Caregiver, have you lost yourself?
I lost myself in the caregiver role when our son had health issues in the early years of his life.
I was stressed and worried. As a baby our son had a strange tummy pain. There was gas, but the pain was more than the gas. His pain worried us, because when he had pain he slept in short bursts and he hardly ate. Because he was short on food and sleep, our son also didn’t gain weight as he should. When our son had a long day of misery, nothing I did seemed to help: the pain needed time to work through his system. Even so, my hope for relief drove me to invest everything I had, willing our poor unhappy boy to feel better, to eat and to sleep!
I was frustrated. As time wore on, as our doctor watched and waited, the pain, the poor sleep, the poor eating just seemed to get worse. We saw an allergist, but tests didn’t detect any food allergy. In any case, the allergist suggested I stop eating the food that most commonly cause allergies; this was to avoid exposing our son to these foods through my milk. This decreased our son’s tummy pain, but the pain didn’t go away and he still grew slowly. Another consultant suggested I could cut-out other possible trigger foods. Again, our son’s tummy pain improved a bit, but didn’t go away. Our son’s tummy upset wasn’t constant anymore, but it would come in waves. We would have a good day or two, and then his pain would slowly grow over a few days until he reached a full flare-up. What else could we do so he wouldn't suffer, and he would grow?
I lost part of myself. I was not the priority. I was consumed with caring for our son. I experienced my biggest loss was when I gave up foods that I loved. Before then, I identified as a very good cook, as being a bit of a foody. When I had to limit my food choices and flavour options, I became lost. I grew bored with food. I ate for nourishment; I did not know how to eat within my limited options, and still eat for pleasure. A few times I treated myself with a “forbidden food”, but our son seemed to pay the price: it piled on more guilt, so the moment of food pleasure wasn’t worth it. I so badly wanted to help our son, that I gave up the enjoyment of food.
I felt like a failure, like I wasn’t enough. I was sacrificing foods, losing sleep, giving up social activities, and our son still suffered pain, poor sleep, poor eating and poor growth. When I was careful with my diet our son’s bad days were fewer and he grew more, so that kept me on my path, but the bad days still came often enough. When our son had a bad day, I felt like a failure. If he was suffering it was because I had eaten something I shouldn’t have. I didn’t know what that something was – otherwise I would have given that up, too – but I believed it was my fault. I was trying so hard, and yet it was not enough.
Our son’s health journey has continued to be a bumpy road, but the first year was by far the worst. I felt very alone in that first year. I gave up too much of myself. I wish I would have had someone in my life who truly heard my story, who could have met me where I was at in life. I wish such a person could have helped me to find a way to care for myself while I was caring for our son.
If you are a caregiver, I offer to help you take one step at a time to help you find your path to well-being. You are worth it.