Have you ever told someone you collect elephant figurines–and then everyone gives you elephants for your birthday, Christmas and just for the heck of it? Suddenly, you’re crawling with elephants. Pink elephants, purple elephants , glass elephants. You’re now the owner of elephant dishes and elephant t-shirts. That’s what it feels like as a caregiver sometimes. Once you take on that role, it can take over your life.
When I was caregiving my mom, I went through a stage when it was all I could talk about. Caregiving consumed my every thought. I was in constant search of how to relieve my frustration, how to get the help my mom needed, and I embraced this new identity because well, it took up most of my thoughts, time and energy. But then it builds and builds like those darn elephants start cluttering up the place and suddenly, you’re sick of it.
Maybe that’s where you’re at. Maybe you’ve recently become a caregiver.. You bought some books on Alzheimer’s. You go to caregiver meetings. You go online to caregiving forums and chat-rooms. The few friends you have left talk to you about their moms and dads, spouses and all things caregiving. They call you whenever it’s mentioned on television or there’s an article about it in a magazine. You’re inundated. Elephants, elephants, everywhere.
But you can’t for the life of you remember life before…your life feels like one of those old-fashioned movies when they used to smear the lens with Vaseline. Fuzzy. You used to…run an ad firm, be an accountant, a pre-school teacher, take ballet, go to France…now you’re excited if you get to go Costco! How did this happen?
Break Out of the Caregiving Rut:
Have at least one friend who isn’t actively caregiving. Everyone needs a little variety.
Forbid yourself to talk about caregiving for one hour (wear a rubber-band and snap yourself if you do!)
Do at least one non-care related activity a day–even for ten minutes. Knit. Plant a container garden. Take a PhotoShop class online.
Get the paper. Read the paper–or a magazine . Shoot for one a week. Expand your mind. Fill your head with something that interests you (other than caregiving).
Give yourself venting sessions. Yeah, the pressure builds. Get a timer and set it for 10 minutes. Call a good buddy and let it rip. When the timer goes off, STOP!
Ask yourself: is this a toxic relationship? Some folks are just negative, and right now, you’ve got enough going on. Surround yourself with upbeat people. If someone brings out the worst in your, back off the relationship.
Back off the caregiving info. Yeah, I know I blog about caregiving but take a break now and then. Go to Jokes.com or some other fun site. I promise you, no new caregiving breakthroughs that are going to revolutionize your life is going to happen today…probably not tomorrow.
Observe yourself. Are you over-identifying with your loved one? I know how much you love them, how much you worry…but too much attention isn’t good for anybody. Step back and listen to yourself.
Fill your head with…CD’s. I’m an audio book nut. I love to lose myself in someone else’s world. You can get CD’s from the library or from several online sources–one I know of is about $14 a month for unlimited CD’s–like Netflix, you just send them back in the mail and get a new one.
Schedule that respite care. I know it freaks you out. They’ll mess up your schedule, not give the meds right, you’ll fret so much it won’t be worth it. You need a break. You need a few days NOT doing this so you can come back renewed. Plan a couple of months ahead. Do a run-through. Have this person (professional or family/friend) come over for a few hours and see how it goes.
One of the best tricks I know to break a vicious cycle is to do the opposite. If you’re talking too much, go on a verbal or media fast–turn off the computer and the television and go outside–listen for a change–to the birds, to the frogs at sunset.
If you’re going all the time–give yourself a 3 day moratorium. Stay home for 3 straight days. Get the milk and the bread ahead of time and stay put. I promise you, you’ll feel more centered and that chaotic fear will begin to subside.
I know how important caregiving is–I did it–and Igave it my all. But I hope you’ll be your own best friend and always learn and grow–and get back in balance when you get off a bit.
Yes, caregiving can wear you down–and talking about it all the time can really wear you out–and it doesn’t make you a better caregiver. What do you bring to your relationship? Sometimes we have to discipline our words and our thoughts–and like exercise, it feels so good to hurt a little!
So chuck a few elephants and enjoy the empty space.