Dr. Christiane Northrup did a PBS talk on the Wisdom of Menopause in which she reminds me that nothing–not caregiving–not menopause is brought into my life to destroy me. It’s to make me pay attention. To love and accept myself more–not less. Over-caregiving is more common than you think. I’m guilty of it myself–at times. I had to learn that I couldn’t fix my mother–I couldn’t take the place of her beloved husband after Daddy died. I couldn’t stop Alzheimer’s. I couldn’t be her all in all. And I had to stop trying.
Dr. Northrup used the excellent model of breastfeeding to correlate how we should care-give. Being a young mother is another time of extreme care. We physically and emotionally give our all to birth a new life. In order to breast feed, you have to feed yourself. You use up 600-1000 calories a day breastfeeding. What you eat, how you sleep, how stressed you are–all effects your ability to produce milk. If you go for even a few days without eating healthy and sleeping well, your milk production will begin to wane. What a great example. You can’t give out, unless you give in. Your body–and your spirit just won’t do it.
She also mentioned that a doctor friend of hers wrote on his prescription pad to a woman “See your mother ONLY 2 times a week.” Doctor’s orders. Sometimes we need others in authority to give us permission to take better care of ourselves.
I remember one day when my mother shuffled into my kitchen with a scowl on face. She slammed her hand down on the counter and announced,
“I”m not happy!”
She had a “and what are you gonna do about it look on her face.”
I started to smile. Revelation.
I realized in that moment that the only person I could make happy–was me.
We can never fill up another human being. We can’t make up for aging and disease–or for their lack of caring for their lives and health all along. Our best way to give is to know what ways ive best.
How do you know when you’re over-caregiving?
When you have zero time for your own health and relationships. But, but…you argue. If you are getting less than 6 hours sleep, are spending all your time taking care of someone else’s physical and emotional needs, feel like your stress levels are above an 8 almost all the time, then yes, you’re over-caregiving.
How to stop over-caregiving?
Care-give ala’ carte style. Pick and choose and don’t even try to do it all.
What are you good at?
What does your mom–or dad–or spouse value?
What seems to be working?
What isn’t working?
So, if you’re a great cook and they eat for you, then cook and fill their tummies with homemade soup and decadent brownies.
If they like for you to be at their doctor’s appointments, then build that into your schedule.
If you tend to fight every time you start trying to organize their house–then quit.
But I dont’ have a choice. If I don’t do it, it won’t get done.
Then it won’t get done. Be willing to live with it.
For example, I stopped going to re-check appointments. My mom had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, as well as heart disease. I took her in for her six month check-ups, but no follow-ups. I got her meds and created a structure we could live with. I dealt as best as I could with the emergencies that came up.
I also said no to hospitalizations. They wanted to try exploratory surgery. Really? On a 90 year old with all these conditions? I said no. The medical profession looked at me as if I were a bad daughter, but I didn’t care.
Ask yourself: Does it need to get done? Will it improve the quality of life enough to warrant the work/commitment?
Yeah, some things do. But do the minimum in the area you’re not good at or don’t think it will pay off. Or ask someone to help.
If you have to choose–choose to meet your needs first.
Yep, that’s what I said.
You can’t reverse Alzheimer’s once it’s started.
But you can prevent heart disease (the number one killer in the US) in your own heart!. Go for a walk. De-process food your house. Sign up for yoga. Rent all your favorite funny movies and invite a friend over for a laugh fest.
Sounds too simple? It’s because it is simple. Choose health CARE over health-care. Do what you can, but know that you can’t undo another person’s diseases or problems. Love them, make life comfortable, and give up over-caregiving.