Theresa Wilbanks On How to Navigate the Caregiver River

By Theresa WIlbanks, Florida, United States

Emma Smith, the author of The Far Cry, said, “Life is like the river, sometimes it sweeps you gently along and sometimes the rapids come out of nowhere.”

The river is an excellent metaphor for life. For me, the river resonated with the caregiving experience. I come from a family of caregivers, yet when I began caring for Dad, I was unprepared for the suffocating stress and intense overwhelm. In addition to concern about the effect of stress on my health, I worried that I would have significant regret about my relationship with Dad, which seemed to be rapidly deteriorating. I was drowning and desperate to understand why this role was so challenging. Did the caregiver gene skip me? As I delved into the whys, it became clear that it was just hard.

The need to understand why I was struggling led to much trial, error, and tears, and in the end, a series of strategies that helped minimize the stress and ultimately improved my emotional and physical health. This path that I was on to a more sustainable caregiving experience led to a more meaningful journey and inspired Navigating the Caregiver River: A Journey to Sustainable Caregiving.

Caregiving conjures up the perfect storm of emotions. Top among them are guilt, anger, and resentment, all fueled by fear. We don’t know how long we will be in the caregiver role, which is one of the significant challenges of the experience. We wonder if we can survive the swirling sensations and the heavy weight of constant worry. Prioritizing our well-being when our family members’ needs are so great can feel like an insurmountable challenge. Yet, this is precisely how we can come through the experience whole and not just survive but thrive in our caregiving role.

Book cover, Navigating the Caregiver River, by Theresa WIlbanksI wrote Navigating the Caregiver River: A Journey to Sustainable Caregiving to empower fellow family caregivers with tools, strategies, and hope so they can confidently navigate their caregiving journey. I want caregivers to know that they are not alone, that the turbulent emotions and extreme thoughts are normal, and that they will be okay. The strategies can help family caregivers prevent or recover from burnout, manage the uncomfortable emotions, and reimagine control. There are also strategies that address the more practical matters, such as when to get more involved in care, plan and prepare for the conversations, navigate the challenging transitions, medication management, and when driving becomes dangerous.

The strategies also helped me realize that Dad and I were on this journey together; we shared the same destination, and I was helping Dad, who was further along on the journey. I flipped the script from “I have to be a caregiver” to “I get to be a caregiver.” I became empowered by the caregiving role. In addition to my health improving, our relationship dramatically improved, and I was able to help Dad reach his destination with dignity.

Sustainability is about incorporating the strategies that help us care for ourselves while we care for our family members for as long as needed. Imagine your caregiving journey is like being in a raft on a river. The river has calm sections, obstacles, rapids, and a few waterfalls. We sometimes feel like we’ve been tossed out of the raft and are drowning. When we employ specific strategies to protect our well-being and manage our emotions and stress, the river doesn’t change, but how we navigate the river changes. We step into the flow.

Purchase Navigating the Caregiver River: A Journey to Sustainable Caregiving on Amazon

About the AuthorBook cover for Theresa Wilbanks' Navigating the Caregiver River: A Journey to Sustainable Caregiving

Theresa Wilbanks cared for her father until his passing at 99 years of age. During that time she experienced the raging river of emotions that come with caring for a family member. Overwhelmed and drowning, she navigated toward a more sustainable caregiving experience.

Theresa founded Sustainable Caregiving and works with fellow family caregivers to help them navigate their caregiving journey. With humor and vulnerability, Theresa shares her story and strategies in her book, Navigating the Caregiver River: A Journey to Sustainable Caregiving. Theresa also co-hosts the limited series Self-Caregiving Strategies Podcast and shares daily inspiration in the Sustainable Caregiving Facebook Group.


Connect with Theresa



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