Even if you only take the time to find an online support system, find it and participate. Take time for a bubble bath or read a book or dig in the dirt. Find a moment for YOU.
What are the most significant lessons you have learned from being a caregiver?
The very first thing I learned, and am still learning, is how to say “no” and how to advocate for my family. The second biggest lesson I have learned is that you can NEVER judge anyone on a first impression. You must get to know a person and their story, because you simply don’t know what their day or week or month has been like, what kind of stress or challenges they face, or daily fight they have to just put on their clothes and get out the door.
What do you think is the biggest gap in the support you receive?
Having a supportive and understanding community is essential, and is probably one of the hardest things to find. The inability to live a “normal life” has created so much stress and ultimately, the loss of friendship and support for many caregivers. I cherish every single person still in our lives and that have come in (and stayed in) our lives, supporting and caring for us, unconditionally.
What advice would you offer to other military and veteran caregivers?
“Put the oxygen mask on yourself first,” just like they tell you on a plane. If you don’t take care of you first, you can NOT take care of anyone else for very long
Melissa began her journey as a military caregiver when her husband, Jon, was injured in Afghanistan. When Jon arrived in Virginia for treatment, he was worse than anyone expected, including Melissa. He suffered from worsening confusion, narcolepsy, absence seizures, as well as impaired vision, memory and balance, and was eventually diagnosed with a moderate traumatic brain injury (TBI). Melissa quickly realized their lives were forever changed. Through great medical care, hard work, and encouragement from fellow caregivers and veterans, they have found a new normal and a wonderful community!
As a Dole Caregiver Fellow, Melissa hopes to bring more awareness to the challenges faced by wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans, as well as their caregivers and families. Her primary goal is to help military caregivers through advocacy and support, raising awareness on the struggles families face.