On the surface, I'm an ace caregiver. I have a spidey-sense mama instinct for Collin's needs, wants, and feelings. Try to keep me from fulfilling one of those needs and see what happens.
I slowly realized over the past few years, though, that I was missing something foundational. It felt like I was muscling through my life as a caregiver. Like I was doing advanced course work without having a good understanding of the basics. Like I had skipped Caregiving 101.
Now I know that Caregiving 101 is called Self-Care. And it's not for extra credit.
Despite what you might think - what you may have been told - you do not test out of Caregiving 101 by becoming a parent. Just because you're keeping all the wheels on your wagon doesn't mean you passed Caregiving 101. However much you'd like to just move on and forget about it, you're going to have to go back and take that class eventually.
Because I am not naturally skilled at self-care and I can pretty much guarantee you're not very good at it, either.
Now, this is not where I tell you how to care for yourself. Sorry. This is where I tell you that you must learn how to care for yourself and then - here's the kicker - do it.
I will give you some suggestions of where to start, though. Based on my own clumsy, halting journey, here are some jumping-off points.
1. Take an honest look at your basic physical needs: food, water, movement, sleep, clothing. Are you meeting those needs? This is not a joke. It's very, very common for caregivers to neglect their body in a shocking manner. Are you eating regularly? Are you eating something other than junk? Do you use your muscles for something other than working and stressing out? Are you getting anywhere near the amount of sleep your body is asking for? Do you have some clothes you don't mind leaving the house in? I'm not talking about overhauling your life to achieve a goal weight. Screw that. I'm talking about treating yourself like a human being.
2. Once you have learned how to meet your basic needs, try to figure out your emotional needs. This is going to vary widely, of course. Spend some time figuring out your personality: what makes you tick, what makes you want to run screaming in the other direction. Think about your relationships and your alone time. I've been working on this one for years and I only recently learned that I'm a highly sensitive person (HSP). Talk about a game changer. There are many good books and tests you can use to help you figure out this aspect of your needs. There are skilled counselors to guide you through the process one-on-one. Modern Mrs. Darcy is a blog that has some great resources on this topic.
3. Identify your creative needs. Yes, this is a thing. And it's a much bigger deal than many of us know. Maybe your creative expression is cooking or painting or growing things or organizing (people? ideas?). I love to write and edit and knit and make cocktails, so I try to make sure I do a little bit of some of those every day. Meeting your creative needs will bring you life and energy; it will tune you in to beauty and hope. Which puts you in a pretty good position to be an effective caregiver.
CAUTION: This is where many of us tend to laugh in an unfunny way. We roll our eyes or make martyr-ish comments about the impossibility of self-care at this stage in our lives. I'm going to go ahead and call you on that one if you find yourself headed there. I know it's a cover up for overwhelm and heartache. At least, that's what it was for me.
But hear me: you don't have to do this all at once and you don't have to worry about getting it right. Just pick one thing. And that one small thing will make the next one easier and more desirable.
Everyone you love needs you to be good at self-care. It may seem like just drinking enough water or protecting your quiet time or reading a poem, but in fact it's a powerful and necessary gift to them and to yourself.