“I was running on empty and foolishly thought I could keep going without refueling.”

“Are you under a lot of stress?” the allergist queried upon examining me for a case of hives that had joined forces to turn my entire arm into one giant hive, rendering me unable to bend it. The nasty things had spread to my abdomen, neck, scalp and arms; super attractive.
“No,” I replied. “I don’t feel I’m under any stress right now.”
He pursued the topic further and when I mentioned that I had been under some stress 3 months previous, he couldn’t contain his laughter.
If I didn’t see most things in a humorous way, looking back I would be embarrassed by my naivety. I had not given the cumulative effect of stress any recognition. “THIS IS STRESS,” he emphasized to me.
Finally my body had my attention. The message was loud and clear. “You are not taking care of yourself. You have to do something different if you want to heal.”
The challenge was that I was on the caregiver treadmill and I couldn’t find the “pause” button, much less the “stop” button.
My caregiving was a 10 year endeavor caring first for a father and then a mother. It was a “600-mile-long-distance-other-country” project. The distance provided some built in respite as I would have a couple months without traveling back and forth. However, that did not relieve me of the guilt and worry and often daily phone calls to keep abreast of medical conditions and hospitalizations.
Everyone’s caregiving situation is unique. There are no trophies for most hours toiled or most miles covered. It isn’t a competition; but the toll it can take on us is often times very similar.
“You really have to take time for yourself,” I would hear from well-intentioned family members and friends. Those words are almost meaningless when you are in the throes of caregiving. I knew I needed a break from the worry, but duty called and it did not seem possible to put my needs first. I didn’t know how. I believed if I kept my head down and just kept plowing forward, I would be fine. I was running on empty and foolishly thought I could keep going without refueling.
There are many caregivers in our communities exhausting themselves, getting sick, suffering from stress related diseases, and feeling frayed and burnt to a crisp. I’m not a good example of taking a break from the worry. I wanted to be a caregiver to my parents – they would have done nothing less for me. I wish I would have paid more attention to the stress and practiced better self-care. I wish I would have reached for the “pause” button more often or at least asked for help in finding it.
North Shore Elder Services can help you wade through the tough times, most particularly through our Caregiver Support Program. Reaching out asking for help and accepting help may be the most important key to self-care. If you know a caregiver, offering time to help or an ear to listen can make a huge difference.
We know the powerful effects of stress on our bodies and brains. If we can learn how to recognize it before we suffer from the ill effects, we might have a fighting chance against the havoc it can wreak.
That case of hives lasted months for me – reoccurring several times. 1 ½ years ago, after my mother passed, I officially hung up my caregiver hat. Thirty days after that I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I heard the comment, “What bad timing after just losing your mom.” However, it was perfect timing in that now I had only myself to attend to. There are too many unknowns with why and when cancer can strike but I will always view mine as a wakeup call to stress. I maybe missed some signs because I wouldn’t take the time to address my own care. It was a good lesson to learn.
If someone asks, “Are you getting enough sleep?” you probably look and are tired. If someone asks, “Are you eating well?” you are probably looking like you aren’t. And if someone asks, “Can I help?” shout at the top of your lungs a resounding YES and tell them how.
NSES assist those in our communities every day. If you would like to be part of our mission, check out our volunteer opportunities at https://nselder.org/about-our-volunteers-2/ or go to our Donate page https://nselder.org/donate-2/ for a financial contribution that will help us in furthering our mission of serving the functional needs of older adults by providing support, information, and services to them and their families. We all can make a positive impact in a local senior’s life.
And stay tuned for Giving Tuesday Dec. 1st! We’ll introduce staff members and the great work they are doing.

Author Info

Jayne Girodat

Jayne Girodat is the Communications Specialist at North Shore Elder Services. Along with ten years in the position of Caregiver Support Specialist at another ASAP, Jayne was a long-distance caregiver to parents for the same amount of time. That experience serves as motivation to better understand the issues of aging and to engage people in conversations about those issues. Jayne's background in teaching contributes to her appreciation of social media as a tool to educate readers on aging concerns. "I love asking people questions. Everyone likes to be heard. When you ask and then listen, you'll find everyone has a story and some of those stories are gems. I think it is particularly important to hear the voices of our older adults. Those are the stories I really connect to and hope to bring to North Shore Elder Services' audience."

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