Those who know me well, know that I am a born caregiver. I’m a nurse, a wife to a disabled veteran, a Mom of a lovely Chinese baby girl (now 16!) and an animal rescuer of too many fur babies to count. (I may need a support group….)
Where did my caretaker journey begin?
I grew up being the emotional support for a Mom with a drinking problem. In those days, women with difficult marriages, and the divorces that followed, were a little unusual. People stayed married. She suffered in silence, coping at the end of the day with a cocktail, or two or three. It was easy to get hooked because there was no end to suffering and worry, it seemed.
Indeed, before the rise of psychotherapy (the acceptance of it in contemporary society) and psychotropic medications, that’s what folks did. My Mom suffered like her Mom before her with depression, only instead of taking to her bed (which Grandma did after the stress associated with multiple miscarriages, the agony of WW1/the influenza epidemic/the Great Depression, the death of her mother and carrying for various ill family members), my Mom had to go to work, as the sole caretaker of four kids.
So drinking was a reasonable solution at the end of the day, which still allowed her to go to work the next day, albeit a little shaky. Nevertheless, she showed up and brought home a paycheck.
I’m reminded of the saying:
Mom might have had a little different take on that one, i.e., pour it into a bigger glass, add gin and vermouth, three olives and try to forget.
Because I watched her descent into addiction, somewhere deep inside me, I always knew that it was no solution, that the more down you were, the more you should run from anything that keeps you from dealing with your problems. While I make no claims to sainthood, or profound abilities to deal, I found a lot of succor through the years helping others, especially animals. Ironically, helping others has kept me on tract….well, for the most part. Even as a young nursing student, I knew that if you are going to go into a patient’s room, you are obligated to have your stuff together, if you want to help others.
Professional vs. personal caretaking.
I retired from nursing to care for sick family members. I found, ironically, that it’s a whole lot easier to let yourself go, mentally and physically, especially when you are over 50. I found the strain of home care is so much greater, as any caretaker of loved ones knows, than working as a nurse.
You don’t have the company of your fellow nurses/docs. You don’t have the coffee breaks and lunches. Who am I kidding? What nurse takes an actual coffee break or real lunch? But, even the quick bites shared in the break room, the quick exchanges among equally stressed out staff, provides more succor than staying at home with loved ones. Working on a team to make a difference in the lives of strangers, that too, is an incredibly powerful thing. Your team become family members. Brothers and sisters in arms.
But, people who care for loved ones (LO) at home, they often suffer alone. They have a tendency to want to protect their loved ones, not let others see them and the infirmities they suffer from. It’s easy to believe that their LO’s issues are somehow going to reflect negatively upon them, as caretakers. It’s easy to feel like, “who wants to get together with me, when my life is a total train wreck and I’m such a bummer, which on some days is actually the case?”
Caretakers often feel embarrassed, ashamed, when their LO acts out, does strange stuff. And then there’s just the plain frustration of dealing with those in cognitive decline. Broken record ring a bell? The only thing certain is that you can’t count on anything, except each day getting harder and harder. Every day is full of surprises and not the good kind. New challenges and frustrations are your bread and butter. And, self care? What’s that? You learn to lower your expectations. Power through it.
Aging out of caretaking.
Years go by and, if you are a caretaker, professionally, or personally, it’s easy to become less resilient with age. The capable handling, both physically and mentally, of other people’s problems, we once managed with ease, gets harder and harder, with each passing year. We become more in need of help ourselves and then comes (what is TRULY awful to us) the need to reach out and (ugh!) accept the help of others. There’s a lot of guilt too, the internal questions….”Could I have done more, better, differently? Is it fair to our loved ones to sometimes put oneself first and seek respite, to try to have a life separate from the one we care for?” But, then, your rational mind knows better. You know you need to take a pause and help you.
Writing this blog today is an example of that. This moment, however brief, however typo-filled, is an act of self-love and self-care. I started this blog several years back, as a kind of panacea for a time when I gave up everything to care for my Mom in her final years. I wanted then to wade back into the deep end of self-care, anti-aging treatments, the glories of my make-up collection, as a treatment for the deprivation and denial of need sustained during that time. It was a true re-awakening. A rescue of self. A reminder that I actually was still there, living, breathing, heart beating, deserving of that perfect shade of lipstick. And my skin, well, it still had the capacity to bounce back with a little help…now? Not so much. The lines appear with a vengeance and it’s time to embrace them, I think.
Life in three modes.
Mode 1: Crisis.
Crisis is what I’ve been in the past 6 months. I hit the proverbial wall…the “how am I going to climb over this freakishly high wall, I don’t have the skills, the energy, the will wall? Panic mode set in. The prayers. The anxiety. The sleepless nights. The eating too little, or not at all. The depression that makes you want to stay in bed for days and the frustration when you can’t because, dammit, you are a caretaker and gotta get up and caretake.
Mode 2: Coping.
Then, maybe somebody hands you a tool, or you find one, or are blessed with one. Like the oar you thought you lost in a storm wafts back your way…you grab it with difficulty and when you get it, it’s slippery, you almost drop it…maybe you DO drop it, but your fingers inch towards it as the waves take it away, then finally, you have it! The storm is far from over. But you have one oar, one chance to find your way home. You just have to keep going, ignore your fears and sore muscles and row.
Mode 3: Living.
Then….at last….the shoreline appears and you make it out of that wash and rinse cycle. You know you will never be the same. You will always see the moments in life when you can just relax differently now, because of what you went through, the deprivation you suffered. You can relax now, you can listen to a piece of music and enjoy it. Play a board game, read a book, loll on a beach, sip wine and laugh. But, in the back of your mind, the remembrance of things past like a dark shadow haunts you, just a little.
The How To’s of the Climb Out.
When you see the shoreline on your horizon, what can you do?
- Find moments (however small) to pray often, laugh when you can, listen to something beautiful. I recommend “No Weapon,” by the Gospel Artist Fred Hammond, whose voice is a vibrational tonal massage for the heart, mind and soul.
- Reach out to friends. Let people help you. You have enjoyed helping others. Let them do that for you. It is balm for the soul’s suffering. You are not weak to ask for and receive help.
- When you still have little time for self-care, throw an oil in your bag, like DoTERRA’s Whisper. It is known as the “Blend for Women.” It smells different on every person. It is as unique as you are, in all your struggles and triumphs. It lasts a long time too. Put it on a blanket, a favorite sweater and cuddle up, with it and get in touch with that inner child of yours. This oil blend is yummy-ness to the max, warm and calming to boot. The ingredients in this one are large and in charge. Their synergy should not be underestimated –Ingredients
- Bergamot Peel
- Ylang Ylang Flower
- Patchouli Leaf
- Vanilla Bean Absolute
- Jasmine Flower
- Cinnamon Bark
- Labdanum Leaf/Stem
- Vetiver Root
- Hawaiian Sandalwood Wood
- Cocoa Seed
- Rose Flower
- Fractionated Coconut Oil
- Daydream, as you did as a child, of your own greatness, things you will one day do, one day feel, one day see. Put on your “Magical Cape,” whatever that is for you! Mine is a pair of ripped boyfriend jeans with leopard print patches I wear often while working on my house (rehab-ing it after a renter sociopath destroyed it). It always brightens my mood. With my magic pants on, I tell you what, I could rule the world!
- Perseverate on the old adage, “This too shall pass.” Or, “Nothing lasts forever.” Know in your bones, that when you put one foot in front of the other, it gets you out of the now, into your future, which – – chances are – – will be a whole lot better.
- Sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep. Restorative sleep is the cornerstone to everything that happens in your day. Don’t try to cheat yourself of the hours you need to cope with the shiz in your biz.
- Treat your aches and pains. They are speaking to you. They are your own personal booboos. Kiss them and love them. In lieu of that, ah if they are a little hard to reach, or you’re too stiff to try, take a steaming hot salt bath, with dried flowers and calming DoTERRA oils. I have so many to recommend that work for me.
- Body work – get some. Massage was created for a reason people, duh.
- Stay away from the news and negative Nancys. Seek out people of honor, honesty among other positive characteristics that might easily restore your faith in humanity. Tell yourself Life is NOT a shiz sandwich and each day another bite. In fact, it’s actually a pretty kick ass buffet of delicious amuse bouches that will nourish and delight you for the rest of your born days. Just gotta take out the trash and you will be all set.
- Finally, stop playing the old tapes in your head (the stories of people who harmed you)…be like, instead — Ah, what was that jerk’s name? Um, I guess I forgot cause I was, um, like LIVING MY AWESOME LIFE! Be a jerk slayer. Let that be your super power. Don’t just survive the jerks who cross your path, step over, around, or go through them, but once slain, keep them in your rear view mirror, until they are so small and irrelevant, you forget you ever knew them. That my friends is the best revenge.
So, um, these are the techniques I am using today. And, everyday. Yes, I have wicked caregiver fatigue. My feet hurt bad. My knees and hips ache. I’m haggard for real and in desperate need of a zhooshing! Here, there and everywhere. But I’ll get to it, soon as I reach the shore. One cool thing about getting older is you really don’t give a damn on most days. Ah, the joys of aging. Or better said, the joys of the acceptance of aging. Doesn’t mean I’m not due for a facial and some botox, but right now, I don’t care. Just need to huddle up, make a play and go for the daylight.
Forever grateful, your friend,
Mrs. Sassy Pants