When to deal with it. When to ignore it. When to fight about it. When to take a break.
You have seen the t-shirts or maybe you have even said something like this …
It’s all fun and games until…Someone loses a weiner. (Feel free to add your own line.)
Someone calls HR.
Someone loses a nut.
Being with and dealing with someone who has a chronic illness such as depression, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or migraines is all fun and games…at first. At first it is easy to do your work job, your house stuff, your play time, school stuff, church stuff, and all kinds of other “stuff.”
Eventually, more is needed of you. Your time, your efforts, your energy. Suck-it-up-buttercup works for a while. Then the demands on your time become draining. Do you take a time out and rest? Do you take a couple of days to recharge? No. You keep doing what you need to do. What you have to do. I get it. You want to be there for them and help them. You do love them and want the best for them. But…
Eventually, there is always a “But…”
Take three minutes and assess where you are in the care giving cycle, what is going on with your work, your family, your responsibilities, your care receiver, your physical needs, your mental needs, your emotional needs?
If you haven’t found your “but,” then either you are new to this or you won’t let yourself think about it. You can compartmentalize and stuff things down, for a while too. You put your job in one box. You put your personal stuff in another box. Another box has your care giver duties in it. Everything has their own nice little box and never are the boxes to leak or burst open and mix with the other boxes. Sure, you have everything under control, until you don’t Shit happens and at the most inopportune time. No matter how secure your box is, there will come a time when you will have to deal with all of it. How do I know? I have done it myself. I pushed things down. Ignored things and people. Yelled at work. Ranted and reaved at home. For minor things. Silly, little things. I didn’t know, at the time, that my boxes were leaking. I didn’t realize that I was very short tempered. I didn’t realize the damage I was doing to my techs who worked with me. I didn’t realize that my boys were becoming scared of me. Imagine how it feels when you do realize all of those things and more. The apologies you have to make. The rebuilding of trust and security for the boys. The knowledge that nothing will ever be the same. Even with forgiveness, no one forgets. I did do better, when I knew better. I wasn’t taking care of my needs. I had to put myself in the mix to rest and recharge to be able to help my dad who was the primary caregiver to my mom.
Should you always deal with a situation when it arises? My personal preference is, yes, deal with it now. If it were only that simple. If it only involved me, it would be simple. It does not just involve me. It involves three other people. Dammit. Now we have to discuss it, think about it, discuss it some more and then there is always someone with an objection. How about if we, identify the situation as best we can from our own points of view and agree to discuss it at an agreed upon date and time. Did you know that everyone has their own unique point of view? Did you know that a care receiver and a care giver have totally different views at times? Most folks have no idea what the care receiver wants or needs, they just assume according to their own wants and needs. If you are going to help someone else it is probably a good idea to talk with them to find out the who, what, where, when and why’s of things.
What if we could get away from right or wrong? What if we could be open to the possibility of many different ideas, ways or opportunities? If I can realize that it is not always my way or the highway, then you can too. Give each other the time and good information when there is a major decision to be made.
Some things you do need to ignore. Some things do not need to be handled right now. The things that will not matter in a month, you ignore. The things that will not matter in a year or two, you ignore. The minor household chores that can be delayed, ignore them until another time when you are better equipped to make a decision. Decision fatigue is a real thing. It takes a lot of energy to think and make decisions that are new to you. I know this sounds like management by crises, but it isn’t. You get to choose. Make the best choice possible with the information that you have, right now. It is a gift to be able to make a decision before a crisis hits. A plan of action to implement, when needed, is a lifeline. Usually, the things to ignore are behavior issues. You may be dealing with an angry aging parent. They may have outbursts. Abusive behavior you cannot ignore. You must take care of yourself. They may refuse to bathe or change their clothes. Ok, so ignore it for a day or two. If they are not in harms way, sometimes you have to let them be. Your family knows your buttons and they know how to push them and they will push them. Can you ignore the button pushing? Can you, let it go? If you can, you will be much happier and much more in control. If you can’t ignore your buttons being pushed, you will get stuck, become even more frustrated and stressed out.
What about fighting? I am not talking about physical fighting, I am talking about arguing, which is fighting in my world. This one can be tricky. Some families cannot handle fighting in any way, shape or form. They would sooner give up everything than to fight. Other families can have a frank discussion with fighting, work it out and move on with no hard feelings. Others can fuss and fight and have hard feelings for many months, even forever at times.
I wonder what is causing the fighting? Feeling unheard or ignored is a big trigger. Listen to each other first. Use a talking stick. You know, the one holding the stick gets to talk and then when they are finished, they pass it on to another person. STOP figuring out how you will respond. If you are figuring out how to respond, you are not listening. Listen for understanding. Sometimes people may say the wrong words, listen for the understanding and feelings behind the words. You do not have to agree but you do have to agree to disagree. Are you open to the possibility that the choices you must make are for right now? That in a week or two you may make different choices. Sometimes there are no good choices. There are only the choices that you will regret the least making. I wish that I could tell you that all your choices will be logical, but that is not realistic. Are we fighting because we are afraid of making a mistake or a bad choice? Guess what? You will make mistakes. You will make a bad choice. They can be rectified, almost all of the time. When you make a bad choice, do what athletes do, pat your chest twice with your hand and say “my bad.” Then move forward. Stop beating yourself up. Did you do the best that you could with the information you had at the time? If yes, move on.
Instead of fighting what if we worked on one issue at a time and not the lifetime of issues? I understand that some folks cannot find common ground. In that case, place the needs of the care receiver and the hands-on caregiver at the top of the list. You may find that a dictatorship is the best way to proceed.
I am amazed at the folks that do not talk to a relative because of an issue with hurt feelings. I have seen it in my extended family but not my core family. We could always express our opinion, discuss, fuss, fight or whatever we needed to do without fear of being cut out of each other’s lives. You do have to work within the parameters of your family dynamics. We could chase many rabbits on this topic.
When to take a break? Before you are drained would be ideal. You will need physical breaks and mental breaks. There will be times that you are too overwhelmed to make a decision. Too tired or you do not have enough good information to make a decision yet. Take that time out. Agree to take a break if a discussion becomes too intense. Come back in a couple of days or another week. Maybe you are at an impasse. Who will be the ultimate decider?
Chronic stress can kill you. Take a break to rest and recharge.
Key signs you need a break include:
- Changes in eating habits
- Cynicism about work
- Difficulty concentrating
- Getting sick more frequently
- Lack of energy
- Lack of motivation
- Low mood
- Feeling unfocused or fuzzy-headed
- Physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches
- Poor performance at work
- Sleep disturbances
- Using drugs or alcohol to cope with stress
- Withdrawing from friends, family, or co-workers
What days or times will you be taking time off? Write it down on the calendar. Yes, write it down. What gets written down, gets done. Realize that you will feel uncomfortable doing this. It is okay to feel some discomfort. Do not let that discomfort derail you from much needed time off or time away. You will come back stronger and more able to deal with any issue that may arise. Even an elite athlete needs days off.