“How do I care for myself when everyone around me needs me to take care of them?”
Pat from Virginia
This question poses one of the most common caregiver dilemmas – the sandwiched caregiver. Those family caregivers who are taking care of their children, jobs, home as well as caring for an aging parent. Those who are so busy juggling everyone else’s needs that they have no time or energy to take care of their own needs.
This was the question I asked myself while I was lying in bed exhausted, overwhelmed and in excruciating pain just a few days ago. I am Pat from Virginia and here is my story.
Stuck in the middle like you
I am married and have two children, my daughter is an adult living independently and newly engaged – yeah! My son is in high school with a very active life but who requires a chauffeur. In addition to being a caregiver advocate, educator and blogger I am also a psychotherapist with an active private practice. As a family caregiver – my role is really lightweight compared to most of you. My 92-year-old mother lives alone 2 hours from me and is extremely independent – most of the time. So if you read my Six Essential Steps to being a caregiver you would know that my role is an Overseer – watching from a distance and stepping in when needed. My sister is in a more active role living closer she is the “boots on the ground” for our family.
I am not sure when the stress began but I do know when it could no longer be ignored. It may have started with the snow cancelling client appointments. The chaos this causes in my schedule as those clients in need get squeezed into every available snow free spot. Adding to the stress of being very over-scheduled for a few days is the loss of income that snow-days cause. You see in private practice if I don’t actually see the clients then I don’t get paid. My mortgage company and I don’t like snow days!
So the week I was overscheduled with clients getting caught up from the snow, trying to write my blog and work on some new features for the Sojourner Project – my Mother had surgery. The doctor said it was an easy surgery and she would only be in the hospital a few days. My sister had it covered or so we all thought. The surgery went well, a great success but at 92, Mom did not bounce back as quickly as we planned. My sister needs help. My younger sister flew in from Indiana but could only stay a week. I realized that I would now need to fit in a few trips to North Carolina over the next few weeks to fill in the gaps to care for my Mother. Not a problem, my mother and sisters need me I will just change my schedule and do what I needed to do. I didn’t notice the stress building.
But then the hard choices that had to be made, not just my clients and my livelihood, but my son and his swim meet and orthodontic appointment, my daughter and our scheduled day of wedding planning, my weekly blog, daily Facebook posts and the new projects I’ve been working on, the year end payroll reports the accountant was waiting for, and not to mention the Super Bowl party we were planning. Food shopping, laundry and during all of this my husband was completely down for the count with the flu! When he was awake he offered lots of loving support but unable to provide any actual help.
But I can handle it, I’m resilient, Plan B is always at the ready. I’ve got this under control – or so I thought – until I awoke in the middle of the night in excruciating pain.
The Super Bowl
That Super Bowl party we were planning had to be cancelled at the very last minute as my husband had a relapse of flu symptoms. This was of course after I had gone food shopping for the party – so our house was full of fun party food, the kind I usually don’t buy and lots of it! So we had out own little party and watched the game. My husband wrapped in a blanket.
The Stress Deception
Now stress will do some things to your brain that you need to be aware of – first, it clouds your thinking, making you forget really important things. Second it has you crave foods that make you “feel better” in the moment. So with my high stress level, a house full of crave-able foods and a long exciting football game – it was a fun evening. Until one in the morning, when I awoke to my small intestine twisted into an excruciating knot to reminded me of my food allergies. You see my stress had me fooled into thinking that I can have just a taste of this or a small bite of that. It smelled so good and was so tasty – it was impossible to resist – at the time.
Surviving the Guilt Trip
So after being up all night I spent the next day exhausted, trying to quiet my insides and struggling with feelings of guilt for not having the energy to do any of the things I needed to do that day. But lying in bed that day I was reminded of how important it is to take care of myself. Hard choices were going to have to be made and some things were just going to have to wait, while others were just not going to get done.
My 3 Step Caregiver Plan
It took me a few days to get back on track but here it what I have done
- I took a day off
I started the day with a plan to get some things done but it didn’t last long. I went to work because I had to get payroll reports done, I stayed awhile trying to focus on my to do list but quickly gave up and went home to bed. Then I stayed in bed and slept and tried not to think about how I was going to get it all done with now one less day this week. I didn’t write my blog that day or any Facebook post or do anything that I thought I had to get done that day. It was a struggle to convince myself that this day off was OK. But I felt so much better the next day.
- I let it go
That’s when I decided that I needed to let some things go. I prioritized and the things I wanted or thought I needed to get done this week I decided would just not get done. I’ll try again next week. So a very late blog published this week, simple newsletter, no Facebook posts, all other projects on hold and no added clients. I am eating better and making sure I am getting enough sleep.
- I let someone else help
I set a limit to when and how I can help and my sister arranged for my mother’s church friends to step into the gap. So now I can still spend the day with my daughter having fun helping her plan her wedding! And my mother’s friends can provide the help they have been offering to do for weeks. I will still be there much of the time but can do so in a more balanced way.
So not sure what the next few weeks will bring as I juggle caring for my mother, my children, my clients and you my caregiver community. But I am hopeful that while sitting in my mother’s apartment watching reruns of NCIS with the volume blasting I can be working on next week’s blog.
Not sure I’ll get to any Facebook posts for a while but send me a post to let me know how you are juggling being in the middle like me.
I am still answering your caregiver questions so please keep them coming. If I don’t address it in my blog I will email you a personal response.
I hope you found me sharing my journey helpful today. Please leave me a comment or send me an email to Patricia@SojournerVideo.com.
So until next time – take care of yourself and know that there is
…help for the journey