This man's moving story shows why caring for others must start with self-care.

"Caregiving is nothing but confusion when you first start out."

70-year-old Frank Blood, who has been caregiving for his wife, Mary Ann, for almost two decades, adds, "It took me years and years to learn this stuff."

"The biggest challenge was knowing what was important and what wasn't."


Image via Frank Blood, used with permission.

Mary Ann has lived through cancer twice. Most recently, she was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung condition that makes it difficult for her to breathe, as well as vascular dementia, which involves memory loss due to multiple strokes.

The couple has been married for 41 years, and Frank says caregiving for Mary Ann has brought them closer than ever before. He points to one night in particular 10 years ago.

"She had chest pains," he recalls. "We were driving to the hospital and I looked over at her and said, 'You know something? This time I'm scared.' And she said, 'Me too.'"

"I didn't think of it again for about a week probably, but I thought, 'Wow. I've never opened up like that. I've never said anything like that.' And since then, we start telling each other what's in the deepest part of our hearts. ... There was another level to go to."

Image via iStock.

Mary Ann isn't able to move on her own, so she relies on Frank to get her ready for the day, take her from room to room, feed her, and make sure she's  comfortable.

Frank also takes all of Mary Ann's vital signs regularly and even keeps a journal with her daily medical history.

In his nearly 20 years of caregiving, Frank has discovered one thing that may seem counterintuitive: Taking care of himself actually helps him give Mary Ann the best possible care.

"When we take care of ourselves," Frank explains, "Everything else about caregiving becomes much more joyful."

As a caregiver, preventively caring for your own health can help head off problems down the road.

Image via iStock.

Now, Frank is doing all he can to spread this positive message — and his learnings — to other caregivers who may be feeling just as lost as he once was.

To do this, he left his job as a sales rep for a construction company and started Caregiver Harbor. "I offer free phone support," explains Frank. "A caregiver can call me up and talk about anything they want." On top of that, he also writes helpful online articles and conducts talks at local libraries and senior centers.

Here are seven of the most valuable things Frank's learned throughout the years about caring for yourself as a full-time caregiver:

1. Get your energy up and running.

Image via iStock.

"I get up really early," Frank says with chuckle. "Between 4:30 and 5:00."

From there, he takes his morning coffee, goes on a leisurely walk, and then hits the treadmill for some aerobic exercise.

2. Exercise the mind too.

"I have to have that quiet time in the morning before I start out," adds Frank.

After he's gotten through his workout, he'll throw in a 15-minute meditation session to get his mind calm and focused on the present.

3. Pay close attention to your nutrition. (You might forget.)

Image via iStock.

This is no doubt one of the hardest parts for Frank. "Since I have to cook and feed my wife," he explains, "either I'm gobbling down food before it gets cold or I don't eat. The challenge is the amount of time to prepare and eat and clean up."

In the past, he'd settle on quick bites, such as cookies and candy, to get by. But since he's prioritized nutrition, he now consumes fresh fruit juices and lots of veggies.

4. Never try to do it alone.

"I don't hesitate to ask for help," says Frank. "If somebody volunteers to help me, I never turn it down."

In particular, don't be afraid to ask for help from your doctor. They're there to help you with your health better than anyone. And a good place to start is by getting to know your four health numbers — blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and body mass index (BMI).

5. Manage your time to a T.

Image via iStock.

"You just cannot let things happen without some kind of a plan," adds Frank.

Each hour of every day is dedicated to a specific activity — from his morning routine, to taking Mary Ann's vitals, to catching up on some TV with her at the end of the day.

6. Don't feel guilty for taking a little me-time.

In the beginning, "I felt very guilty about not spending all my time with my wife," Frank explains. This is common for caregivers.

Frank explains that it can take a while for a person to develop the confidence to break away once in a while. But as he got more familiar with the nuances of caregiving, he knew that being there for Mary Ann was about way more than physical presence.

7. It's OK to have your own life too.

Image via iStock.

Frank keeps his social life healthy by staying active with his church group; he's also part of the local chamber of commerce and will sometimes volunteer at community events to lend a helping hand.

"I'll sometimes tell my wife, 'No, this is my time. I need it,'" explains Frank. "And I have to walk away. That wasn't possible for a few years."

At the end of the day, giving others the best care possible requires a commitment to caring for yourself.

Not sure where to start? Take a step forward and visit a health care professional for your annual checkup and learn about your health numbers. Once you have a clear picture on how to better care for yourself, you'll be able to care for others.

And if you ever feel a little lost along the way, there are people out there like Frank who are always ready to listen and help in any way they can.

Image via Frank Blood, used with permission.

"I just want to let caregivers know that if I can do it, you can," adds Frank. "And you will be very happy if you just don't try so hard. Let things happen and take good care of yourself."

Learn more about how to take control of your health at Cigna.com/TakeControl.

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Cigna 2017

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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