A lot of caregivers, while committed to the work of seeing a loved one through the journey of an illness, begin to feel as if their own lives are on hold. This is difficult at any age, but it can be particularly challenging for young people who find themselves eager to launch their careers and dreams but are caring for a parent or even a sibling who needs their constant supervision or support.
It is so sad to hear people talk (or admit that they think) about their lives as being postponed, put off, set aside or deferred in some way just because the demands of caregiving have limited their activities or require so much of their time. In other words, the work of caregiving has taken such precedence over other choices in life that we can begin to feel as if our OWN lives are missing in action, while we take care of someone else!
It’s easy to feel discouraged, overwhelmed, and even stuck in a role that you had no idea could become so all-consuming, yet it can! Especially among those caring for a family member with dementia, I hear phrases like:
- I retired earlier than planned, now I feel so alone in my parent’s house with their dementia!
- Sometimes friends still call, but I have to decline their invitations since I have no respite care!
- Family members don’t help but offer lots of advice for how I ought to be caring for dad!
- I’m so tired every day, there’s just no joy in the constantly repetitive care chores that continue!
So, what’s a caregiver to do? How do you get your own life back when the situation seems perpetually demanding and relentless? Clearly, there is no single strategy for changing the circumstances in which you find yourself. Some that I’ve seen work include:
- Securing in-home helpers who can free up some of your time for other activities.
- Using an adult daycare to assure a loved one is safe and supervised when you’re busy.
- Finding supportive volunteers or neighbors who can visit and entertain your loved one.
- Trading off supervision service with another caregiver (like we did with child-care!) if putting the two needy adults together is advisable (sometimes, it is simply not a good idea!).
If you’ve got a good support team around you and financial resources to spend on additional care for your loved one, that can go a long way toward affording you some precious “me time.” But for those who feel financially trapped in a caregiving situation, it can feel particularly miserable.
Let me add, there’s probably nothing worse for the one receiving the care or services than to sense (or see or hear or otherwise know) that the person looking after them is miserable doing it! And, if that unhappiness grows into anger or resentment, it can lead to an even more dangerous situation, the abuse or harm of the vulnerable person! Don’t let that happen! Always seek help for your own mental and emotional wellbeing before running the risk of creating harm!
Strategies that may help: What I find works best for me, and for others I’ve coached, is to discover ways to say YES when your default response to everything has become NO. For example…
- I can’t get away for the whole day, but I would like to attend the christening service! I’ll try to find a sitter who can come in for an hour or two that morning.
- We won’t be able to spend the weekend, but we could come to the bar-b-que on Saturday evening. We may not stay long, but it will be good to see everyone, even briefly!
- An indoor concert is just too taxing, but I think we could easily attend an outdoor concert with you. We’ll leave if and when we need to, but it will be good to visit for a while together!
- Can we go to lunch on Thursday? That’s when he’s at daycare and I have some worry-free time to myself. I’ll be much more relaxed and able to converse if we can meet up then!
There’s also the decision to simply STOP complaining about what is. The circumstances are just what they are – you may not have a way to change, alter or mitigate them. So, instead the strategy is to adjust your expectations. I can stop expecting life to be a certain way (as if I was entitled to a perfect life!) and genuinely accept life as it is.
David Bruner of the Center for Spiritual Living in San Jose, California refers to this as preferring what’s occurring. It is a conscious choice that, while perhaps not easy to make, allows the caregiver to shift their mental and emotional energy away from complaining mode and move into accepting mode. With some practice, it can genuinely become a way of seeing the world – as it is, not as you wish it would be!
We can actually begin to prefer what’s in front of us (the life we live) rather than wish for something else or someone else’s path. We begin to accept life as it is, flawed, challenging, interesting, exciting and sometimes even a little boring. But we own it as ours to navigate with grace, gratitude and grit!
If you’re struggling with your “what is” be sure to let me know. Coaching can help you navigate that journey and I’m happy to walk the path with you. Perhaps together we can find the joys along the way that seem elusive just now.