Who Needs Support? or I Can Do This Caregiving Thing Alone

“I promised my husband/wife/mother/father/friend I’d always be there to take care of him/her and I’m doing just FINE!” “I only break into tears once in a while, but I’m a strong person and, besides, there’s no one else who could really understand what I’m going through.” “It would be a sign of weakness if I had to admit that I needed some HELP!” “Things are sure to get better, I hope…”

Sound familiar? Everyone will be a caregiver at some point in their life, but it is a unique experience for each of us and it’s the most difficult job we’ll ever have, whether it’s hands-on caregiver in our home or long-distance caregiving for a loved one far away. I know, I’ve been there with my own mom and dad.

As we discussed in our last newsletter, there are many resources available to caregivers, but in this article, I’d like to focus on one kind of resource, caregiver support groups. If you are not familiar with this wonderful opportunity, let me give you a little more information.

First, what caregiver support groups are NOT:

  • They are not group therapy. I firmly believe in the value of professional therapy, whether group or individual, but support groups are not the same. No one will be delving into the deep, dark secrets of your childhood or doing any touchy-feely exercises.
  • Caregiver support groups are not expensive. There is generally no fee for the group sessions and usually reservations are not expected (though check with the sponsoring agency or the facilitator in advance for more specific information).
  • You don’t have to drive for miles to get to a group, there’s generally a group meeting near your home.
  • You won’t be forced to spill your whole story in front of a group of total strangers at the first meeting.

Here are some things that a caregiver’s support group IS:

  • A warm, caring group of folks, probably much like you, who are not professional caregivers, but loving, family members who may be just as overwhelmed as you are.
  • A group where you can share as much of your caregiving story as you wish, when you are ready, in a confidential, trusting environment led by a trained facilitator.
  • A group of people who’ve walked in the same shoes you are walking in, and may have learned some tricks of the trade that could make your job easier.
  • A place where you can let down your guard and tell someone else, who really understands, that it’s hard work, without much in the way of thanks and it’s not what you signed on for as a husband/wife/child/friend.
  • Most caregiver support groups meet once a month, on various days, some during the day, others in the evenings, for an hour or two.
  • Some groups provide respite care for your care recipient while you are in the meeting.
  • You may attend more than one group, if you wish.

And the benefits of going to a support group?

  • Realizing that you are not alone and that someone else does understand what you are going through.
  • Having a group of people to share those scary thoughts and fears with and knowing it won’t go beyond the group (support groups have a few basic rules the most important of which is “what’s said in group, stays in group”).
  • Getting feedback from a knowledgeable group about how you are doing as a caregiver and how you can grow in that role.
  • Feeling the support of others encouraging you to take care of yourself so you can continue to take care of your loved one.

I encourage you to test out a caregivers support group or two. Some are big, others small. Some meet at residential care facilities, others at adult day service agencies like Acacia, senior centers or churches. There are support groups offered in various languages and for caregivers dealing with a specific type of diagnosis (Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia, Parkinson’s Disease). Attending a group once does not commit you to continue, but what do you have to lose?

If you’re ready to find a support group to fit your needs, feel free to contact one of the social workers at Acacia at 714-530-1566 or contact one of the following agencies:

Caregiver Resource Center: 714-446-5030, Website: www.caregiveroc.org
Alzheimer’s Association: 949-955-9000 24/7, Helpline: 800-272-3900, Website: www.alzoc.org
American Parkinson Disease Association: 800-908-2732, Website: www.apdaparkinson.org

Take care of yourself!
Jan Brooks

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