I have a saying, “If you don’t know where you’re going you’ll never know when you get there.” . If you are anything like my family you are rolling your eyes and saying thinking “I have a perfect place for you to go! ” !. Whoa, not so fast, let me explain…
In the past 15 years, having communicated with thousands of family caregivers, I have seen how easy it is to get caught up in a loved one’s unpredictable day-to-day caring demands, abandoning personal planning and taking on the unhealthy routine of living in a reaction mode, ensuring you are not guiding guiding your ship.
This is not a criticism, but it is a big caution sign because living in a reaction mode is highly stressful, emotionally draining and if left unchecked will compromise your overall health.
On the surface, I can understand you thinking “great, but there is not much I can do because at this moment this is just my life.”. I have been there and I hear you. However, if you are thinking like this you need to visualize a big STOP sign and take a step back. Let me tell you why.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, when your life takes a turn in this direction, little by little it is so easy for your world to get smaller and smaller. Smaller in part because activities, which give you joy, such as grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend, going to a child’s or grandchild’s ball game, catching a movie, interacting with colleagues after work, having a special evening with your spouse or just sitting in a quiet place to read the newspapers begin taking a big back seat to focusing on your loved one’s actual and anticipated needs.
To me, these “joy” activities, especially during stressful times, are restful ports we look forward to sailing into, taking a needed and well-deserved emotional break.
As family caregivers, we know there are no magic bullets or wands to change the many circumstances you have no control over. However, there is a practice you can control adopt that will immediately provide more certainty into your life… making a plan; determining where to point your ship.
When building your plan you have complete control to set your priorities and desired destinations. These few planning considerations will help you start the process.
Know Your Needs
First and foremost, you have to embrace the growing belief that your needs matter!
So, when you begin charting your course, make a list of the personal needs that are important for you to increase your joy.
Make a list of the activities in your life you greatly enjoyed that may now be missing, or some that you have never experienced but have decided to add.
Your needs are important, too. This is not being selfish; it is being personally responsible.
Time is your pivotal resource, so look carefully at the time you spend as a family caregiver. Review your current caregiving activities. Are there some activities that can be eliminated or adjusted? Speak with your loved one, be honest about your plans and needs. You may be quite surprised at the understanding your receive.
With your caregiving responsibilities in mind, identify time that you will set aside as frequently as needed for your joy activities.
And, remember, not all time is equal. You want to strive for quality time during YOUR time. Work on removing yourself from worrying about the safety and well-being of the loved one in your care. Not easy, but start with baby steps grasshopper!
You Are Not Alone
A common, self-inflicted family caregiver wound is a hesitancy to ask for help. Many family caregivers feel they do not want to burden others by asking for help or feeling there is no one else who can carry out their caregiving responsibilities. These are limiting beliefs that have little if any upside for you or your loved one.
Another path to free up time is to find responsible family members, friends and professional services who can fill in for you on occasion.
When you take a step back and build your plan you will be amazed by the community that is actually available to help you. There is a good program call Care Map that can assist in identifying people in your life that can become part of your caregiving support team. I am certain you will find building your personal Care Map extremely helpful on support and emotional levels.
With these planning suggestions in mind, close your eyes and imagine enjoying your joy activities. Now, chart your course and point your ship in that direction.
Help yourself. Help others.