Caregiver, Soothe Thyself: “Nurturing yourself is not selfish – it is essential to our survival and your well-being.” ~Renee Peterson Trudeau
In 2016, Newtown author CJ Golden’s world fell apart when her cyclist husband Joe suffered multiple cancer-induced strokes. During the many months he was in the hospital, Golden felt it her duty to be at his bedside 12 hours a day, every day. There were nights she curled up in the lounge chair next to his bed and tried in vain to sleep through the beeping of infusion pumps, nurses’ interruptions and her own worry about his well-being. She felt she needed to be with him to make sure the medical staff was on top of things. In other words, Golden was the caregivers’ caregiver; she took it all on her shoulders. Recently, she shared with Natural Awakenings the story of her experience learning to care for herself and finding better balance while in the midst of caregiving for her husband, as chronicled in her new book, One Pedal at a Time.
Some of our readers may relate to what you went through when you were caring for your husband in the hospital, while still juggling all the responsibilities of “normal life”. Can you tell us what your experience was like?
All my caring friends and family members were concerned about me and kept insisting that I take care of myself. “Get help,” they told me. “You need professional guidance,” my family and friends chanted as I navigated this unfamiliar chapter in our lives. I said it wasn’t necessary because I give guidance for a living. I work with women and girls on dealing with life’s challenges. I figured I knew what to do; I’d simply employ the principles of the Tao, breathe deeply, and meditate—and I’d be just fine. Well, and maybe I’d swallow a few Ativan from time to time.
Finally they told me to go speak to someone even just to prove them all wrong. It turned out that was the challenge I could not refuse.
What was it like when you did seek help for yourself?
Eventually I met with the social worker in the facility’s caregiver center. She was lovely, kind, caring, smart and offered many helpful suggestions—but none that I had not already come up with myself.
That’s not entirely true; she did give me a few tidbits of new information and, even though I was reluctant, I had to admit that hearing her words validated and enhanced what I was already doing. She, and her point of view, gave me some measure of comfort.
What belief was holding you in that place where you felt you needed to resist help?
I remained by his side all day, every day because to not be there meant, to me, that I was deserting him. I had lost perspective. In the words of a very wise friend, truly deserting Joe would have meant flying off to Lake Como with George Clooney, not going around the block for a walk or getting my hair cut. Still, I remained resolutely calm, controlled and clinical. I knew I could not—should not—cry, be upset or throw a tantrum in front of Joe. What he most needed was my strength and love. That was true, but what I most needed was to cry, be angry, frightened and frustrated when I was away from him. Instead, I clung to being strong and not letting those feelings surface, not with friends, not with our kids, not even with myself.
It’s not surprising you couldn’t keep juggling all the balls; that’s a lot to bear. What happened when you finally let go of having to be all and do all?
It took a volcanic meltdown for me to grasp that I was not omnipotent and needed to take time and space to replenish my depleted body and soul. I erupted like Vesuvius.
I phoned one of my closest friends and sobbed uncontrollably as I walked from the hospital to my hotel. While still on the phone, I stopped in at a CVS to pick up some medications I expected would be waiting for me. When I discovered that the pharmacy was closed, I cursed like a crazy woman. My friend on the phone heard all of it and she must have been nodding and perhaps pleased that I had finally allowed my emotions to come out.
They should have been expressed sooner. I should have allowed myself the anger, frustration, concern and sadness, rather than assuming I was robotic and above those very human feelings.
It took an eruption of tears and rage (not to mention an occasional apple martini and piece of chocolate cake) to teach me that I am mortal and vulnerable. It was not a pretty lesson, but it was the start of my learning that it was absolutely imperative to take care of myself physically, emotionally and mentally, while still taking care of Joe.
Caregivers of the world, heed these words before you, too, are transformed into a volcano. It is not the best way to heal your fractured soul. Soothe yourself too, not just the others around you.
Connect with CJ Golden at CJGolden.com.