I was asked to write this by someone but it’s for everyone who is no longer caregiving. In a short answer, I’m ok. I know it sounds cliche, but it’s the truth. I’m ok. I’m actually great. But, there is so much more to this answer. How did I get to be ok?
It’s been 2 years since mom passed. It took me a while to actually to start really caring for myself. For the first year, I was really in survival mode. Learning how to deal with the firsts without mom. First birthday (which mine was 12 days after she passed), her first birthday without her, first holidays, and then the big one.. first year anniversary of her passing. I was trying to just keep my head above water. I was also having to be mom and wife. Some days, all I wanted to do was just curl up in a ball, eat ice cream for dinner and be done with the day. Then others, I was able to function like nothing happened. I was trying to take care of myself, but I guess my mind wasn’t really in it. When mom’s 1 year anniversary came, I will admit, I crumbled. Reliving all the events that happened with mom was unbearable. Thankfully, my husband and son got me through that day. Not long after that, actually 12 days after that 1 year anniversary, we lost my mom in law. Yes, that was my birthday. Losing her on my birthday was a punch in the gut. I was mad at her for dying on my birthday. I know she didn’t plan it, but it hurt unlike anything I’ve ever felt. For the next 7 months, we dealt with paperwork, lawyers and judges to help get my husband made executor of the estate since there was no will. We both went into survival mode. We ate out of stress, ate for comfort, ate to survive. On top of that, they say the second year is the hardest after someone dies. well it certainly wasn’t easy street. Fast forward to late summer 2019.. I weighed myself and had the shock of a lifetime. I was at my highest weight ever.
Now, I’m going to back up and say this. I have been taking vitamins for a while now. And yes, it was helping, but in survival mode, I didn’t. I just ate and drank whatever. I really didn’t care either then. But, after having that wake up call, I started going back to my ways before life went into survival. I knew what worked for me in the past. I started listening to my body.
I knew when I would eat breads, pasta, etc I hurt. My arthritis would flair up and I hurt all over, especially in my back. Knees would swell and stiffen up. But I also had heart palpitations and anxiety. So.. I cut out all grains. I feel so much better and not weighed down. I also noticed when I would eat most dairy my stomach would get extremely bloated and had severe stomach issues. So, I cut out almost all dairy and even with what I do have, it’s limited. Sodas I have a love hate relationship with. When I am stressed, when my throat itches from allergies, when I bored, when I’m anything that isn’t positive, I grab a soda.. specially Dr Pepper. I noticed at times I would get a headache from the amount of caffeine in them so I would stop drinking them, then start up. I also had severe heart palpitations as well from it. The anxiety, the anger, and the breakouts all came from sodas.. so, I quit excess sugar. Also the vitamins I take help a lot. I have done a lot of research on vitamin cures for issues that I’ve been prescribed medication for. The reason I did my own research was for one, the doctors won’t tell you alternative meds, and two, I hated the way it made me feel.
All of the above was just a start on me living again after caregiving. All of this was not done overnight. I started paying attention to everything in November. Vitamins were first (actually way before I changed other things). I knew when I didn’t take my vitamins, especially after a couple of days, my mood and my energy was gone. My eating habits have drastically changed since thanksgiving. I eat real food. And when I do slip up… man do I ever pay for it. Example.. which actually prompted me to go ahead and write this. Last night I got a Dr Pepper because honestly I don’t know why. I knew better than to drink one late at night because I don’t sleep when I have that much caffeine at night. (Finally went to sleep around 3 am). I also became really angry and annoyed with everything. This morning when I did wake up, I was so annoyed with everything. I was angry at myself for being stupid and I was picking fights with my husband. I finally started feeling normal this evening mentally, but physically I still feel like crap and it’s been 24 hours since I’ve had that Dr Pepper.
Not all my answers to me being ok were diet related, but they were a big part of it. It helped me be able to do the other part.. live. Mom always told me to not worry about her. She wanted me to live my life and travel and do all things she wasn’t able to. Her biggest regret was not traveling. Even just around the state. She really regretted not going like she wanted. Last year this month I had also lost one of my best friends in a car accident. That made me wake up and realize tomorrow is never promised and I really woke up. I got my camera and started going out and doing what I love… photography (you can see my work on Facebook at Nanci K Photography). It is my therapy. It calms my mind, and I get a good workout as well. Another thing I do is cross stitch. When I’m bored at home, it’s what keeps me busy. But the biggest change for me has been going to church again. My husband and I changed churches and we have been doing more for us.
My husband bought a motorcycle (no, I’m not telling you to go buy one, although we find it very therapeutic) and we ride together. He found a Christian motorcycle group and we have joined that. We have been reinventing ourselves. The version of ourselves before caregiving is gone. Even if it came back, it wouldn’t be the same. Why? Because we have been through so much. Seen so much. Watched someone die. That changes you. I’ve watched my dad in law, mom, and mom in law all die. You will never revert to the old person you were because what you have been through has imprinted on you. I was driving myself crazy trying to figure out why I couldn’t myself again. I then realized that the old me was gone and I needed to reinvent myself. This article really hit me and showed me why I couldn’t find the old me.
Reinventing yourself is hard. It’s hard because it’s the unknown. I was oddly comfortable with pain and grief and my husband pointed it out to me and it was a wake up call. I realized I really needed to get out of the box. But what is helping me the most is my husband and I are reconnecting. I’m not only learning to be someone who isn’t caring for someone else, but I’m also learning be a wife to my husband without the worry of my son who now is on his own (for the most part). I’m putting myself out there so to speak. We joined a church that we really love. We joined a motorcycle group that surrounds us with like minded people. But the biggest thing about finding life after caregiving… prayer.
I prayed so much over the last few years for strength to get through the next day, the next battle, to bring peace and comfort to my loved ones. Now, I pray for direction where God needs me to be. We cannot live life after trauma (and that’s what caregiving can be most of the time) without support. When someone is injured badly, they need help to recover and keep things going for them. But when we are mentally traumatized, we try to go at it alone and we just can’t. I know prayer is a personal thing, but what I will say about my prayers is this. I talk to God as if he was right here next to me and I was pouring out my heart. But then I thank Him for keeping me going. For steering me in the right direction. God is right there to help us, but we just have to let Him in. Prayer is so important when it comes to caregiving. We need His strength to get us through the hard times. We need his guidance to make sure we do what is right for our loved one. But, we also need to thank Him for what he has done for us.
If this seems all over the place, I’m sorry. I tried to keep it in a good flow. But, this is my personal story of how I have started living in the moment. Life after caregiving doesn’t have to be boring. I know that when we start allow ourselves to live again, there is guilt. Trust me in this… no one would want us to be at home miserable for the rest of our lives. Grief is a personal journey. I’m not saying go out and do whatever right after that person goes. But what I am saying is, don’t feel guilty if you want to do something fun. Living isn’t just eating right or going out and doing what you enjoy. It’s really a combination of things. I hope this helps someone. There is life out there after caregiving. You just have to listen to yourself and your body.