Most caregivers I know are rsick of being told to take care of themselves.
It’s not that they don’t appreciate the advice, but I’m sure they feel like saying something along the lines of…
If you’d like to come over and give me a long weekend off, I’d be glad to take care of myself.
And, how do you propose I do that on the energy of an anemic sloth?
Taking care of yourself takes time, energy, sometimes money, and resources.
These are commodities that most caregivers don’t have a lot of.
How do you get energy if you don’t have energy?
Ask yourself, what’s draining me? I mean other than 24/7 care and talking circles with a person who has Alzheimer’s. Mental energy drainers, crazy makers (meaning your relatives and other uninformed people) drain more energy than the physical work you do.
Make a list of crazy makers–from the irritating neighbor who fusses at you because your dog barks (at three in the afternoon) to the unhelpful, disinterested nurse who refuses to simply call in a prescription for your mom even though you know she has the same condition as the last time she went to the doctor.
Now that you have your crazy maker list you’ll hear an alarm going off in your head the next time you’re dealing with them–you’ll be able to detach before your emotions get tangled in with their chaos. Limit the amount of conversation you have with crazy makers. Get in, get out, that’s my motto.
It takes energy to get energy.
I hate this one, but it’s like exercise. You can’t wait until you feel like exercising or you’ll never do it.
You exercise in order to feel like exercising. Shut off brain. Don’t over think. Just grumble and move, grumble and move. Ten minutes in, and those lovely endorphins just might kick in. Tell yourself you can quit in ten minutes. I bet you’ll want to continue. Most days. Some days.
Are you really physically tired?
You might not be.
Caregivers suffer from monotony. Most of their days are too predictable. It’s boring. It’s not stimulating. You’re still young, healthy and your brain and body needs activity. You’re probably acting like your elder loved one–like you’re 87 with arthritis.
Mentally separate yourself from your loved one. Not in a mean way, but realize that you are 20, 30 years younger. Move like it. Talk like it. Don’t let an atmosphere of depression pull you down.
Research has shown that if you’re tired, it may be because the other side of your brain needs stimulating.
If you’re physically tired, you might need mental stimulation–a game of computer solitaire, a crossword puzzle, learn a language, have a conversation with someone who challenges you. That way, you’re using the other side of your brain–the side that’s been lethargic.
If you’ve been working through a problem in your head, (even having an argument, figuring out care arrangements, or worrying about something), then you may need a physical activity–clean out a closet, wash the car, scrub out the frig. Your body is yearning to move.
Do you know why we yawn?
It’s not just because we’re tired. It’s that our breathing slows when we’re tired and we’re not getting enough oxygen. Our body triggers us to yawn so we’ll take in a deep breath and fill up with oxygen. Cool, huh? Even our body knows what we need. Maybe you need to “yawn,” metaphorically that is, and get some life sustaining oxygen flowing again.
So, brass tacks here’s how to take care of yourself when you don’t want to be told to take care of yourself:
- Tell those do-gooders “You should take care of yourself” folks to back off! Uhless they’re willing to anty up, it’s not fair to just tell you what to do and not help.
- Name those crazy makers and decrease how much time you spend with them.
- Do one thing you’ve been avoiding–calling the bank, deworming the dog–nothing zaps energy like dreading something
- WALK or STRETCH for ten minutes. Not because you feel like it. Gripe all the way through, I don’t care. Just do it!
- Do you know how much energy it takes to hold in our emotions? Go to your car, shut the door and have an imaginary tell-off session. Write a really nasty letter. Scream.
- After you’ve said all those cruel and probably deserved terrible things, it’s time to pick your words and confront someone who’s really been bugging you. Start with, “When you ____________, I feel ___________. Then offer a solution. Next time, please ______________. Then walk away. Refuse to get into an argument. As scary as this is, this little script can save your life. Unresolved emotions contribute to heart disease, so unplug those arteries and stand up for yourself!
- Create a time structure you can live with. I know people who get up at 6:00 because their loved one needs a pill. At six a.m.? I’d much rather be on a 8, 12, 4, 8 schedule. You’re the caregiver and consistency is important, but you should decide and dictate the care. Not them. Eating at the same time, taking their meds, and going to bed at the same time is important for everyone–but make it live-able for you.
- Ask yourself each day: “What was the best part of my day?” It can something small, like having cream for your coffee. Most of the time for me, it has to do with nature–a cardinal that bathed in the birdbath outside my kitchen window. It might be a thank you or a compliment, a surprisingly helpful bank teller. Once you start this, then you’ll want something to be thankful for–you’ll be looking out for it–creating it. Gratitude is good for the soul.
That’s it. Nothing big or earth shattering:
Tell those do-gooders to back off. Decrease crazy maker time, walk and stretch, create a schedule you can live with, deal with something you’ve been dreading, tell someone how you feel and offer a solution, and be grateful. That’s the beginning of a great life.
Also know that if you’re changing gears–if your loved one has just taken another downward step–their Alzheimer’s has gotten worse, they don’t know you anymore, you think you’re entering into the end of life–or if your’e grieving–then chuck all this well meaning advice and survive. Your soul is aching. Do the best you can. I cared for my mom until the end, and I know that there are times when you can’t do anything but breathe–and do what is at hand. No guilt. Get through.
Caregiving has its challenges, but seeking answers to these challenges might just improve your life.
Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir
available on Amazon
Family Advisor at www.Caring.com
Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com
www.kunati.com/mothering Kunati Publishing