How my communications degree helped me as a caregiver

Caregiver holding hands of an elder
Alexandra Sebben
Alexandra Sebben (MPC, Professional Communication ’16) is a Communications Coordinator for the Council of Canadian Academies, a nonprofit that supports independent, authoritative, and evidence-based expert assessments that inform public policy in Canada. She is the Executive Secretary for the IABC Ottawa Chapter Board of Directors.

As a young graduate I found myself, like many others, scared to take the leap into the job market. I didn’t feel like I was ready to leave school and decided to pursue a Master of Professional Communication to advance my education. To help save costs on living expenses during my studies and be closer to the campus I moved into my grandfather’s place, located a little west of Toronto.

Within a couple of months of me moving into his place and beginning my program, his doctor diagnosed him with chronic kidney disease. My mother, aunt, and I agreed to taking on the role as the primary caregivers to help keep him in his home for as long as possible.

It was very difficult for me as an adult in my early twenties to juggle my education and caregiver responsibilities, but I soon found that my communications degree was actually helping me care for my grandfather. Here’s what I learned.

Research

As a student I had access to the Ryerson library and academic journals. Most of the time I would use these resources for my major research paper but would sometimes find myself browsing peer-published reports and other articles that touched on the caregiving role of grandchildren. I learned a lot about how others who were in a similar position as myself were coping with caregiving stress and what they were doing to mitigate the feeling of being inadequate in the role and how to ensure they were creating positive experiences with their grandparent during the difficult time. Sometimes I even found research that I implemented at home, such as ways to acknowledge my grandfather’s emotions without feeling marginalized by listening, asking questions and being responsive. These discoveries helped me understand how communication can go beyond a conversation to engage people on multiple levels, many of which can be non-verbal.

Network

As a caregiver it can be hard to remember that you need to find time for yourself to relax and recharge. When you burnout you are not able to take care of yourself, let alone another person. I found that I was able to relax and recharge by periodically attending networking events with industry professionals, participating in workshops to sharpen my soft skills, and playing in the free Ryerson volleyball intramurals league. It was a reminder of my identity beyond my caregiving responsibilities and gave me a break from the stress. I also found someone in my cohort who was going through something similar and we would often talk about how we were feeling and how we could support one another.

In the Fall of 2016 I graduated from my Master’s program and continued my caregiver duties for my grandfather for another two years. It was difficult to balance my education and caregiver responsibilities, but I was able to find ways to use my degree to assist me in my personal life. This is something I encourage others to think about. What skills and resources can your degree help you with outside of your field?


Alexandra Sebben (MPC, Professional Communication ’16) is a Communications Coordinator for the Council of Canadian Academies, a nonprofit that supports independent, authoritative, and evidence-based expert assessments that inform public policy in Canada. She is the Executive Secretary for the IABC Ottawa Chapter Board of Directors.