Why I Believe Caregiving Starts With Caring for Myself First

As women, we are conditioned to be there for others, to take care of our family, be in “rescue mode” and ignore our own needs. And when we take on the role of a caregiver, we continue on this journey of self-neglect until we burn out

Anindita Guha Maulik Rungta
Sep 14, 2023 15:31 IST

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I am the only person in the world right now who can take care of my daughter right now

These were the thoughts going through my mind at the time. My seven-year-old had just come back from a month-long hospital stay due to a rare and extreme side effect of a medication given to manage her chronic eczema. It would take several more months for her to get back on her feet.


The thing is, we had an amazing team of doctors who were helping us. However conventional medicine had reached its limitation in terms of handling her severe eczema. The only thing that Western medicine had to offer her at this point was in terms of suppressing her immune system.

And even that had backfired spectacularly. 

And now we were at this point where I had decided to take charge of her healing and recovery.


Lessons I learned along the way

The last couple of years of dealing with this crisis have taught me one thing. 

I learned that the way forward was to support her body’s healing process, not fight it. Ultimately, it was this approach that led me to Functional Medicine and helped bring her eczema under control. 


At the same time, I had also realised one more thing.

I realised that this journey would be a long and difficult one. It would require me to be fully present to do my research and take hard and unconventional decisions. Such as the decision to take her off gluten and dairy-containing foods. 

And in order to take such decisions I would have to have full confidence in myself and my intuition so that I could help my daughter get better.


Trusting my own intuition was the key

You see, as a caregiver, my responsibility was not just to my daughter.  

It was first and foremost to myself.  I needed to learn to show compassion and give grace to myself so that I could have the courage to weather any storms that came our way. This was the only way that I could build the resiliency needed to show up for her and help her recover.


The thing is, most people believe that caregiving is about knowing all the answers and solving every problem for the person we are taking care of. I don’t.

I believe that being a caregiver is about trusting our own wisdom and intuition so that we can hold space for another person to heal.

It’s about taking care of your physical and emotional health so that you can be fully present even when there is nothing left to do. To be able to let go of how we think the recovery process should be and make peace with what is. To feel the helplessness, fears, joys, frustration and the wonder of taking care of someone else and not just drown in them.


Because not every disease is curable and not every illness has a solution. But every condition can be “healed” in the truest sense of the word. This is because healing happens beyond the physical realm, it covers the emotional and spiritual aspects of a person as well.

As Rachel Naomi Remen has articulated so beautifully, “Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn’t you - all of the expectations, all of the beliefs - and becoming who you are.

Self-care is a courageous and radical act of love


We are conditioned to be there for others, to take care of our family, be in “rescue mode” and ignore our own needs. 

Above all, many of us spend our lives trying to fit in and be the “good girl”. We mould ourselves and try to fit into the space that is available to us. Girls (even more so than boys) are conditioned to do this right from the start and this becomes a way of life for us. 

Later, as women, we learn how to say the right things, in the right manner and at the right time. We learn how to modify our behaviour to please others and keep the peace. With time, many women start to lose their identity and often reach a point in their lives when they no longer know who they really are or what they stand for.

And when we take on the role of a caregiver, all these get amplified.

But we keep to ourselves and continue to struggle alone, not asking for help or support. We suck it all in, physically and emotionally, until we are ready to explode. And we continue on this journey of self-neglect until we burn out.

Why extraordinary Mothering is the key

A path that doesn’t require you to put yourself last. A way that allows you to take care of yourself first so that you can be there for someone else in the best way possible. A way where you can learn how to be taken care of as well. 

The thing is, you can treat self-care as “extraordinary mothering“. Just as a mother loves her child and is tuned in to her needs, your self-care practice can take care of what you need.

And just as a mother intuitively knows what her child needs right now, your self-care practice can be designed to give you the “extraordinary mothering” that you need at this moment. 

In both big ways and small. 

It can be as simple as the list below

  • Take a nap whenever possible especially if you are not getting enough sleep at night
  • Keep flowers nearby to cheer you up
  • Read a page or two or a book that inspires and lifts you up (my favourite!)
  • Don’t skip meals and focus on wholesome, unprocessed foods with lots of vegetables and fruits
  • Walk barefeet on a path of grass or even down the street
  • Ask for emotional support from your friends when you need it
  • Limit social commitments so that you can conserve your energy

As a caregiver, this journey is not easy. 

There will be challenges, fears, and moments of helplessness along the way. But you have an incredible capacity for love, wisdom, and intuition within you. Trust in your ability to care for yourself, so that you can fully care for your loved one. 

Above all, be gentle with yourself. Ask for help when you need it. And have faith that you will find the strength to weather any storm.

"You can't pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first." - Eleanor Brownn

Views expressed by the author are their own.

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