My husband is chronically ill. He deals daily with mental and physical health problems that make the phrase “I wish I could just feel normal” a regular occurrence around our place. While clearly he bears the full force of the experience of living with his personal issues, I am also dramatically affected. As anyone who loves someone with chronic illness knows, the physical, mental, financial, and emotional toll is tough on everyone. As the healthier party, you may feel that you need to bear more of the day-to-day maintenance load (finances, house cleaning, child care, etc) so that your loved one can focus on their health. While completely natural and admirable, it can also put a lot of strain on your own health and well-being if you aren’t careful. You may love your chronically ill family member more than you can even understand, but experience so much stress that you can’t fully show it. Personally, my yoga practice has been immeasurably valuable for me as I navigate the challenges of my husband’s health. When I can use yogic teachings to keep my mind calm and my body healthy, I am able to give him my best self. I am able to love him fully, and love him better when I am more at peace than when I am emotionally frazzled and stressed.
Take Care of Yourself.
Before getting married, I told my hubby-to-be that I would always do yoga (or some other equivalent activity) to take care of myself, so that I’d have the ability to help take care of him. That’s easier said that done, as the responsibilities of life creep in. As the primary earner in our little family, I work multiple jobs which don’t leave me much free time. I often have to choose between doing yoga and doing necessary household stuff like cooking and cleaning, and plenty of times the chores win. But if I don’t take care of myself by eating properly and exercising, I am not going to have the long-term ability to do my part in my relationship. Whether it is your spouse, your sibling, your parent, your child, or your friend, it’s important to maintain your own health and well-being so that you can be a strong resource for the person you love. What does that mean for you? Do you need to schedule a regular massage appointment, or a weekend getaway to a yoga festival? Perhaps you carve out 20 minutes a day before everyone else wakes up to do a short yoga set or meditation, or go for a walk each evening while your spouse watches the kids. Whatever your preferred way, prioritize your own health as much as that of your loved one.
Let Go and Let God.
In Gurmukh’s book The Eight Human Talents, she reminds us of this lovely English mantra. In her chapter on the first chakra, she talks a great deal about acceptance. When you have a loved one with chronic illness, it is easy to get lost in the struggle to change their situation. To fix their physical health, to change their mental health – if only you can find the right medication/herb/exercise/therapist/doctor/etc. then everything will be all better. Unfortunately, this quest for healing can come at the cost of your own peace of mind. In the search for “the cure” you can lose sight of the joy of spending time with the person you love right now as you project your energy into a possible future. You can also unwittingly cause them to feel that you love them less sick than well, and that they aren’t “good enough” as they are. I am not suggesting that people not seek appropriate treatment for manageable issues. But perhaps let go of the need for control, and trust that God and/or the Universe will provide what you need. Try the “Meditation for Rejuvenation,” found in The Eight Human Talents, or other first chakra exercises like body drops and crow squats to activate your first chakra and bring a sense of stability and security.
Keep close watch on your own emotional health.
When your loved one is sick or depressed, you may try to compensate by being extra positive to keep their spirits up. You might also not communicate your own worries or problems with them, trying not to add more to their proverbial plate. Maybe your friends ask you how you are doing, and you give them a generic “I’m fine” instead of allowing yourself to share your feelings. It may seem like the right thing in the moment, but if you are not authentic with your feelings it will definitely take a toll on your emotional health. Keep an eye on yourself and try to notice when you are showing signs of stress, or perhaps lapsing into depressed behaviors. In my own case, I know that eating poorly and sleeping more are usually signs that something is amiss, and then I can reach for my go-to yoga practices to reset myself. I love the “Meditation for Mental Balance” in Bountiful, Beautiful, Blissful, (also called “Exercise to Free Yourself from Confusion and Depression” in The Eight Human Talents). Simply sit cross legged, and extend your arms out to the sides like wings. Flap your hands and wrists as though you were flying for your life (and in a way, you are!), all the while breathing long and deep for 3 minutes. Your arms move slightly, but the main action is in your hands and wrists.
The specifics of your own self-care program may be different from mine, but the important thing for all of us is to actively take care of ourselves. If you have a favorite kriya, meditation, or other practice feel free to share – it may be of help to someone else!