5 Ways to Stay Strong While Caregiving in 2021
In 2020, there were hard days followed by harder days for Christine Schei, caregiver to her son Erik. While deployed in Iraq with the U.S. Army in 2005, a sniper’s bullet hit Erik, causing paralysis and brain injury.
Anyone who has known Christine during the past 15 years knows that Christine is strong enough to do it alone. She fearlessly tackled becoming a full-time caregiver for Erik from day one. She quit her job, sold a house to move closer to her son’s doctors, and has fiercely advocated for her son’s health.
With experience, Christine has come to appreciate that she doesn’t have to do it alone.
Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) gave Christine, her husband Gordon, and Erik’s two siblings a little breathing room through its Independence Program. The program serves nearly 700 warriors and 500 caregivers around the nation, helping those living with moderate to severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), spinal cord injury, or neurological conditions.
Christine remains Erik’s primary caregiver and has dedicated herself to learning about brain injury, navigating VA care, and being at Erik’s side 24/7.
Still, she takes time to be an advocate for herself and take care of her own well-being. Christine provided some suggestions to help caregivers manage the stress of a pandemic:
- Talk with other caregivers. In the last year, with scarce networking opportunities, Christine kept in touch with a caregiver friend via phone. “She understands me, and we hope we’ll be able to have a cup of coffee together again soon.”
- Prioritize family interactions. “Shut off social media, stop doom-scrolling through the daily news, and enjoy the company of your immediate family,” Christine said firmly.
- Set boundaries. After 8:30 p.m., and after Erik is settled in for the night, Christine retreats to her space to relax and pursue her own interests. “I close my bedroom door, and I watch what I want to watch on TV.”
- Find a hobby. Christine adopted online genealogy research as a hobby. The distraction proved fruitful when she was able to identify her husband’s grandfather, who came to the U.S. from Norway.
- Ask for help when you feel burned out. It is normal to feel this way, and there’s no need to feel guilty. Reach out to organizations that are ready to help.
Caregiving Is A Family Affair
Christine is the first to tell you that being a military caregiver can be life-changing — and exhausting.
In time, Erik learned to use a sip and puff motorized wheelchair and technology to interact with other veterans and play video games. He also participated in adaptive sports and even took part in WWP’s Soldier Ride® with help from his brother, also a veteran, who pulled him on a specially adapted tandem bike.
Without constant care and therapy, Erik would lose the range of motion he has gained in his legs, arms, and torso muscles. Leaving him, even for a short while, is nerve-wracking for Christine. And as her parents age, visiting them in Germany and helping to take care of them — and Erik — seems impossible.
“I do want to see my parents again,” Christine said.
“I might never be able to do the things I thought I was going to do as I approach retirement age,” Christine said. “But this is my child. This is someone who went to fight for our freedom, for my protection. If he wakes up with a smile on his face every morning and doesn’t complain about it, I don’t think I have the right to complain because I can do all of these things for myself.”
The compassion Christine devotes to Erik has had far-reaching ripple effects. Christine used her experience to advocate for caregivers, traveling to Washington, DC to lobby for the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, which gives financial and other assistance to caregivers of severely wounded post-9/11 wounded veterans. She joined 18 other women who spent a day telling their stories to the legislators on Capitol Hill.
The same ripple effects encircled those at home. Erik’s brother Deven enlisted in the Army because he felt he needed to “finish the job Erik started.” He eventually became an advocate for other veterans through WWP.
Erik’s sister was still in elementary school as family members rearranged their lives to care for Erik. Today, Anneka is a third-year nursing student who was inspired by her mother’s devotion to Erik.
Support for the Long-Haul
WWP offers support for veterans and caregivers through physical and mental health programs, including the Independence Program. WWP recently renewed its commitment to caregivers through individual grants, increased programming, and additional funding for respite hours through the Elizabeth Dole Foundation.
“It was such a wonderful surprise and shock when I got the call about the grant,” Christine said. “It made my heart smile to know that Wounded Warrior Project has not forgotten the caregivers of severely wounded warriors. During this quarantine, our stress and isolation have increased, and self-care has been difficult.”
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.