Yesterday I wrote a blog on “Do I care about self-care?”. I want to write a bit of a postscript on that blog as I have some new revelations about what may be causing me to not look after myself as I struggle to look after my Mom.
Yes, I do have a history of mental health issues, and issues with self-harm and anxiety/depression and these may possibly play in to the reasons why I find it so hard to self-care but this morning I had an excellent talk with my doctor. She enlightened me on a cause I had not thought of. You see, although I have been autistic all my life I only discovered this about myself when I was 50 years old. I am still exploring how being autistic affects different parts of my life when I thought it was just my anxiety or other issues.
My doctor sees me ( and she has been seeing me for over 20 years) as having very linear thinking, something many autistics have. This causes me to find it very difficult to manage transitions of any kind. When I have to switch what my mind is on to something different it can be overwhelming and distressing.
As I look after my Mom, this has become a full time job, one that encompasses my whole life. Everything that happens in my day is somehow related to my Mom’s care. So you see, I am so focused on looking after her that to switch back to looking after me is just too overwhelming and frustrating. It is easier and less distressing to stay focused on her. Thus my self-care suffers greatly. When I get Mom’s supper, I am too tired to think about getting something decent for myself. I often end up eating something fast and unhealthy. (like popsicles). I change Mom’s bed regularily because I want her to have the feeling of nice clean sheets and pillowcases. I haven’t changed my bed in months. I crawl in at the end of the day and that is all I can manage. You might ask, why don’t you wash the sheets from both beds at the same time? Well, that is a good idea in theory but it doesn’t work so well with a mind that catagorizes things in black and white. What I do for Mom is separate in my mind to what I do for myself. In my mind they can’t be mixed. So… my self-care gets severly lacking at the expense of providing the best possible care I can for my Mom.
I also understand that self-care is integral to my care for Mom because if I am not at my best I cannot be there for my Mom and I am a sole caregiver. She relies on me. I am all she has.
So this presents a dilemma. How do I practice the self-care I need to be able to properly take care of my Mom without discombobulating my brain every time I try to switch back and forth between my mom’s care and mine? Believe me, the switching back and forth is just as tiring and overwhelming as the regular caregiving is. Being autistic does put a whole extra spin on the job of caregiving. I understand better now why I struggle so much and feel like I cannot do this job.
Today, I got a very timely book on self-care. I don’t know if it will have some answers for me but I hope it does. The trick is to find ways to self-care without having to transition back and forth so much and find ways to see some grey in my black and white thinking. I’ve got some work to do because if I do not find some solutions to this I know the job is going to get a lot harder because I am going to burn out. And that is the very last thing I want to happen.
My doctor gave me one clue to help and that is to focus on my well-being as a partner with Mom’s well-being. They go hand in hand instead of being separate entities. It definitely is worth thinking more about. My good self-care means Mom’s good care.
I guess I want to say in closing that a caregiver with autism does really have some extra issues when it comes to doing the job of looking intimately after some one else. There are differences that may not be readily visible but I would hope that if anyone is reading this that deals with caregivers that you keep this in mind. And those of you reading this who are on the spectrum, be aware that there are issues you may deal with that may not be understood by yourself or by others helping you in the caregiving process. Our brains are wonderful things but they can also make things a lot harder than they might otherwise be for someone without autism.