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Create Self-Care
By Learning How To Think Like A Soldier

By Joan Fay

(Page 1 of 3)

During the ten years that I cared for my partner as she navigated the world of terminal lung cancer, I was often told by well-meaning people to take care of myself. After all, if I didn’t take care of myself, how would I have the energy to take care of anyone else? They dispensed advice like Pez candy, rattling off ways I could make life easier on myself: eat healthy meals, take long walks, meditate, take a bath or go shopping. They had no idea how impractical their suggestions were.

Exercising and eating healthy, let alone meditating or relaxing in a bath, were not even on my radar, especially during the last six months of Vick’s life. Anxiety, exhaustion and stress ruled my days. I was educated as a counselor and understood that I needed to shore up my reserves in order to be there for my partner, but I found myself unable to practice any of the self-care techniques I had been taught. Depleted, I knew I had to find a way to increase my energy and keep my mind alert—if not for my own sake, then for Vick’s.

I wondered who else works the way caregivers do, under such mentally and emotionally taxing conditions? While watching an episode of the Nightly News, the answer came – Soldiers in battle must survive life-threatening encounters and keep their wits about them. How do they do it? And, if it was possible for them, could it also be possible for me? A few clicks of the mouse, and I had the answers and the strategies I needed.

Combat soldiers don’t take the time to eat healthy meals while dodging sniper bullets, nor do they wake early during a mission and meditate to reduce stress. Instead, according to a presentation created by Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, titled “Battlemind Training, Preparing for War: What Soldiers Should Know and Do,” soldiers are taught They learn how to meet challenges head on, how to utilize the support of others and how to develop inner strength to combat their greatest fears.

I could not alter the course of my partner’s illness, anymore than a combat soldier can change the attitudes of those he is fighting against. But I could adopt a few of the mental tricks soldiers learn for dealing with the overwhelming tasks I faced.

Taking my cue from the soldier training, I assessed my situation by creating a list of tasks for which I was responsible. This list included monitoring and dispensing numerous medications, planning and cooking meals, feeding our animals, cleaning the house and maintaining the yard, managing my full-time career and my emotions while making my partner comfortable and safe during her daily seizure episodes and declining oxygen levels.


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