February 23, 2012


Too bad there isn't a passport for that.
Even the word "guilt" can bring people to tears. I was presenting at a retirement conference yesterday on "retiring well" (went fabulously by the way...I made that presentation my bitch) when a woman approached me after to ask me a few questions.  She is a caregiver for her husband and found it challenging to fit in physical activity when she felt she needed to be there for him after work.  All I said was, "it sounds like you may be carrying some guilt about that" and that was all that was needed for the flood gates to open.
I certainly felt for her as I, too, was the sole caregiver for my father as he went through the brutal stages of dementia. At 24 I was newlywed, starting my second year of university, working part time, and taking care of my father. Every day, for nine years, I felt the guilt of not doing enough. Every holiday, every vacation, every time I was enjoying myself without him, the guilt would hit me like a tidal wave. The day he died I was both sad and relieved.

Guilt comes in various forms and can slowly tighten its grip on those influenced by it. It slowly changes your behaviour until we can't breathe or move. From the outside, you look perfectly normal; walking around like everyone else. But all it takes is one word or one sympathetic ear or a trigger of some kind and you are reduced to a puddle on the floor. That is guilt - that is stress.  I believe there are many "walking wounded" who find it more challenging than most to make a healthy dinner or find the time to exercise. By taking time out for yourself, you may feel selfish or just guilty that you aren't with the one you are caring for. I get it. That's Real Life Health.

I have spoken at many conferences for helping professionals. Nurses, social workers, child care professionals all get into their vocations because they are passionate helpers...but do they make the time to help themselves? Just like the family caregiver, helping professionals must take the time to ensure their own health before they can ensure the health of others. Do they feel guilty? I can't answer for them, but I could guess that if one cares for the well being of another passionately, they will serve them before serving themselves. A characteristic that serves as a doubled-edged sword; it's a great thing to serve others, but it can also stop you in your tracks.

You are not selfish if you take the time for your own health. Going for a 30 minute walk, preparing a healthy meal, or even slipping into a hot bath for 15 minutes will strengthen your resolve and only make you a stronger more effective caregiver. I know what crippling guilt feels like and I know how hard it is to make time for yourself when you feel so crappy about it...but you have to do it! You won't survive otherwise.

So to my friend I met at the conference yesterday, please do what you can to find 15 - 30 minutes for yourself. You deserve it, you need it, and you will be a better caregiver because of it.



  1. You are bang on Kathy! I have felt this while trying to do everything for everybody and then when I take the time to myself which is at 5:30Am.... I sometimes feel guilty that I could have done this or that instead. Then, I started to feel selfish I was taking the time to stay healthy! Now, I just do it. I need it to lie, survive and be strong to help my eldery sick family members and if I don't fit in this fitness, I will be sick! Still sometimes feeling selfish for taking time, but I get good support from my spouse to take the time. This is a great write up and thank you. - M

  2. Thank you for that great comment, M. I think more and more people feel this way especially with those caring for aging parents. I am so glad you have managed to break through it for your health. Keep up the amazing work! So great to hear from you again. I missed you. K