Several years ago, when our youngest child was only 3, my husband and I found ourselves rather suddenly responsible for caring for all four of our aging parents within a 6-month period. Each of us had a parent with ‘yet to be diagnosed’ Alzheimer’s Disease and when the other parental half (ves) suffered a serious illness, things unraveled quickly. Since 2012, our family has undergone a significant metamorphosis – my husband moved to a less demanding job because our family’s needs took precedence over his career; I left the workforce temporarily to be a full-time caregiver; we built a handicap accessible, dementia friendly home to enable us to better care for them all while learning about cancer, stroke recovery, Alzheimer’s Disease and all things related to them. We’ve experienced the full spectrum of adverse emotions: denial, grief, guilt, anger, resentment, fear, frustration, anxiety, fatigue and more guilt – the hallmark emotions most caregivers report.
Six years later and still smack in the middle of the sandwich generation – those of us in between raising our own children and caring for aging parents – I am amazed by how far we have come. I now possess more self-awareness, gratitude and joy than I did before I became a caregiver. It certainly hasn’t always been that way, and some days are still an emotionally draining challenge. Our lives aren’t necessarily any less complicated or easier now, but my attitude and perspective make them more bearable, even enjoyable. When I ruminate on what has made the biggest difference in my mental outlook,
3 Important Lessons
I can identify 3 specific lessons I’ve learned along the way that have made all the difference:
- Caregiving is a Marathon, not a Sprint
- Create a Village of Support and
- Find Joy through Humor
I only wished I’d realized and accepted their significance sooner. In this 3-part series, I will go into greater detail about each of these three lessons and how they can gradually influence your perspective. Unfortunately, there is no magic cure for the stress involved with caregiving, but gratefully, there are steps you can take to improve your quality of life and even bring a surprising sense of joy into it.
Caregiving is a marathon, not a sprint
I suspect most people begin the caregiving journey without even realizing it. Some event sets in motion a series of changes, much like dominos tumbling. A loved one falls, becomes ill, or has a close call that requires some type of intervention or assistance. Initially, you believe that once you fix this, everything will return back to normal. Perhaps it does, if only briefly, until the next crises emerge. Because so many of us are project or task oriented, it is easy to look at each incident as an isolated occurrence that needs to be addressed. In reality, these events often signal the beginning of a new journey together. Accept that you are not just racing past each hurdle hoping to return to baseline, but rather pacing yourself for lengthy trek that might shift the pace for everyone.
Pacing yourself can be one of the most difficult aspects to manage initially. Odds are, you had a relatively full life before you found yourself in this new caregiving role. Perhaps you have a job, children, a home to maintain and an already full schedule. In the beginning, you may have been able to add in additional responsibilities with the anticipation that they would be short-lived. But eventually, you realize that you are overwhelmed much of the time.
When on an airplane, they always tell you that in an emergency, to put your oxygen mask on before assisting others. The same is true when you are on the ground and balancing caregiving with all your previous responsibilities. You are now running a marathon, and that requires daily commitment to spend at least a few minutes training. Although I confess I’ve never done well scheduling daily time to exercise or meditate, I still ensure I have something to look forward to each day. Maybe it’s just 15 minutes of reading before falling asleep, a relaxing bath or a girl’s dinner out, but make regular time to nourish your soul, whatever that means to you.
The second part of this series, “Creating a Village” will help you identify strategies and resources to help keep you recharged. In the meantime, as much as there is to do, taking care of you is equally important. And remember while scheduling and transporting loved ones to their medical appointments, to schedule and KEEP your healthcare appointments.
No one expects you to be all things to all people all the time, except perhaps you.