August 25, 2009
Posted: 11:24 AM ET
By Leeza Gibbons, TV/Radio Personality and Producer
Chances are if you are a family caregiver, you either don’t know it, don’t want to know it or you are just so overwhelmed that you could crack at the very suggestion that you should “Take Your Oxygen First”. Yet, there are 50 million husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters out there taking care of a family member or loved one. And here’s the deal….they are dying! We call them the family first responders...just like the heroes we see running into a burning building or toward the scene of an accident when all others are running away, these courageous caregivers show up when families are falling apart, emotions are frayed and finances are unraveling. It’s a noble thing, no doubt…in fact, I think it is one of the single most powerfully defining moments in our lives as human beings, BUT there is a type of martyrdom that is rampant in this group and falling on the sword seems way easier than pulling out a figurative oxygen mask to begin to breathe deeply.
That’s why we wrote our book, "Take Your Oxygen First," to remind caregivers of those instructions the flight attendants give on an airplane. Just like on a plane, in a health crisis, you only have a short time in which to take action. If you put your mask on first, you will be alive, conscious and have enough sanity and energy to help someone else. If you don’t, chances are the two of you will be at risk. I know at first it’s counter-intuitive to think of yourself when someone you love is suffering. The reality is, though, if you don’t nourish yourself; mind, body, soul and spirit, your loved one and you will decline faster.
It’s called compassion fatigue, and my co-authors, friends and colleges Dr. Jamie Huysman and Dr. Rosemary Laird know it well. As the Executive Director of the Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation, Dr. Jamie is a psychologist who gives that perspective in our book. Dr. Laird is an MD, a gerontologist, and she gives the medical side of being oxygen–deprived. My Dad, brother, sister, sister-in-law and my kids and I give the family perspective of what is at risk when we don’t take care of ourselves while helping someone we love navigate through a chronic illness or disease.
Leeza Gibbons is a TV/Radio Personality and Producer and Co-founder of the Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation and Leeza’s Place, Her commentary is a LARRY KING LIVE Web exclusive and her thoughts are her own.
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