Caregiving: Turning The Tables

When I was writing the Hogswatch Special, I knew I would need to bring in balance, though I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to pull it off. The balance being that with the extra stress brought by Hogswatch, I need to make sure I’m taking care of myself, and that it’s a critical part of caregiving, too.

We all take care of ourselves in different ways, but they loosely fall under physical and emotional wellbeing. In my experience, the former is by far easier to manage than the latter. During ordinary days and weeks, it’s not hard to find time for myself. When things are hard, that time seems to disappear and when it is there, all I want to do is sleep.  It’s when taking care of myself isn’t something I give enough or the right kind of thought to.

I’d also say that physical wellbeing can break down a little further. There’s taking care of myself in terms of grabbing a shower and wolfing down food before I’m out the door again. Then there’s taking care of myself in terms of health. It is perhaps telling that at the beginning of last year I had shingles and at the beginning of this year had a chest infection which wiped me out. It was something of a wakeup call, especially when the doctor asked if I was under stress as he checked out the extent of the chest infection. I said no, after all, all I did was look after our toddler and care for my husband. Yeah. The doctor burst out laughing. He had a point though: there is a lot to be said for acknowledging that you may just be under stress when you’re a carer.

These days, I’m much better at being aware of what my body is trying to tell me. I also try to be more aware of what it is that I’m wolfing down when I’m rushed off my feet. In a nutshell: taking care of your physical wellbeing is worth it. It doesn’t have to mean big changes either. Even though I’m sure the lovely folk who deliver my groceries must think I have monkeys living in the house, I’ve discovered that always having bananas around is a massive help. It means I always have something to hand that’s easy to grab and happens to be good for me, too. Everyone’s different, but I’ve found the little positive changes like having bananas around, or having packs of my favourite herbal teas to hand, end up having a big positive impact for me.

Emotional wellbeing is the harder one. The much harder one, as far as I’m concerned. Again, it’s something that everyone deals with differently but it’s one that many struggle with. Support is one thing, and I would say that we have that covered. Wellbeing, though? Sometimes it’s a case of dealing with a stressful couple of days and at other times, stress that just feels bigger and more consuming.

I’ve often seen articles suggesting that a person deal with stress by taking a bubble bath, reading a book or treating themselves to a spa day. That’s lovely if you’re someone who loves bubble baths, has the energy to read a book or gets excited by the prospect of being wrapped up in mud. I often find myself at a loss when I see recommendations like those, but over time I’ve learnt to relax with things that I enjoy. That sounds so stupid, but bear with me. I can’t stand bubble baths but I really enjoy curling up in a hoodie, with a blanket and watching Friends DVDs. Learning to recognise what it was I enjoyed doing was a massive step for me, because it then meant I could look forward to relaxing, instead of being distracted by feeling like a failure because I wasn’t doing what was recommended. I also used to find it hard when I saw the suggestions of reading a book. I love books (seriously, we don’t have bedside cabinets, we have bedside bookcases) but at times when I need to chill out most, I find myself stuck on the same page, going over the same sentence. In short: I’m tired. And when I’m tired, it doesn’t help to be reminded that I’m past the point of being able to enjoy something I love. It’s another of those cases, for me at least, of learning to relax with something I enjoy. With books, I came to realise that graphic novels were the perfect compromise between my tired mind and my desire to simply have a book in my hands.

Friends DVDs and graphic novels score bonus points for their ability to be enjoyed whilst in pyjamas and a hoodie. There are times however, when being a grown-up means pyjamas and a hoodie aren’t possible. I’ve seen people scoff at the idea of little things like nail polish being able to bring a smile, but there have been many times where I’ve caught sight of my latest polish and damn it, it’s cheered me up to see that day they’re neon pink. Does it make everything better? No. Does it relieve all the stress? No. But it does make me smile, as well as remind me that there is so much to be said for the little things. Whether that be nail polish, a favourite necklace or seeing the silly little sheep with a Tammy that lived on my key ring.

I’ll admit, there is something to be said for spa days. The primary one being that they mean having time to yourself. Between Juniper Junior and Mr. Juniper, it can be very hard getting a day to do what I like. But it’s a critical part of emotional wellbeing, I’ve found. It means getting a chance to just be Juniper. I did enjoy something that resembled a spa day a couple of months ago but it was because I had the chance to be with a friend and there wasn’t a mud pack in sight. Again, it’s being able to relax with the things I enjoy, rather than not enjoying what someone else dictates the world should find relaxing. When it comes to emotional wellbeing, time with friends is also about being able to admit I’m stressed. In one instance, it meant being able to admit why I was stressed. I didn’t enjoy having to have that conversation but it was important to. Did that mean my stress was anything close to the main topic of the day? Heck no. But (though perhaps friend in question would beg to differ) it meant he understood a little more why my short text suggesting lunch had included the words, “Am frazzled.” And why I was avoiding talk of Mr. Juniper. I’m exceedingly fortunate to have friends that are so understanding of our home life, but I’ve learnt that when I need time to myself because of stress, rather than to simply have some time out, it can help to admit why I’m frazzled.

Then there are times I do just have to say, “Fuck it.” It usually happens at the end of a long day, when I’m tired and grouchy. When I don’t feel particularly great and just want to “feel better.” At the sound of “fuck it”, my credit card starts to whimper and the chocolates scarper to the back of the cupboard. Thankfully, that’s about as destructive as my habits become in terms of trying to take care of myself. My credit card breathes a sigh of relief when it realises the outcome will be a fraction, if anything at all, of the intention. And the chocolates eye me up, knowing I don’t splurge often.

I think I’m getting there, when it comes down to taking care of myself. What I’ve come to learn feels so simple in a lot of ways, too, but I know that as with many out there, it can be a hard road and there’s still more to learn.

By Juniper

Rarely to be found without herbal tea nearby. Team Unicorn. Often in pyjamas. Also: TEAM KATNISS!

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