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Caring for an ill relative

Nigeria is a very communal society. It is evident in our life cycle, adult takes care of child- child becomes adult and takes care of old. Older siblings take care of younger ones, the more privileged family member takes care of the less privileged; so it is no surprise that the burden of caring for the ill relative lies on the shoulders of the healthy relative.

Caring for a child with malaria or a parent with gastroenteritis might be a walk in the park, but then what happens when it’s a child with Type 1 diabetes? or a mother with a stroke? Or a sister with schizophrenia?

Chronic illnesses have such a deep impact on societies, epecially societies as communual as ours and especially, they have impacts on carers. There’s the financial burden, the emotional burden, the burden of time, the mental burden. It is therefore imperative that carers remember to take care of themselves too lest they break down.

Assume this scenerio; a relative was involved in a ghastly accoident a few days ago, he was lucky to survive as the driver died at the site of the accident immediately. After a few days of unconsciousness, brain surgery, fixed fractures, and thousands of spent naira, he rouses from unconsciousness. First you heave a sigh of gratefulness, before you notice few hours later that he’s moving every part of his body except his legs. A few days later, the doctor tells you that they feared this was going to happen, he might not ever be able to walk unaided and might need to use a wheel chair, he might not also be able to to control his urination and defecation. This relative is your husband, and you’re his wife. His life has being irrevocably changed by this incident and therefore yours is also changed. You’re very grateful he’s alive o, but...

Assume a second scenerio; you have this relative that lives with you and she’s always being weird since she was young. Recently she’s being acting weirder and has taken to holding a knife every second of the day- she even goes to sleep with it. She also started muttering about a hoard of people coming to kill her. Eventually after series of praying and fasting, you listen to a family friend’s advice to take her to the hospital. There you’re told that she likely has schizophrenia and she’s placed on medication. This relative is your sister and you’re super grateful she’s well, but…

In both cases, these relatives have conditions that won’t go away in 1 month, or 1 year. There are even other chronic conditions that have even far reaching effects and are commoner; Hypertension, Diabetes, Sickle cell disease. So what d0 you do when you have to care for a relative with a chronic illness? We don’t have many hospices in this part of the world. I’ll share with you a few tips on caring for yourself even while you care for a loved relative.

  1. Understand and prepare that your life is about to be changed. When we talk about the effects of chronic illness, we implicitly understand that the life of the sufferer will undergo changes. But the same can be said for the life of the carer as in so many ways their lives often also change. In many occasions, the woman becomes the breadwinner, in some other occasions, the carer has to leave their high functioning job for a less stressful one, or even stop working completely. In the family, sometimes the diet changes because someone has special diet needs, or maybe different meals are cooked each time. In some situations, there’s less time for making friends and socializing. So understand that in some ways, your life will change. Grieve for it, prepare your mind and move on.

  2. Learn about the illness. Oftentimes, that which is unknown seems daunting. So you just learnt that a son has epilepsy, or maybe that a spouse has a heart disease, don’t allow yourself get consumed by worries of what you’ve heard. Instead, read about it, ask your doctor about it, learn every available information there is to learn about it; lifestyle changes that need to be made, what to do in emergencies, etc. Knowledge is power, and power disarms fear so get all information you can. Listen to your doctors and most importantly, don’t listen to “dem say, dem say”

  3. Work. In certain situations, carers might find themselves unable to continue their high functioning jobs and might sometimes stop working completely. While in some situtions it is unavoidable to stop working, as much as possible it is advisable that carers keep working. It could be a low functioning job, remote work, volunteer work. Whatever kind of work it is, work is a good way to keep the mind engaged in something other than caring, it brings on a sense of self worth, and in some cases the added remuneration can be a life saver. So keep working.

  4. Make other friends. Again be deliberate in making friends with people outside the person you’re caring for. Center yourself. You’re important, you’re deserving of love and frienship

  5. Take out time for yourself. Caring for a loved one usually takes it’s toll and can wear one out, so remember to take out time just for yourself to de-stress and do things that you love.

  6. Join support groups. Support groups are useful for shared experiences, shared knowledge, advice from other people in the same stuation you are, and love. Support groups remind you that you’re not alone, and they are just like the name implies; they provide support. Here at Calmsprings, you can join support groups of others just like you.

  7. Know your limits. We like forming superheroes here in Nigeria, but the truth is that we’re not superman, and we certainly cannot do all things. So know your limits; know when you need extra help and get it. Get a nurse if you can afford to, or pay for a caregiver. You really are not superman.

While caring for an ill relative can take it’s toll on one, it can also be rewarding in so many ways. There’s the joy that comes from knowing your relative is being cared for by someone who loves them deeply, there’s also the deeper bonds that can often be formed in these situations. So allow yourself to feel deeply and allow yourself to breathe. Follow our steps and remember to care for yourself also. Calmsprings health loves you deeply.

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