When someone you love has a major medical condition such as schizophrenia, and you’re taking care of them, you also need to take care of yourself.
"Caregivers often feel that they need to do it alone," says Nancy Ford, executive director of the North Shore Schizophrenia Society in Vancouver, Canada.
You’re going to need help, too.
"When you're doing it all alone, it's huge,” Ford says. “But when you have a whole group of people supporting you and the person you're caring for, it becomes very manageable."
How to Get Relief
Make a list of possible sources of help: friends, professionals, and organizations that can give you the break you need.
Start with friends and family. If anyone has ever said to you, "Just let me know if there's any way I can help," start with that person.
Give them something specific that they can do, such as:
- Invite your friend or relative with schizophrenia out to the movies once a month.
- Come to the house and play a board game with them.
- Maybe just bring dinner on a regular basis.
Find a support group. The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers Family-to-Family, a course for family members and caregivers that teaches crisis management and ways to take care of yourself.
Schizophrenics Anonymous has local support groups and a weekly national support call for friends and family.
Ask the care team. If your loved one is in treatment, you should have access to psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and other experts who can help you find temporary care for your loved one in your area.
Hire a coordinator. This sounds expensive, but it doesn't have to be.
"If you hire someone at $20 an hour to spend a few hours a month helping to build an intentional community of support around your loved one, that's about $100 a month," Ford says. "That's money well spent for all of you."
For advice on finding someone like that, she suggests the PLAN Institute for Caring Citizenship, an organization that works to build community around people with disabilities.
Ways to Care for Yourself
Once you've found some support and relief, what should you do with that time? How can you best take care of yourself so that you can help your loved one?
Get moving. Exercise is one of the best stress relievers around. Because caregiving can isolate you, it's a bonus if the physical activity is also social, such as walking with a friend or taking a Zumba or yoga class at the Y.
Get some sleep. When was the last time you took a nap or went to bed early? You need enough rest to recharge your batteries.
Do something you love. When you're focused on caregiving for someone else, you go by the wayside. Find time for the things that make you happiest, whether it's reading, going to a movie, listening to music, or walking with your dog. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. It will ultimately help your loved one, too.