Monday, August 31, 2015

Voices of Experience: How Grief Can Affect Your Health

For those of you who struggle with guilt regarding self-care, answer this question: What greater gift can you give to those you love than your own wholeness? ~ Shannon Tanner

A Reflection on Self-Care, by Anne M. Gorman

There is no escaping it. Our immune systems take on the blows of grief. It’s not bad enough that we are brought to our knees when we lose a loved one but many have to suffer the devastation of a second loss and that is our own health.

My first reaction to this is WHY? I know there isn’t an answer to that question.

I am a good person. I never thought about what self-care meant for I always took care of myself. As I cared for my dying husband I attended to him as best as I knew how. I did all the things I needed to do to help him as he took his final journey of life except care for myself.
I just didn’t think about myself and I only learned about the difference of caring for yourself ~ FOR yourself ~ after Jim’s death.

It is important to understand that when you are a caregiver your focus is not on yourself rather it is on the one you are caring for. I never gave it a thought that by dealing with my husband’s last years of life it was taking a toll on my immune system. I was healthy. I thought I was taking care of myself by preparing good meals, seeing that Jim was getting the exercise he could still do, hiring help to help me with cleaning and help with Jim’s grooming, calling in our Hospice Team, asking for friends or family to relieve me when I needed to do shopping or keep dental appointments or have lunch with friends. All of these things were caring for myself, but it wasn’t enough. What I was doing was for Jim. The focus was always him, not am I doing something that would be good just for me.

The stress level I experienced was hidden. I did not feel stressed. Of course, I was concerned if I was giving Jim the best care I could give him. I was tired and often needed more sleep than I was getting. I did not have time for any social life, but that was okay with me for I still had Jim living and breathing with me every day.

My awakening came when I found out after Jim’s death that I really hadn’t taken very good care of myself.

I began having more trouble with my blood pressure. Whatever we tried didn’t seem to work. After several months of tests, my Primary doctor told me he thought I should see a heart doctor. That is where my health journey began. I was diagnosed with heart failure. It was something that had been going on for a while according to my cardiac doctor. I won’t go into all the details for that is not the purpose of my writing this post.

My purpose is to bring awareness to the importance of listening to what is going on in your body as you care for someone. If you were not a caregiver because of different circumstances then listening to your body after a loss you are going through is most important. Working on something just for you takes discipline. Establishing a routine requires you to stop whatever you are doing and do that one thing that will rejuvenate you. Going for walks, reading a novel, taking a warm bath, having lunch with friends, painting, watching a movie, cry if you need to, etc.

Write down the one thing you will do once a month and do it for several months. Most important is to not allow anything to get in the way of doing that one thing you are working on just for yourself.

Jot down a few things that irritate you (spending time with someone who is always negative or doing something that you really don’t want to do or going out to eat and one of the people you are with is rude to a waiter) and erase one of those things each month. This is true self-care.

© 2015 by Anne M. Gorman

Also by Anne Gorman:
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