The Unseen Army of Caregivers: Meet Aisha
Aisha Adkins is a writer, advocate, and speaker based in Atlanta, Georgia. A graduate of Georgia Southern University, with a Bachelor’s of Science in Sociology, this authentic storyteller is driven by faith, inspired by family, and eager to use her talents to affect positive social change. She is a full-time caregiver for her mother and founder of Our Turn 2 Care. When she is not a doting daughter and agent of change, she enjoys classic film, live music, and nature.
What's your caregiving story?
I became my mother’s full-time caregiver when she was diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia in 2013. I have also been an occasional caregiver for my father off and on since 2006; he has suffered 3 strokes, a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), and a heart attack. My parents are high school sweethearts and have been married for 42 years. My father has made a full recovery, but my mother continues to need care.
What's the hardest part of being a caregiver?
The hardest part of being a caregiver is finding the strength to do as much as you can while accepting the things you cannot change. Everyone’s caregiving experience is different, but I find that I spend a lot of time trying to prevent or fix problems. Unfortunately, the reality is that I cannot change my mother’s illness. I cannot restore her memories or undo her diagnosis. I cannot turn back the hands of time, as much as I would like to. For me, this is where my faith comes into play. Every day I must decide to do what I can to make my mother as happy and as comfortable as possible, accept that there are some things I will be unable to change, and trust God to handle all the rest.
What do you need the most as a caregiver?
As a younger caregiver, particularly when I started at age 27, I desperately needed people to understand my circumstances rather than tell me what they thought I should do. When people learn that a young person is a caregiver, there is a tendency for a lot of instructions to be thrown around, but very little effort to understand the dilemma that we often face. While we understand that the time to build our careers and families may be peaking, we are also conflicted because time with our loved ones may be limited. Our paths may not be “traditional” but hopefully careers and romantic relationships will always be there; we only have one set of parents. Yes, respite care and financial support are incredibly important, but it is difficult to properly utilize those things when those in your immediate circles dictate more than listen.
What worries you the most as a caregiver?
What worries me most as a younger caregiver is life after caregiving. For full-time caregivers, caregiving can become your entire identity. But caregivers are people, too! We are multi-faceted with interests, hopes, dreams, goals, and aspirations. Many caregivers had jobs or have their own families. Young caregivers may feel that they are missing out on the chance to succeed in their education or career. Once our role as caregiver comes to an end, we wonder if we will be capable of returning to school or enter the workforce without limited or dated work experience. How will we earn a living to support ourselves? We are often socially isolated and worry about where we will fit in as our peers marry and build their families. Will we grow old alone? Thinking about the future can be very daunting and overwhelming.
What do you want people to know about caregiving/your caregiving life?
My caregiving life is a testament to my love for my family. Caring for my mother is not something I do out of obligation; I am committed to spending as much time with her as I can while she is still here and caregiving provides a way for me to do that. I understand that her condition will continue to progress and deteriorate to the point where the help she needs will extend beyond the scope of my capabilities; there will be a time when my mother will need the constant help of a healthcare professional. But until then, I am committed to showing my mother love through providing care for her. My life may not look like the lives of other millennials, but I have different priorities than many millennials, and I’m more than okay with that.
If you got unexpected time off from caregiving, what would you do/where would you go?
If I got expected time off from caregiving, I think I would go to a park and have a picnic in the grass. I would have delicious food and enjoy the fresh air and the sun on my face. It seems like a really small, simple thing, but it’s something I’ve not done in years and is my idea of a really pleasant day. I am easy to please but sincere in my wishes!
Thank you for sharing your story, Aisha. And thanks for all you do as a millennial caregiver, both in caring for your parents and in raising awareness of millennial caregivers' unique needs. I also love how what you're doing is forging a better future for all caregivers. It's an honor knowing you and I'm excited to see what you do next!