Thankful for caregivers: What MS has taught me about support
Here's why it's important for caregivers to take time for themselves
It’s been a couple weeks since my last column, and things with my mother have proven more challenging than we expected. She’s had another minor procedure to stop fluid from building up in her chest, but she is progressing with her rehab and continues to gain strength. Hopefully, we’ll have her home before too much longer and can continue to walk the road to recovery in a familiar and welcoming space.
These last few weeks, and the ones that are still to come, are teaching me much about caregiving. As a person with multiple sclerosis (MS), I’m all too familiar with being the one in need of help, but taking care of someone else — especially for such a lengthy stretch of time — is something new to me.
And caregiving is hard, y’all.
It’s demanding, but certainly worth it. It’s an honor to be able to tend to my mother, the woman who nursed me through countless colds and fevers as well as a rough bout with chicken pox when I was in elementary school. She was the one I wanted by my side when I endured my first (and thankfully only) spinal tap, and she provided the strength and encouragement I needed to get through the hard weeks after my diagnosis. My husband, father, brother, and the rest of my family have been amazing and supportive over the last 18 years, but Mom has really gone above and beyond.
I’m willing to bet someone popped into your mind while reading that last paragraph — someone who has cared for (or perhaps is still caring for) you, someone who helps with a kind gesture or has just the right words to say to beat back the darkness on hard days. That person may make the work look effortless, but the truth is that it costs him or her something. I know the last few weeks certainly have required a great deal of me and the other members of my family, but we wouldn’t change a thing.
That’s why it’s important for us to encourage our caregivers to take time for themselves. We need to make sure they’re exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and pursuing their interests and passions. I have been doing that, and continuing to eat a vegetarian diet and working out at the gym four times a week has really helped me manage my stress levels and keep burnout at bay. (In fact, I’ve even lost a few pounds since I came home to care for Mom. Take that, MS!)
In her testimony to the Senate Special Committee on Aging in 2011, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter wrote, “I like to say that there are only four kinds of people in the world — those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”
So whatever kind of person you are today, according to Mrs. Carter’s definition, embrace it. And keep yourself open to the truth that one day your role can and will change. When that day comes, you may find yourself in need of assistance, or you may be given the honor of providing it for someone else. All I can tell you is that you must lean into the challenges and, above all else, show love to whoever God has brought into your life for a time. By giving and receiving love, you will both grow in ways you never expected. And you can take comfort in knowing that, in the end, it will all be worth it.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.