetup – with my schedule being crowded over the next month, a volunteer chose to throw it sooner rather than later. The other, sadder event was the sudden passing of a friend and colleague who I knew through the Chicago TARDIS Charity Auction. She wasn’t much older than I am, and her passing hit me hard. (I’m working on a tribute to be coming soon). But both events reminded me of something that, as a caregiver, I take for granted;
I have people in my life. I matter to them. I may not always experience it directly, but I have to work at connectedness in order to stay connected.
All of this reminded me of last year’s post around social media and friendships, and so next week – my birthday week – I’m going to be heading out and engaging friends and others when I can. Tuesday night will see me running the Chicago Doctor Who Meetup out of LaCatrina Cafe in Pilsen. Wednesday – my birthday proper – I have no plans, but I’m staying open. Thursday night will see me reading at Open Books. Friday night will be my “unofficial” birthday party as I will be attending Raks Geek, and Saturday afternoon (if I’m able) I hope to catch Chicago Nerd Social Club’s Almost Pi Day at Open Books.
As a caregiver, I can easily avoid self-care and maintaining connections. After all, it is always easier to focus on the negative aspects, listening to the voice that says “Caregiving is all I can do at this point – no one will hire me, I have no other activities, and my life is over”. But part of my role as caregiver is precisely self-care, allowing me to nurture my own emotional and physical well-being enough to carry out those roles. Part of my caregiving role also includes allowing my friends to be supportive...even if it's just knowing that they're concerned and want the best for me.
This year, the best birthday present I’ve received….Ok, it’s a copy of Doctor Who: Scratchman by Tom Baker. But personal growth, healthier self-care behaviors and the importance of staying connected? Definitely great gifts as well.
And as always, thanks for reading!