Health Moment: Caring For Yourself As You Care For Another

Many people have heard the saying, “Physician, heal thyself.” It originated in the Bible and was actually meant as a criticism of those who might try to find the fault in others without finding their own faults first.

But it can be taken a different way for those who are taking care of a loved one with mental illness or addiction. Too often, these selfless people exert so much energy looking out for others that they leave their own problems untreated.

These problems can come in a variety of ways. Maybe you have been caring for a spouse with cancer, and you’ve been unable to cope with the stress without using a growing rate of Valium. Perhaps the emotional burden of a son fighting alcoholism has pushed you into depression.

Whatever the case may be, clinicians at the Arizona addiction recovery center say addiction can be devastating for the addict’s entire family. Sometimes it is necessary to enroll in a specialized program that includes psychiatric diagnosis as well. 

Why do people avoid getting the help they need when they begin spiraling into a problem condition or behavior? There are many reasons, but these are among the most common.

Who Will Care For Him/Her/Them While I’m In Treatment?

The first response here is that there may not be a need for anyone to do it. If you are facing addiction or depression while taking care of someone else, you may still be able to get help with your problem while fulfilling the other person’s needs. While certain situations do call for inpatient treatment, other problems can be addressed with visits to a therapist’s office.

Should that inpatient care be required, it will call for the commitment of other people to helping do what you do. Network through a family, church, workplace, civic club, veterans’ group, or any other body that knows you and your situation. This is how families with multiple births manage to navigate the care of four or five newborns.

The important thing is to keep the end in mind. If you don’t address your own problems, you could end up incapacitated or even dead. And the need for alternative care of your loved one then becomes permanent.

I’m Being Selfish

That carries us right into the next point. So many people feel that it’s more important to take care of the person who appears to have a more serious condition than to take care of their own.

But as we noted above, that may not always be the case. Taking care of yourself is an investment in your ability to function in the future. You eat now so that you have energy later. You take a vaccination now to avoid a future illness. Those preparatory steps are critical to your ability to do what’s required of you when the time comes, and if you slack on preparation, your results will suffer.

Many of the problems we’re discussing are accelerating problems. That is, you don’t go from a non-drinker to an alcoholic overnight. It starts with a little alcohol, then a little more, then more until you eventually can’t function.

The time to intercept these problems is when they first emerge, so that treatment and the disruption to your life is as small as possible. Investing the necessary time early in the situation can keep you from having to make a bigger payment later on.

I’m Fine

Denial is a dangerous thing. When we keep forging ahead in spite of obvious problems, we are not helping the situation. Too much to drink on a Friday night can turn into Saturday night as well, then eventually to an entire weekend. Or just a phase of feeling “blue” can be the precursor to a serious case of depression that can render you unable to function.

Being able to admit that your situation is untenable is a key way to head it off before it becomes too serious and destructive. If you can’t admit you need help, you won’t get it. Learn the warning signs of problems addictions and illnesses, and learn to identify them in yourself.

When we are wrapped up in caring for someone that we love deeply, it can be very easy to neglect ourselves. It’s a tradition for parents and other family members to ignore their own troubles in order to care for someone else.

When you see the storm clouds gathering, ask for help. Get help caring for the loved one and help caring for yourself. You will be surprised at the positive response you’ll find.


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