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Unexpected Caregiver: 5 real-world tips from an unexpected caregiver

Constant Therapy | Traumatic brain injury

Julie Ayotte jumped unexpectedly into the role of caregiver starting the night her husband Mike Healey was rushed to the ICU after a fall in the shower. Mike, a successful software engineer, was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma, which is a highly dangerous injury caused by a brain injury strong enough to burst blood vessels, which makes pooled blood push on the brain and cause damage.

>> Watch the video: Julie’s story of learning to be a caregiver

The first few days after Mike’s fall, Julie rode the emotional roller coaster of wondering whether he’d survive the initial brain bleed, and the surgery that followed, and then wondering what their life would be like after that. 

Like most caregivers, Julie had no previous medical experience

Julie has a degree in both advertising and culinary arts and spent time as a chef before taking on her current role as Director of Sales at McCrea’s Candies. From the start, she set out to navigate the challenges associated with Mike’s diagnosis, prognosis, and recovery, with no prior experience in her unexpected, but important, new role.

When asked to characterize what she does on a daily basis, Julie says that her role as a caregiver involves doing whatever she can do to set Mike up for success.

“I embraced my new role as caregiver as trying to make things as easy for him as possible, while still maintaining a full-time job, and doing all the things I need to do to live a full life as well.”
– Julie Ayotte, caregiver to a traumatic brain injury survivor

Adjusting to a new normal

In this new role, Julie says she is always learning, adjusting Mike’s and her own routine, and adapting to new information. Here, she passes on her 5 best tips for caregivers.

  1. Take care of yourself. Julie says this is job #1 – because you can’t care for someone else if you are overextended and overwhelmed – so she fits activities in that make her happy (she bakes a lot!), makes sure she gets enough sleep and eats healthy foods. She advises trying your best to keep your own familiar routine and not letting your coping resources get weakened. Researchers see higher levels of depression and other health problems when this happens. 
  2. Try not to engage in the “what-ifs”. It will only create more anxiety, and realistically the things you worry about may not happen. As she says, “living in fear is not living.” Life as a caregiver is unpredictable and often ambiguous. Live it one day at a time.
  3. Accept your new normal. You can’t go backward in time; this is your life now. Julie believes she and Mike can still have a meaningful life going forward – it may be different than what they planned – but still wonderful in its own way.
  4. Recognize what’s really important. Julie says Mike’s injury has given her a new perspective on life. “It’s too short”, she says, “so appreciate every single day.” She says she’s learned to be more patient and calmer… and that’s helped both of them.
  5. Find support. It’s important to maintain your own social support infrastructure, as social interaction can help you stay healthier. Julie also advises looking online for help – not only can you identify public and private caregiver organizations and support groups, but you can also connect directly with other caregivers in Facebook groups and online forums.

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Julie’s final words of wisdom on caregiving? “You can’t learn to be a caregiver; you just do it for love – because you love the person for whom you are caring. I wasn’t willing to give up on Mike or our life.”

> Watch the video: Julie’s story of learning to be a caregiver 

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