Making an Impact: Self-Care is Critical

In the Making an Impact series, clients and services are featured to expand awareness of the wide array of help available at JFS and to ensure donors understand the lives they touch and the difference they make throughout the community.

“Julia,” age 78, is the primary caregiver for her husband “Bob,” age 85, who suffered a stroke five years ago and was diagnosed with vascular dementia. She also cares for her older sister who is in her nineties and still living in her home of 63 years.

Julia is a retired nurse who found great satisfaction in her career. However, she said it was different caring for a stranger. Caregiving for her husband and sister come from a sense of duty and love. They will not accept help from anyone else, including paid help. “At least as a nurse, I had a support team. I don’t feel that way now,” Julia said.

Consequently, Julia feels very isolated, lonely, overwhelmed at times, and as Julia puts it, “I’m feeling the blahs, like a grey cloud is over my head and it’s constantly raining.”

Julia has long days and restless nights as a caregiver. During the day she is often shuttling her husband or sister to doctor appointments, filling pill sorters, running around doing household chores, navigating complicated insurance and medical bills, and trying to find help with house maintenance for her own house as well as her sister’s. At night, her husband is often restless and wakes her several times. Recently, he started standing on the bed and pulling off the sheets in what appear to be nightmares or sleep walking. This wakes Julia and she has difficulty going back to sleep.

Julia started working with a JFS PEARLS (Program to Encourage Active and Rewarding Lives) short-term counseling program. One of her PEARLS goals was to get out of the house, if even just for a walk around the neighborhood. Julia didn’t feel she could leave her husband home alone for safety reasons, and he would often lash out verbally at hired help.

The counselor led Julia through brainstorming ideas and problem solving around getting out of the house when suddenly, Julia remembered that her husband and a neighbor friend got along great.

The neighbor had even mention once in passing to contact him if she needed anything. She had always assumed he meant with shoveling snow or mowing the lawn, but she already paid a young neighbor girl to that. It never dawned on her to ask the neighbor if he would be willing to sit with her husband for an hour while she took a walk or went to lunch with friends. At first, she was sheepish about asking the neighbor for such a “huge favor,” but after looking at the pros and cons she decided the worst that could happen is that he would say no. The best that would happen is she would get to enjoy a much-needed outing.

At the next session, Julia was giddy as she told her counselor about her outing with a friend to get a manicure and shop for some clothing – with no anxious, wandering husband to keep an eye on. The neighbor came over and watched TV with Bob and then cooked them both hamburgers on the grill for lunch.

Julia said she felt rejuvenated and didn’t realize how much a two-hour break could relieve some stress and depression. She said, “I guess I was so focused on caregiving and my to-do list that my brain was too overwhelmed to find a solution. You helped me slow down, try some relaxing breathing and mindfulness techniques, and figure out how to address my needs without getting completely overwhelmed.”

By her last session, Julia had worked on several goals, including scheduling power naps during the day, finding volunteers from a local church to help her sister with home maintenance, and scheduling a once-a-month getaway for a few hours while her neighbor visited with her husband. Julia was thankful to PEARLS because it reminded her that self-care is important, and the counselor’s support helped her feel empowered again. “It was really nice having someone to support and remind me that my needs are important too.”