Research tells us that caregivers are more likely to have negative health outcomes than their non-caregiving peers. But what does that mean exactly? The answer, like each injury and resulting caregiving situation, is going to be different from family to family. For some it’s hypertension. Others, depression. Still others, dental health needs are most concerning.
For me, it was an extra ten pounds added during my husband’s six week inpatient stay. Turns out, the combination of chocolate cake every night and skipping anything remotely resembling a workout to hang out in the waiting rooms for surgery after surgery existing on Diet Coke will eventually catch up with you. It’s really quite unfair. You’d think the universe would cut a girl some slack. I would try to use the tiny little hotel gym on the hospital annex here and there, but most of the time that only reinforced how far behind I’d left my previous road-race running self. Recognizing that something had to give, I eventually gave up all pretense of fitness, and resigned myself to the oh so forgiving yoga pants, and put away anything with a non stretchy waistband. One more aspect of my “pre injury” identity gone, and replaced with keeper of the schedule, wound care nurse, and medication dispenser.
Eventually, the tumult of the hospital and its chaos more or less subsided and we settled into some approximation of a routine, enough so that I knew it was time for me to find some time for me again. I researched some options, and found something that looked promising. A quick 20 minute work out I could get to, complete, and return home in time to wake my husband up for the first round of meds. My first day came, I rolled out of bed, and anxiously drove the few miles across town. I got my butt kicked. And it was just what I needed. When I explained some of my story to the trainer, he paused ever so briefly, looked and me and said, “You just come as much as you can, as long as you want, and don’t worry about picking a subscription level. This is on me.”
With those few words, he conveyed so much validation, support, and grace. Validation for my own challenges, for what I’d been through, me personally, not just my husband. Support for the long road ahead. And, most importantly – grace for the days it just wouldn’t work. The days when the surgeries ran long and bedtime got pushed, when the pain management plan didn’t work and nights dragged on, and days when I wouldn’t be able to find the energy for me. He knew those days would come, knew I would get frustrated, dejected, and question myself for using precious energy reserves on myself, and with those words, gave me grace to begin again, as many times as I needed, to work at my pace with my rules.
That morning, driving home to start my real day, I watched the sun creep over the horizon, heralding a new day as only a sunrise can. A new day, a fresh start, and a new beginning. I would enjoy many sunrises over the next year, heading to and from that gym, and now even years later, can feel the sense of promise and opportunity. Promise of brighter days again. Opportunity if I was willing to take it. I did, and am so grateful.
I still have stress-related health challenges – apparently I grind my teeth in my sleep, my hair stylist asked if I was ready to address my “unpigmented strands” the last time I got my hair cut (I’m not even 30!), and I really need a cuticle intervention. Some of those are probably tied to caregiving, some just life. Some things, like unpigmented strands, are fixable. Tooth enamel, not so much. But just like that trainer reminded me, you do what you can, and that is enough.