If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete. – Jack Kornfield

Read the quote again. Then ask yourself, “Am I taking care of myself?”

As a dementia care specialist, part of my job is facilitating support groups and meeting caregivers one on one. The most common thread caregivers share is guilt.

Guilt might start with caring too much. We want to do the best for the person with dementia. We want them to be safe, happy, involved and free from pain and worry.

Unfortunately, most of the time caregivers feel they have not done enough.

Forms of guilt:

Guilt for what I am not doing

Guilt for what I am doing

Guilt for not doing enough

Guilt for being happy. This is my personal favorite: “I’m in a good mood today. Oh wait, I shouldn’t be, because my partner has Alzheimer’s. Why do I get to be the healthy one?”

Good guilt vs. bad guilt

Guilt can be productive. Good guilt can sometimes force us to make changes. Good guilt can be recognizing you have been very impatient with your partner and recognize you need to try harder.

Bad guilt has no upside. Bad guilt causes us to beat ourselves up for no reason.

What can help you?

Beware of the “red flag” words: “ought to,” “should have” and “could have,” “always,” “never.”

These words are toxic because they set us up for future guilt. “I will never put you in a home.” Don’t promise things you might not be able to do.

Don’t discount yourself. Caregivers forget about themselves. They forget how to have fun. When there has been no self-care for years, it feels foreign. It is so important not to lose yourself in the role of caregiver. Trust your needs.

Aim to be a B+ caregiver. Straight A’s are not for mere mortals. Tempers boil, falls happen, bills slip through the cracks, birthday cards – even birthdays – get missed. Lower your standards a bit.

Remind yourself of your true goals. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Strive to give your loved one a secure life free of worry or pain, while maintaining your own quality of life.

Steer clear of comparisons. Do not think someone has it better or does it better. Focus on your own situation.

Get help. There are many resources in our community and in your own neighborhood. If friends offer help, take her up on it. If you need resources, call Memory Matters.

Memory Matters can help on so many levels. Support groups, excellent programming, resources and so much more. I promise we can help. And this is a promise I can keep.

We can be reached at 843-842-6688 or visit our website at www.memory-matters.org.

Karen Doughtie is assistant director of Memory Matters, serving Bluffton and Hilton Head. karen@memory-matters.org