I have another confession: I love to clean.
It wasn’t always like this.
In the jetsetting days of my past, I cleaned my own house for a while. Twenty-two hundred square feet. Three bedrooms. Two baths. A weekly two-hour obligation that bred bitterness. In time, my husband hired a cleaning service. I didn’t object.
When I left that career to care for my mother, the housekeeper was the first budget cut. I floundered for months in this new life, adrift and rudderless, struggling with the unsalaried turmoil of dementia caregiving. I had lost my identity.
Gradually, mundane tasks moved me out of the rabbit hole of depression. I meditated while washing dishes. I delighted in folding laundry. I cleaned with passion, scrubbing the souls of my house and myself. And in the process, I found that caregiving is my purpose.
When mom could no longer care for her beagle, Louie, I found him a new family. Mom asked about him every day for a few weeks until his memory melted into Alzheimer’s oblivion.
Six months later, my beloved golden retriever of fourteen years passed away. Even after a year, I still talk to Casey every day.
Although mom will never again be a full-time pet parent, she’s found great joy as a surrogate pet mom. Friends bring their dogs by for a walk along the beach. We “borrowed” a golden retriever from a neighbor for an afternoon. We may even foster a dog this summer.
Pet therapy isn’t just for seniors. My caregiving menu now includes petsitting and animal shelter volunteering.
We tell pets our darkest secrets. They see us as we really are. And they still love us unconditionally.
In taking care of people, pets and places, I find I am one of the people I must take care of. Yes, it seems selfish. Yet you can’t keep up with the rigorous demands of caregiving, let alone life in general, if you don’t take care of yourself.
I’ve had a lifelong struggle with “self” words. Selfish, self-centered, self-willed – this was me for years. Even now, I cringe when I hear “self-love.” I approach the concept of “self-care” with extreme caution.
But I’m learning that you can’t pour from any empty cup. Like an airplane oxygen mask, start with yourself first.
Here’s my Self-Care Kit. What’s in yours?
Caregiving handbooks: Passages in Caregiving, The 36-Hour Day
Mindfulness supplies: 3-minute meditation, yoga mat, journal
Happiness provisions: face spritzer, lavender lotion, magazines, nail polish
Healthcare: protein bars, running shoes, fruit, nuts, water