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What does self-care look like to Carers?

Ahead of our Gathering for Carers this coming weekend, a big shout out to our wonderful friend and Guest Blogger, Chris Sylla for her courageous and honest appraisal of how just how difficult it can be to practice self-care as a Carer ...

“I was thinking about this the other day when a friend asked me what my 'self-care strategies' were and I realised I haven't really got any. For those of us in 'the caring professions', either the 'paid work' sort or the 'unpaid work' sort, self care is vitally important and often totally overlooked. Snatching food, or chocs, or crisps 'on the hoof' rather than eating 'proper meals', 'comfort eating’, not getting enough sleep, drinking too much, smoking to snatch a few minutes for the self in-between tasks, ignoring your body’s cries of fatigue or pain, or the need to wee because there 'isn't enough time'. Responding to the needs of others and suppressing the needs of self. All these, and more, most of us do, and we pay a price in many ways.

Revaluing the self, caring for the self as well as we care for others, strategies for self care - how do we actually DO these things rather than just pay lip service to them? We all know, deep down, when we are neglecting ourselves, we all know (mostly) what's 'good' for us, what we want and need, sometimes we even read self-help books or blogs or watch videos or go on training days. So why are the habits of self-neglect so hard to change/ the active valuing of the self so hard to put into practice?

I've no real 'answers'. For each of us, the complex bundle of 'what we have learned about ourselves/what we think or feel about our bodies/minds/spirits/souls' is unique and has taken many years to form. Some of these ideas and beliefs have become so familiar we aren't even aware of them! Many of us have made changes already, many of us are less self destructive than we used to be, have conquered addiction, have had therapy, have begun the journey of self-love and self-care. Caring itself, however, can reactivate old patterns, or bring new challenges. I find myself eating in a disordered way I've not really done since my teens, I'm currently addicted to sugar and crisps. I've started smoking again. I prop myself up with endless cups of caffeinated tea. Others I know lean on the bottle, or various prescription pills.

Being 'told' what to do doesn't help much I find. I KNOW about good nutrition, I know I need to get out of the house every day (I'm a live-in carer for my parents), I know smoking is bad for me and that the weight I'm piling on due to the deadly combination of overeating and menopause might lead to type 2 diabetes, but adding self criticism or self-hate to the burden of caring isn't helpful. I'm also struggling with depression again. I've had episodic depression all my adult life, so low mood, low motivation doesn't cause great self-care.

What I do find helpful is communicating, sharing, discussing with others. I have a group of friends who text each other with what we have done to 'fight the dark forces of self-neglect'. It's a game, a bit of lightness, a splash of humour, but it does really help some days. Small steps, achievable slow changes - 'have a wee if you need a wee is our 'motto'. Some days this is surprisingly difficult to achieve. Anything really can be a victory; making the bed, brushing your hair, 10 mins (or even longer) in the garden, a walk, reading, listening to some music that makes your heart sing, or that you can sing along to, or even have a little dance around. The list is different for each person but opening up the dialogue and listening to other people's 'top tips' for self care can create an easier (and larger) arena to start changing your own behaviours in.

So have a think. What does self-care look like for YOU? What small thing can you do today to take care of your precious self. Not just to be a better carer, but to have a better quality of life, a happier healthier body and mind. go on, you're worth it!”

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