Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who is caring for her husband through his last illness. Many of you will know how difficult that is. She looked exhausted and told me how worried she felt about everything, including how much her own world was shrinking.

This is a common feeling among carers because the truth is that your life does alter drastically when you nurse someone. For a start, there are countless issues to sort. Accessing sufficient help for your partner through charities or social care, making sure the medical treatment is adequate and re-assessed regularly and trying desperately to make each day as palatable as possible for the one you love.

It never ceases to amaze me how well people step up and cope with this unwanted drama in their lives, and how they find the energy to hold everything together.

But what carers are not nearly so good at is caring for themselves. And it’s this lack of self-care and consideration for their own needs which leads to that horrid sense of losing sight of who they are and worrying they might never feel like their old selves again.

For a start, they are probably getting far too little sleep. They are also undoubtedly at home far more than usual and not participating in the activities which generally punctuate their lives with pleasure, and bring them into contact with others. If this sounds like you, unless the death of your spouse is imminent, please resolve to care for yourself better. This will help you, and help you deal with the demands ahead.

The first step should be to tell a doctor or a nurse at your health centre how bad things really are. They may be able to adjust your partner’s medication to make night times more restful for you both. Or point you in the direction of other support.

You also need to stop feeling that it’s your job to do everything. I’m sure you have neighbours, friends and relatives who would like to be useful, but don’t know how. Get in touch with them and have that conversation.

Your grown-up children, for example, may be pleased to have more time with their sick parent. I remember watching my stepson feed his father. It was deeply touching and lovely to witness. Perhaps, another relative could come and take responsibility for your partner through the night on occasions. If someone you trust is in the house with you, you should be able to relax and sleep more deeply.

Then, ask yourself what would cheer you up if you could get out of the house more. Maybe it’s as simple as having lunch once a week with a friend, going to choir practice, visiting the library, or getting some exercise in the open air. 

Suggest to various individuals in your social network that it would be a huge support if they could cover for you, from time to time, so you can do these things. Don’t forget your other half may have old friends you haven’t thought of, such as a former colleague, or someone who shared a hobby. A familiar face at the bedside will not only release you for a couple of hours but be a tonic for your spouse.

Once those key areas are sorted, turn you attention to your diet. Terminally ill people often reach the stage where they can eat only mashed potato or ice cream. You cannot, and should not, exist on that yourself. So, at least once a day, make yourself a nutritious meal. It can be quick, like a cheese omelette and a couple of vegetables and some fresh bread. Whatever you choose, eat properly at a table and focus on enjoying it. You need to fuel your body and mind.

Next, when your partner is resting, turn to the internet to reduce the shrinking of your world and broaden your perspective. It’s probably been a while since the two of you went on holiday or pursued other interests, and it may be months before you can do so again. The web can take you to destinations you’ve loved in the past or wish to visit in the future. 

You can also find You Tube clips of concerts with your favourite band. Stream a play or some live dance. Or take a virtual tour round an internationally renowned museum or gallery.

This is a highly significant period of your life. And it’s tough. But also, in many ways, it’s a privilege to help the person you love through a last illness. And afterwards, you will feel real satisfaction in knowing you helped him or her to have as easy a death as possible, and one surrounded by love.

Lastly, do accept that you’ll make mistakes. Or get irritable sometimes. Everyone does. It makes you feel bad, not just on the day, but often when you recall it in the future. I urge you though, to be compassionate to yourself. None of us is superhuman. 

We try our best during this sad and complex situation. And that’s all any of us can do.