The mission of my blog is to begin the conversation about what keeps you engaged, purposeful, and attentive to your own needs while you are caring for the needs of another adult. Your caregiving experience may be a physical and emotional sprint or a marathon. Either way it is a major change in your life and I want to share my belief that caregiving is not an interruption of your life, but rather can be a profound education and growing opportunity.
In order to speak to the challenges of incorporating wellness into the caregiving experience, I have enlisted the help of two thoughtful beings. One is a one-eyed feline philosopher named Rooney. The other is an anxiety ridden canine named Bear. I have asked them to join the conversation because they are both observers of life and fully engaged in their own experience of it. My role is to both ask questions and to offer thoughts based on personal experience as a former caregiver and my professional role of working with caregivers for many years.
Let’s start with a common definition of wellness:
‘A philosophy of life and personal hygiene that views health as not merely the absence of illness but the fullest realization of one’s physical and mental potential, as achieved through positive attitudes, fitness training, a diet low in fat and high in fiber, and the avoidance of unhealthful practices (smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, overeating).’
ROONEY: ‘If I tried to live up to that definition I’d be exhausted! And don’t talk to me about personal hygiene. I groom myself constantly! I’m the master of hygiene! I think wellness is being who you are – and liking it. In my case, I am fully feline. I prowl, I hunt, I lounge, I observe, and I snuggle (that’s the part you like).
I live fully in the now. I don’t mourn the past or fantasize the future. I obey no one, come and go as I please and find little value in the ‘dog obsession’ of people pleasing. Unlike Bear, I don’t ruminate about what I might have done to change my fortune – good or bad.
This philosophy of yours is all well and good if no one is depending on you, but what if you were taking care of someone and you weren’t free to come and go as you please. How would you be able to experience ‘wellness’ then?
Easy! Expand and Contract! In that case I would judge my wellbeing by the week instead of by the day and do enjoyable things in shorter spurts. I would change my expectations – not the things that make me happy. A little catnip is better than none!
What about you, Bear? Any thoughts on wellness?
BEAR: First, I do like some of Rooney’s thoughts – with the exception of the people pleasing dig! I think wellness is like a buffet. There are lots of things that can make you feel good or healthy or happy. The trick is to choose the things that work for you – and not to choose too many at one time! For example, I have lots of days when I don’t feel good because of my nervous stomach. Those are the days I choose sitting in the front window barking at dogs and their walkers to make it a good day. When my stomach feels good, a minimum of three walks makes it a good day. You choose what’s right for the kind of day you’re having.
I also think its important to be honest. How would you know my feelings were hurt if I didn’t pee on my bed to let you know I was jealous of your friend, or how would you know that I was happy if I didn’t ask you to play tug of war? Communication is key! This is why I bark when I’m anxious, protective, happy, worried, and excited. I’m not the one who slinks off to the basement when there’s a little chaos or when the daily routine is interrupted huh, Rooney
So, here’s what I think I heard you both say about wellness:
- Wellness starts with knowing yourself and that means being comfortable with both your likes and your dislikes.
- It is living in the here and now, recognizing we can’t change the past or know the future. It is being mindful in the present.
- Wellness is setting manageable expectations knowing that some days will be better or worse than others and that’s ok.
- When there are choices to be made it’s choosing the things that will support your physical, mental, and emotional health.
- It is honesty and ongoing communication
- It’s hanging in there when things get uncomfortable.
This doesn’t sound much like the traditional definition of wellness!
ROONEY: You don’t need a dictionary to know what works! Maybe add that it’s always handy to keep a paper bag on hand in case you want to crawl in for a nap.
BEAR: A new chew toy or a trip to the groomer can make my day!
OK. #7 – don’t forget to pamper yourself!
Wow! You’re a couple of wise guys! I wonder what our readers think?