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What No One Tells You About Being A Caregiver - A Conversation with Nicole Dauz

August 31, 2022

Caring for other people is one of the hardest and most difficult things that anyone can do, but it also brings great joy and satisfaction to those who commit to it. Like in any other role, there are many lessons to be learned when one becomes a caregiver, either professionally or in a family setting. However, we believe this is something that doesn't get addressed as much as it should. So, to discuss this important topic further, we recently extended an invitation to our podcast to self-care coach and author Nicole Dauz, who shared those things that no one tells you about being a caregiver and much more about her own journey. Keep reading to find out.

Nicole, you are a self-care coach author and family caregiver. How do you help other caregivers succeed?

NICOLE DAUZ: I say that experience is my teacher. I use all of the lessons learned and all the tools and strategies that I've come across, and what's worked for me. And that's what I put together. I support fellow caregivers with a coaching program and a free online support group.

You also wrote a whole book about caregiving. What can you tell us about it?

NICOLE DAUZ: Yes, it's called "Self-care: From the Trenches...with Love, Humour & a Kick in the Pants" and it's really the subtitle that gives you the essence of the book. I wanted caregivers to really connect with it. I know self-care is a very divisive word and can turn people off, but it's really about me being cheeky because I'm like, "hey, I have a 16-year-old son, I have a 13-year-old daughter with an intellectual disability and autism and I still find time to put myself first... And I still do the work." I have worked at removing the barriers and the work in progress. But what I like to say is I reach out to people who support me. And then I turn around and then I offer that to others. I am both a student and a teacher. And so what this book does is it really allows people to look at the different parts of self-care. Each chapter in the book is standalone. We talk about things like the stories we tell ourselves, validation, worthiness, emotions, and energy. These aren't always things people associate with self-care but this is how I get to the importance of self-care because when caregivers will say oh, I don't like that word, can you use a different word?" I kind of like "oh, so if I change the word, you'll change your actions." Like, "why don't we unpack this?" What I'm hearing that caregiver say is "I don't like that word because I don't even feel worthy enough to take time." So that's why I love talking about self-care because it's linked with self-love and I say self-love is how we feel about ourselves. Self-care is the action. Self-care is actually how we show ourselves that we love ourselves. And that's why it is so important for this conversation to be had.

My purpose is to change the conversation around caregiving. For me to say to caregivers, we are allowed to have meaningful lives. Especially parent caregivers. I'm only 13 years in, and I'm like, "holy sugar, I'm just getting started!" And if I didn't have these tools and strategies, I don't know where I'd be because there are still some days when I feel pushed to the edge, having a really bad day or a week, and I have to really ground myself and walk myself from the edge. And I don't say that lightly. Like, it can feel like a very isolating and lonely journey. And that kind of speaks to the paradox. I say that caregiving is full of paradoxes, and that's one of them, feeling so isolated and alone when we know that there are millions and millions of other caregivers out there doing the exact same work or role or support that we offer and love that we give to the person for whom we're caring.

What are those things no one tells you about being a caregiver?

NICOLE DAUZ: I'm going to go back to the paradox. The two things that no one tells you, in my opinion, are:

  1. The amount of negative emotions that you're going to feel and how it will actually surprise you. It can be a vicious circle at first until we talk about it. And that's why it's so important about having these conversations because every caregiver I've ever spoken with has confided or admitted to feeling the same. We're all human. And so it's the anger and the resentment about becoming a caregiver when we haven't signed up for it. And at the time, it's because we feel helpless, especially as a parent. So that comes out as anger, resentment, frustration, and worry. And then we feel guilt and shame because you're like "but I'm supposed to love this person. I shouldn't be angry." That was really hard at the beginning of the journey for me to come to terms with.
  2. The other part is how isolating it can feel because when we feel shame and these thoughts, they can be actions. Imagine we isolate ourselves because we don't even feel comfortable talking about it because we've just dumped all this shame on ourselves for having a thought. So the idea, even saying it out loud, is more terrifying. For me, that was one of the biggest hurdles and another reason why I chose self-care coaching and supporting fellow caregivers. When I came out of the hole and realized I needed to do something to change, I choose happiness despite my circumstances and I realized that so many other caregivers needed support in that area, and not from judgment. It is hard and it is tough and it can be all-consuming. And so those would be my two biggies

Speaking about self-care, what are some of the ways caregivers can make sure they are taking care of themselves?

NICOLE DAUZ: I always speak of three self-care tips and I say that you can put them in your back pocket and they get to travel with you wherever you go. And that's my fundamental in removing barriers to say so many self-care tips are accessible to us at all times. So if you are caring for an aging parent or a child and you can't leave the room, you can do these sitting by someone's bedside. If you need to, you could lock yourself in the bathroom for some peace and quiet.

  1. The first one is deep breaths using a technique called box breathing. So you breathe in for 4 seconds and then you hold your breath for 4 seconds and then you breathe out for 4 seconds and pause for 4 seconds. And the flexibility in that is you can do it for as long as you need to. I recommend at least 5 minutes. And then if you get really good at it, you can increase it to 5 seconds or 6 seconds or 7 seconds. And what that really does is instantaneously calms your breathing, it lowers your heart rate, reduces your blood pressure, and just actually tells your body that you're safe.
  2. The next is hugging. So if you're caring for a loved one, you have another human being within reach. And I love that more research is coming out about the impacts of hugging. We are human beings and we are built for connection. One thing that I've done with my daughter, especially when she was younger and a little a little smaller, is I would combine the hugging and the breathing together. So when she was fussing I would grab her, take her in my arms and hold her tight. She would fuss a little and then I would just start my deep breathing. I'd be very audible with it so she could hear it. And then after about 60 seconds, I could literally feel her body relax in my hug. And then we would do deep breaths together. That was one of my tools for really transitioning from her when she was in an out-of-control state to a behaviour that was more calming for both of us because we both needed that reset.
  3. Then the third one is a mantra. And my go-to is "it's not her fault." I'm a logical person and I'm just like, "that is not her fault. It's not her fault. Her brain is built differently, it's not her fault." And then "I love you." So, sometimes when I am hugging her or I just need to restrain her, I will just say to myself "I love you. I love you" because that also changes my energy and helps me calm down a little instead of spiralling with her.

Those are my three go-to self-care that you can do while travelling with your loved one or even going to an appointment or sitting in the car in a parking lot. These are accessible to us all.

How can caregivers overcome the guilt they often feel for taking some time for themselves?

NICOLE DAUZ: This is the question I get the most and it is around a caregiver recognizing that they are first a person and being a caregiver is a role. And so I like to say "I've been a mom for 16 years, a caregiver for 13, but I've been Nicole for 49." And so I work to honour Nicole. And when I support other caregivers, I reflect that back to them. I even call it the Cape of Caregiving that can feel so heavy and all-consuming but that's when we kind of dig deep and realize that in order to be the best caregiver that we really all want to be, we need to take that time. For some people who feel so much guilt, it can be as simple as 5 minutes a day and doing these things where they're not even physically removing themselves from the same space, so it's those small wins. To me, self-care is anything that brings you joy. And when people feel joy, they feel better. And it's not about feeling better 24/7, but it just helps offset the challenging days of being a caregiver. And so that's how I focus it. And then it's those little questions, a few little questions to a caregiver allowing them to think again, dare to dream again about how it could be, and slowly letting them know that they are the only person who can make a change in their life.

About Nicole Dauz

Nicole Dauz is based in Ottawa, Ontario. She has been a caregiver for 13 years and a mom for 16. She has been on a journey of becoming a self-care advocate and learning to take care of herself for about seven.

"What happened is, when my daughter was at a 12-month checkup, we realized that she was severely delayed and so our life really changed at that moment because the chief neurologist said she would need early intervention. So we started weekly physical therapy so she could learn to walk at two and a half and then weekly occupational therapy so she could learn how to hold a spoon, put on socks etc. At four years old, the speech therapist said at that time there wasn't much use to continue but that they would. We circled back about six years later and she's just started speaking over the last couple of years using sentences. So certainly lots of progress. However, five years in, Summer would have been five, and I also had a very energetic seven-and-a-half-year-old little boy, while working full time; I was ignoring the signals my body was sending me. And as we all know, our body is constantly talking to us. And so many of us believe that we know better. It's usually just our ego. You know, I'm strong, I can do this. I can pull through. And so it was actually a trip on an ambulance that was my wake-up call. I was in the office working and I had a full-on attack, I'm assuming, a panic anxiety attack, which I had never had up until that point. But it hurt to breathe. And so that was the wake-up call. I had to knock on my desk to get someone's attention and they knew very quickly that something was wrong because there was a pain in my face. As I said, it hurt and I could not take deep breaths. They were also shallow breaths. So I was taken away in an ambulance through the front lobby of my building at lunchtime, which is so funny because I was so worried thinking that it was so embarrassing that someone would see me, like not realizing the severity of what was actually taking place. And I waited 90 minutes in the E.R. for a doctor to see me. And of course, by that time, my breathing had resumed and I felt fine. He checked me over and said I was fine, perfectly healthy, and released me. That's when I thought that even though I may, from a checkup perspective, be considered healthy, I realized there are no doctors who specialize in caring for caregivers or realizing the impact that stress can have on us. And so that really started my journey."

Last but not least, Nicole wants to remind all caregivers, paid, unpaid, and anyone who's taking care of a loved one that "you get to choose happiness despite your circumstances and you are worth it."

Read More:

Smart Caregiving Tips for a Successful Caregiving

How to Create a Nurturing Home Care Experience

Family Caregivers and the Important Role they Play in LTC

Empoweringand Uplifting Nurses in 2023

TheImportance of Self-Care at Work

5 Steps to Land your Dream Nursing Job

To listen to the full interview with Nicole, go ahead and visit our podcast or YouTube channel.

Thank you for reading!

About The Author
Laura Woodman
Content Marketing Specialist

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