We Get to Choose Our Happiness Despite Our Circumstances

Nicole was preparing to return to her career in government when her one year old daughter began showing signs of developmental issues. This was the start of a life-long journey caring for her daughter with a rare genetic disease and autism. Nicole shares her early feelings of isolation as a caregiver, the importance of finding harmony between all of her responsibilities and how she learned to celebrate the caregiving journey.

As told to Open Caregiving and lightly edited to enhance readability while preserving the author’s voice.

Getting to know the caregiver

My name is Nicole Dauz and I’m the proud mother of a neurotypical son (15) and a daughter (13) with a rare genetic disease and autism. I live in Ottawa, Canada, and my mission is to change the conversation around caregiving and celebrate the journey.

What did your life look like when you became a caregiver?

It was at my daughter’s 1-year check up when the GP expressed concerns about her development.

At that time, life looked like it was on track for the traditional route of having one boy, one girl, a great government job with lots of stability and solid benefits (especially for a woman). I was on maternity leave and given that I had finished having children, I would be able to focus on my career and climb that ladder of promotions.

What was a memorable learning?

I’ve been a caregiver for 12 years and the most memorable learning was how isolating it felt/feels even when I knew that I wasn’t/am not the only mother with a child with special needs (my daughter only received her diagnoses at six years old).

What surprised you about caregiving?

The most surprising thing for me is the emotional rollercoaster of the caregiving journey. It is NOT linear. I had tricked myself into believing that things would get easier as my daughter got older, but that was simply a survival tactic in those early days of denial and burying all emotions.

How do you try to balance being a caregiver while caring for yourself?

It took five years as a caregiver to understand that I couldn’t continue to put my own needs last. That is when I made the decision to take small steps towards taking care of myself and I focused on finding harmony between all of my responsibilities. I personally don’t use the word ‘balance’ as we caregivers have too many balls in the air. Harmony allows for more ebbs and flows of life based on the time of year, etc.

What resource would you recommend to caregivers?

For new caregivers, I recommend my book “Self-care: From the Trenches…with Love, Humour & a Kick in the Pants”. It’s everything that I’ve learned over the last 12 years and I wish that I would have had such a roadmap to guide me along my caregiver journey.

What advice would you give to caregivers?

If I could go back in time, I would tell myself that my daughter is always feeding off of my energy. When I’m calm, peaceful and content, she’s calmer, more peaceful and content.

We get to choose our happiness despite our circumstances.

Where to find Nicole Dauz

You can read more of Nicole’s writing, learn about her retreats and coaching at  Selfcare4Caregivers.

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