Early in our “idea phase” for Courage to Caregivers, I would tell people about my experience of providing emotional support as a long-distance mental illness caregiver for my younger brother. Then, I would share my idea for improved self-care for caregivers. Many friends and stakeholders often immediately asked the question – “Why is self-care so important to YOU?”
It took me a while to figure out the answer to that question. For me, when my brother would call, I immediately put everything aside. I would spend hours listening – just listening. Of course, at the end of the call he’d share how much better he felt. And I, well, I felt drained.
And, when I am emotionally drained, I eat. I gained 40 pounds during the four years I was one of my brother’s primary mental illness caregivers. But I can’t blame my brother for my weight gain. I own my complicated relationship with food.
It took two years after my brother’s suicide before I could confront my weight gain. I tried a lot of things on my own, and nothing worked. Then someone I respected a lot had tremendous success with her own complicated relationship with food on the Weight Watchers program. Of course, I’m a planner and like to know what to expect, so I had to ask 1,000 questions before I could walk into a meeting. AND, I didn’t want to go alone, so I brought a friend. I was in a very vulnerable place when I walked in that first meeting almost three years ago. Looking back, it took a lot of courage just to attend a meeting.
This was the first support group I had ever experienced where I actually felt better when I left than when I walked in. I also learned that while I CAN do things on my own, it was SO much easier to invite others IN and do this together. I realized I wasn’t alone in how I felt, my struggles and pain, my joys and celebrations. After many months of hard work, self-reflection, and inspiring meetings, I reached my goal weight. My WHY in the end … was that I MATTER.
During all those years of supporting my brother, I prioritized his mental health and well-being over my own. He was absolutely worthy of my attention and support. Yet, so am I. I matter. I am worthy. It is OK to prioritize me and seek support from others. And that makes me stronger for those I continue to care for now.
Guess what? YOU matter too!
Founder and Executive Director