I live in a small town an hour outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. I help take care of my husband, Randall, who is a disabled veteran. He served 22 years with the Army National Guard. He is also a Medically retired first responder of 18 years. We have been married for 30 years and have 6 children and 5 grandchildren.
In 2006, after a 1 ½ year deployment to Iraq, I started to notice changes in him. When I reached out to others for help during that time, I was always shut down due to him being in the National Guard. It was hard to find help back then for my husband. The PTSD affected his employment as a first responder as well as our family.
Peer support is so important! I went 12 years without even knowing there were support groups out there for the caregiver. I felt like I didn’t belong since I didn’t have the official title of caregiver through the VA. Although, I was still giving my time and energy, taking off work, not getting enough sleep to take care of him. I didn’t understand the military system. Please speak up. You may think you have little to offer someone. What I would have given 10 years ago for someone to say, "Hey, you’re going to be ok through this." We need to support each other. Being a caregiver to a veteran and/or first responder puts a lot on you. I have had to raise 6 children mostly by myself. I have gone to sporting events, band concerts, dance recitals, and even our own children’s weddings by myself. I can cry and become bitter or I can keep my chin up and take one day, one step at a time, and just hope that tomorrow is a new day. Having the support of a few good friends, family, and now the caregiver community has helped to bring a new light of hope into my much-needed crazy world.
Being in this group has helped me to see, and to understand, that I am not alone, like I felt for so long. Being chosen for the Caregiver Mental Health and Restorative Weekend and getting to meet other people going through what I was and finding out I was not alone was so amazing! I came back with so many new tools to use in my life. Some things we don't always want to think of but is a must, like funeral planning, to know how to present ourselves for a job interview in 30 seconds or less, and even breathing exercises, and a trip to Curves. The group was small, which I am grateful for because it gave me a safe place to be myself. It was a weekend about the caregiver and what we have to bring to the table. Most of us there found it hard to look at ourselves and rediscover who we really are, especially when we have put so much of our life on hold for our vets. We had amazing ladies there that were Vets themselves, who told of their husband’s services, and not of themselves, but when their stories came out, they were amazing, and inspiring. We had personalities that ranged from quiet as a mouse to "over the top and owned it", and they were all amazing in their own way!!! I felt a connection to each of them. They inspired me, lifted me up, and helped me to know, I AM NOT ALONE IN THIS JOURNEY OF CAREGIVING!
Thank you Rondalene for sharing your words of wisdom with us! We are so
blessed to have you in our tribe!
Becky Ralston Questions & Answers
1. Have you had peer support during your caregiver journey?
Until recently, not much. I had a couple of military wives over the years I was close with and who understood the journey, but things outside of my control happened and those relationships no longer exist, which lead to me feeling even more isolated and alone. Currently, I feel like I have a great peer support group and I look forward to increasing that base and making the most out of those relationships.
2. What value has peer support been for you personally?
I cannot put a value on it. I didn’t realize how much I needed a peer support group until I was blessed with one. I’m much more comfortable with my journey now. I am relieved to know that there are many others out there in similar situations and I can reach out to them and they will get it. I had no idea how much I needed a peer support group, so it is invaluable to have.
3. What benefits do you think a new caregiver could receive from a structured peer support program?
A voice. A feeling of belonging. A place for resources. A place to vent, to obtain suggestions, solutions, or words of wisdom. A place to be heard and seen, if you will, a place to be loved and respected and sometimes cared for. A place to be able to regroup, to focus on yourself, and a place to be refreshed.
4. What words of wisdom can you share with other caregivers?
Keep going. Caregiving is hard. Life is hard. There are always going to be challenges and setbacks, but try to focus on all the positives in your life. No matter what your journey is, in that moment there is always a positive. Find the positive(s), focus on it and remember to breathe. Find your “tribe”, because you are NOT alone. Take time for yourself, do not try to burn the candle at both ends and do not feel guilty about taking time for you. And remember you were given this life because you are strong enough to handle it. You got this!!!!
Thank you, Becky, for sharing your words of wisdom with us! We are so blessed to have you in our tribe!