As my mother’s caregiver, I have learned how to handle various aspects of life including job seeking, freelancing, self-care, and creativity. In the midst of the current coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, I find myself reflecting on the lessons I am learning about self-discipline in isolation and self-care and how these impact my caregiving effort.
One of the greatest ironies that I perceive is that my own tendency to self-isolate and keep my distance has served me well when it comes to my social distancing efforts. Dealing with an immunocompromised mother (due to a liver transplant and anti-rejection mediations) has increased my awareness and sensitivity around preventing potential complications. My own efforts towards self-care had increased before the pandemic with an increased motivation to care for my physical and mental health. (Like many other male caregivers, I can drift into depressive episodes if I am not careful). My social activities have increased slightly, but are still erratic: given their professional and personal responsibilities, touching base with others can be challenging but I am experiencing an increase in connection).
However, this “leveling of the playing field” has also lessened the obvious stress and strain on my caregiving efforts. Recently, I had to run two short (but critical) errands on a quarter-mile stretch of a major street. Except for the occasional dog walker, the street was devoid of cars and pedestrians. Walking down that stretch on a Friday afternoon had an eerie, silent quality which had a calming effect on me. Both venues that I visited had a moderate number of patrons, many of whom were rushed to acquire what they needed and get home. Having time to spend on personal and creative efforts has helped alleviate the perpetual fear of missing out that comes to me regularly as a caregiver.
One of the most powerful effects of being a caregiver during the COVID-19 pandemic is that I have a greater sense of empathy and compassion towards others. It is not just an effort to pay the kindnesses shown me forward, but to actively and assertively express that compassion. Self-isolation and social distancing may presently be the most compassionate acts towards others, but being able to show (and receive) smaller kindnesses can be rewarding. It’s never easy; last week was especially challenging since I served as an election judge for the 2016 primary; had several events cancel at the last minute, and an effort to run an online screening did not go rather well. Despite my desire to last out in anger, keeping my cool and remaining calm comes more easily from a compassionate approach.
Compassion as a caregiver can be challenging, especially when dealing with negative or obnoxious behavior. On the lighter end, many people do not know how to speak to a caregiver so dealing with those lapses in judgment can be annoying. But on the other end, with many people taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by hoarding hand sanitizer or buying out supplies from a Dollar Tree can be especially infuriating. (Especially since many caregivers deal with relatives who may have intestinal or digestive problems). However, compassion in challenging times comes from the smaller kindnesses of friends. Unexpected gifts both physical and emotional, ranging from an unexpected video chat to a surprise coffee mug, provide plenty of fuel for being compassionate as a caregiver.
We are living in uncertain, disquieting, and anxiety-provoking times. This is not a feel-good solution, and should not be read as a dismissal of those facing especially challenging times. One of the greatest lessons that I continue to learn as a caregiver is that compassion may not always be easy, but it is extremely necessary.
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As always, thanks for reading and stay safe!