Caregiving for Oneself – A Woman’s Personal Experience
What Happened to Kate?
My name is Kate and my caregiver’s story is a little bit different from everyone else. I am my own caregiver.
I have been living with depression since 1997. That makes it almost two decades now. For the last six years, I have been living on my own after being divorced by the man who once declared that he will be with me for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death do us part. He didn’t believe in mental illness and he thought that the symptoms I was experiencing then were reflections of what he deemed as character flaws. So he bailed out.
Ironically, the divorce – as painful and as scary as it was – was one of the best things that has ever happened to me.
I was quite symptomatic then. I wasn’t on treatment yet and I couldn’t work to save my life. I was living on a measly monthly allowance that was given to me by former husband under the order of the court. I was living in our matrimonial home with his father who was aggressive and violent towards me, and everyday my physical safety was at risk in my own house.
At one point, I was ready to end my life.
Incredibly, while standing at the crossroads between life and death with my mind shrouded by the thick fog of mental illness, I was able to choose life. And that started my journey with recovery.
External Help & Caregiving
I went to Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for psychiatric medication and Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) for counselling and overall rehabilitation of my mind.
I am originally from the Philippines and I have been staying here in Singapore since 1996. The only family I had here was my former husband and his family. When he left me, he took away with him the only family I had.
In recovery, we always talked about self-care. Practicing it is not important. It is critical for our survival. However, I realised that care giving for oneself is one step up from self-care.
I learned that care giving for oneself is all about giving ourselves the care that we want to receive from others but for some reasons we are not able to. It is about paying loving attention to ourselves as if we are caring for another loved one. It is about being there for ourselves as if we are there for our very best friends. It is about being able to put ourselves first as if we are putting our most beloved first.
Caregiving and Self-Discovery
I also experience “caregiver’s fatigue” while looking after myself.
Living with mental illness tests the patience of a saint – whether you are a caregiver or not. The intense feelings of frustration and exhaustion I feel drive me to seriously think of suicide every now and then. Sometimes I do wonder… “What’s the point?”.
But when I am doing things for someone – like my friends or my clients, (as a Peer Specialist at Club 3R, among other things, I assist other people who have mental health issues like me in their recovery journey) do I ever seriously consider giving up when things get rough and tough for me?
Then how come I would consider ending it all when things get rough and tough for me while I am looking after myself?
Love is what makes the world go round and care giving meets our basic human need to love and be loved. Through caregiving, we are given the opportunity to dig deep inside ourselves and go the extra mile to provide for the needs of our loved ones.
From the perspective of a care recipient, I would like to let all caregivers know that all your efforts are being noticed and are greatly appreciated.
Many times – because of the illnesses that we have – we are not able to feel the love you give us and the love we have for you. But just because we are not able to feel and articulate it, it doesn’t mean that the love and gratitude are not there.
So on behalf of all the care recipients out there, to all caregivers out there – We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
And from one caregiver to another fellow caregiver: Remember to care for yourself as if you would take care of your most beloved.
Kate Loreto, early 40s, Peer Specialist at Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH)