The most significant lesson I have learned from being a caregiver is to be kind to myself.
What are the most significant lessons you’ve learned from being a caregiver?
The most significant lesson I have learned from being a caregiver is to be kind to myself. Through my journey, I have learned to navigate the systems, advocate for my veteran, and perform tasks. However, none of those things compare to being able to take care of myself when I feel defeat and depleted. Being kind to myself means I can forgive myself for losing my temper and not beating myself up when I can’t complete my to-do list. I used to compare my life to others and feel disappointed when I hadn’t reached the same milestones. By being kind to myself, I had to let all of that go and accept that my journey is different but just as fulfilling and rewarding.
Likewise, does one day stand out as the most challenging you have faced?
There have been many days that feel like they have been the “hardest” day of my life, but the day I had to advocate for my husband’s right to mental health treatment against his active duty unit will be a day that will forever be stamped onto my soul. Changing the mentality of mental health in the Marine Corps was not a battle that I felt equipped to take on. That day I realized the true stigma around mental health and the military. Even though that was the hardest day for me, I watched men degrade and belittle my husband for wanting help. I use that day to benchmark other hard moments in life. If I got through that day, I can get through anything.
How do you find strength in the difficulty of your day-to-day?
I find my strength in my husband’s will to live and fight his illnesses day in and day out. The true battle is his and I support his efforts to live a life where he feels fulfilled and happy. Watching my husband want to fight his battles and give back the kindness that he has received gives the me the encouragement I need to continue on our life long journey.
Sharon cares for her husband, Carlos, a combat veteran who served 16 years in the Marine Corps. Her journey as a caregiver started unknowingly when he got back from his second tour. He was unable to manage his symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic Brian injury (TBI). Sharon immediately saw a shift in his core personality. Carlos was quick to anger and suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts. Sharon has had the support of local veteran advocates and organizations that have helped her support Carlos to obtain a greater level of independence and overall quality of life.
As a Dole Caregiver Fellow, she would like to build a stronger coalition with her community leaders so they understand the gaps and needs of military caregivers. She wants to facilitate progressive, updated trainings that would empower caregivers with the necessary tools for their particular journey. By making community resources available to caregivers and veterans, they can choose the resources that bests fulfill and reenergizes them. Sharon wants to make sure military caregivers are not forgotten while caring for the nation's heroes.