I always state that I am a caregiver first. Most people think that means I care for everyone else except me. Three years ago that is exactly how I defined caregiver first. I put everyone’s desires, wants, and needs before my own. My family, boss, coworkers, teachers, bus drivers, the clerk at Vons. You get the idea. There are several reasons I put myself last. I think the biggest reason is that I had a belief that it was kind and noble to put other people ahead of me. It was required to let the world know I was good, kind, caring, dependable. My belief system was that sacrificing my needs for others was the right thing to do. It wasn’t because I had deep-rooted issues of self-hatred or any other baggage. I just grew up believing that is what you do.
I tell my clients that to change your life all that is required is changing your thoughts. Most do not believe me and will argue that this is not true. We have a set of values and beliefs that we are certain are correct. We hold these truths fiercely and many of us are not open to considering maybe we are wrong. We close our minds to the possibility that we are only one thought away from relief from pain, suffering, self-loathing. We have a choice. Our thoughts are a choice and maybe it is possible to change them.
Three years ago I decided to redefine what caregiver first means to me. My new definition of caregiver first means I care for myself first and then I care for others. I did not even change the words! I just changed how I defined them. One day I just decided I was a hot mess and wasn’t getting the care I needed and that wasn’t making me a better anything! I was always feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and spinning my wheels. Caregiver first means I go to bed earlier and turn off the television and electronics by 8 pm most nights. It means I do not drink wine just because my day was long and my patience was short. Caregiver first means I include things that are important to me on the calendar and then I figure out how to make them happen. Figuring it out means saying no to some things and it also means relying on others to help. Asking for help is a way I can care for myself and my family but it was not easy to implement.
Reaching out and accepting help caring for Emily was difficult. Most moms of special needs children, if not all, have the thought that “no one can care for my child the way I can”. We hold onto that thought as if letting it go will be the demise of our child. Although it was difficult at first, it got easier with time. The help I needed turned out to be a beautiful gift for Emily too. It has expanded her world to others that look, think, act, and care for her differently than mom. Emily has been introduced to the world of vegan food, including donuts. Her caregivers take her to restaurants, movies, and the beach. They encourage her to flirt with the cute boy at the party, expose her to age-appropriate music, and dress her in clothing that the girls her age are wearing. (I need the emoji of the lady with her hand over her face right now.) They do not care for her as I would. Thank goodness!
I challenge you to try a new way of looking at things. Dare to question your belief system. Decide if it is useful to keep. Embrace a new belief or redefine a word in your life. It could be the start of amazing discovery for you and those you love.