Ah, self-care. That brilliant two word ideal that’s flung about by everyone from influencers to our children’s healthcare professionals. I am pretty sure nearly all parent-carers (parents who care for a child with a disability) have heard the phrase ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ at some point. While well-meaning, I have an issue with that phrase. It assumes the main reason for looking after yourself is so you can look after somebody else. But we all have a right to be happy, and feel well, full stop. If that makes us better carers then excellent, but let’s start with us.
With this in mind I wanted to share some things that have helped me:
Getting out. Walking for a purpose, to get a pint of milk; or walking just to walk. Normally my walks are accompanied by a podcast or lovely long voice note from a friend (see 2.). Extra points if there is sunshine.
2. Voice notes.
This is not everyone’s cup of tea but I wanted to share this in case it helps someone. Since 2020, I have been in two ‘voice notes’ groups with a few friends in WhatsApp. Each group has two close and very trustworthy friends in. Our voice notes have progressed from a few minutes to, in one group, 40 mins on average.
It’s initially a strange feeling, just downloading thoughts and talking into your phone, but over the years we have come to realise what a hugely valuable, and unique way of communicating it is. No interruptions, a chance to fully unpack. You then get a response from a friend who has time to think about what you said and is replying when it suits them. No more ‘we must catch up soon.’ It doesn’t have to be deep and meaningful stuff, much of our conversation is on what we are having for tea.
3. Saying yes.
Covid got us all used to staying in as much as possible. I have found myself saying no to more things than I have realised since. Lately I have said yes to coffees, dinners at friends, and meeting up. It makes a huge difference and there is nothing like face-to-face connections.
Whatever that looks like. I run (not far), do yoga and have just joined my local gym for classes. I did my first spin class this week, my legs nearly flew off but it was fun, and I could think of nothing else while I was doing it.
We are lucky enough to be able to pay for counselling, but some services, such as CBT can be accessed through the NHS. It helps me enormously.
We know that self-care is needed, but finding time as a parent carer can be hard. Trying something, however small, is a good place to start.