Secure Your Own Mask First:  2 Lessons In Self-Care For Caregivers

In this edition of Backstories, we reflect on our vacation to the Big Island of Hawaii and how it was the catalyst that helped us realize the importance of self-care for caregivers…

Like most caregivers, we never had time for this mythical, self-care everyone talked about. We spent the majority of our time taking care of others, neglecting our own health and well-being, under the guise that everyone else’s needs were more important than ours.  

After a year of being scolded by doctors, family, and friends, we finally heeded their advice, jumped on a plane, and flew off to Kona, Hawaii to partake in some self-care to recharge our depleted batteries.

Self-Care Hawaii

This trip was filled with ‘Aha Moments’ that not only changed our perception about self-care, but life in general.

In this post, I share the moments that reinforced the value of maintaining our own health, and how discussing caregiving was a key component in our self-care.

Self-Care Aha #1: Secure Your Own Mask Before You Help Others…

With everything we have endured in the past year, finding time to secure our masks had been impossible. But with the chaos starting to subside at home, we decided it was finally time to take a much needed vacation.

Since our healthcare team does most of their communication electronically (via email, secure portal, or text message), and free Wi-Fi available on Hawaiian airlines, we knew we would not miss anything. And, if something big were to happen, we could get back home. (So why did I still feel a little guilty about being away?)

As we taxied down the runway for takeoff, the flight attendant started the safety demonstration, which I have heard, and seen, many times. But this time, when she got to the oxygen mask portion, the hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention.

While I barely paid attention to the beginning of the safety message, that portion of the message reverberated, loudly, through my body.  I stopped staring out the window, and gave her my full-attention.

At that moment, it felt as if she was speaking directly to me. And not about airline safety, but about MY life. 

“Girl, you need to listen to me.  You’ve been without oxygen for too long.  You better grab this mask, secure it tightly, and BREATHE!”

For the first time in a long time, I took a deep breath and felt my entire body relax. And it was not because of the pre-flight Mai Tai.

While I have always heard this statement, in that moment, it finally hit me that I am of no good to anyone if I continue to neglect my own health and well-being. 

Self-Care Aha #2: Just drink the tea…

We are always on the hunt to learn something new (it helps stave off dementia 😉), so we booked a tour at Mauna Kea Tea.  What was supposed to be a tour about growing tea, turned into a masterclass on how to slow down.

Upon arriving at our destination, the wind shifted, and the rain started driving sideways. But that did not deter us from venturing forth to learn all that Taka and Kimberly would share with us about their tea farm.

Kimberly met us outside, with umbrellas, and we exchanged the usual pleasantries while waiting for Taka to start the tour…

‘Where are you visiting from?’

What made you decide to take a tea tour?

And then it happened…my open-book-mouth flew wide open.

I told our caregiving story, and how we needed a little respite after my father-in-law passed. Kimberly then opened up about her own caregiving journey with her parents. In that moment, we realized our common bond, and what started out as a tea tour, became much more personal.

When Taka appeared, we began the tour by walking through the farm, in a 63 degree Fahrenheit, driving rain. And I was completely oblivious to it as he discussed the differences between seedlings and cuttings, how you can get several types of tea from the same plant, the types of plants added to the farm to help with soil conditions, and the sheep that save his back by keeping the weeds and grasses under control.  I was completely mesmerized.

Side note:  If you have not eaten a strawberry guava, straight from the tree, you need to do so immediately!

With the rain not letting up, Taka made a substitution in the order of the tour and we proceeded to the tea house for the tasting, in the hope the rain would subside a little to continue walking the farm.

But this was not just a tea tasting. It was a ‘tea ceremony’.  While not as formal as one you would partake of in Japan, there was much more ritual, and pageantry, than just being handed a cup with a tea bag hanging from the side.

The art of heating the water, cleaning the vessels used to prepare and drink the tea, transferring the tea to the teapot, the pouring and receiving of the tea, and holding the tea cup, forced us to slow down and take in all of the meticulous steps Taka performed. While in the background, the sound of nature (rain, wind, animals, and birds) reduced our heart rates to a level of calm we had not experienced in over a year.

As Taka explained, the purpose of the ceremony is to get us to slow down, take it all in, and get us prepared to ‘just drink the tea’.  Do not focus on anything else. Just drink the tea.

When we got to the drinking part, we were able to taste flavor profiles we would have overlooked if we had not slowed down, and watched his elegant hands perform each step.  (If you met him on the street, and looked at his hands while he told you he was a farmer, you would think he was fibbing.)

The rain was still driving sideways as we finished the tea ceremony. And while we could have continued to walk the farm, I was not ready to let go of that ‘Zen’ feeling we just experienced in the tea house. (I would have had to go back into survivor mode to watch my step and not fall in the rain.)  So, we ended the tour a little early, but not feeling deprived in any way.

As we walked to the gift shop, because there was no way I was not going to try to recreate that feeling at home, it happened again…my open-book-mouth flew wide open, for a second time.

I talked about how much we needed this tour, after the year we had just had. How hearing about his passion for farming and his family touched us deeply, and aligned to our passion as parental caregivers. Then he shared his own caregiving story, oblivious to the fact his wife had shared her personal caregiving journey at the start of the tour.

On the drive back to the other side of the island, we were in no rush, and not just because it was still raining. Looking out the window as the landscape drifted by, no words were said. Through unvoiced understanding, we mutually agreed things would change when we returned home. We would make the time to take better care of ourselves.

What we learned

We learned ‘self-care’ is not ‘selfish’.   It is necessary to secure your mask first.

In order to be our best selves for us, and others, it is imperative we make the time to take care of our own health and wellbeing. The alternatives are: 1) we risk the chance of not being able to be there to help those when they need us most; or 2) we become the person who needs help.

We also learned that slowing down, being in the moment, and taking it all in, has a greater impact on whatever self-care activity you partake in.

If we had not done so, Mauna Kea Tea would have just been a checkmark on the ‘to do list’.  But because we slowed down, we learned so much more than just how to grow tea. We created a memory we will never forget.

Lastly, we learned that sharing our story helps us connect on a deeper level and to understand we are not that different from each other. By being open, we found more members of our tribe: children helping parents in their latter stages of life, taking it one-day at a time, and learning as we go.

Below are links to some helpful resources for caregivers:

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2 thoughts on “Secure Your Own Mask First:  2 Lessons In Self-Care For Caregivers”

  1. I’ve been a caretaker to my mom and most nights I feel so drained out. Just giving yourself the luxury of self care time and do so much ! Thanks for sharing

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