I really don’t like myself right now. Most of us have days like that, when we wake up on the wrong side of the bed or we’re so self-absorbed that we hurt the ones we love the most. But I keep having more than my usual share. I am irritable, short-tempered and angry.
It’s like a pair of manic mice are gnawing away at the edges of my nerves, fraying them to the point I should wrap myself in caution tape to keep people away. Maybe it’s because I’ve entered my tenth year of caregiving. Maybe it’s because I’m now caring for two parents instead of one. Maybe it’s because my job ended last December and I miss my daily interaction with coworkers I called friends and the challenge of creative work. Maybe it’s because COVID has forced us to shelter in place and my “shelter” is not a refuge. Maybe it’s all of those things.
I find myself trapped in moments I am desperate to escape. I cannot handle questions or even suggestions about simple things. What’s for dinner? Have you fed the cats? What are you doing? Are you going out today? Where are you going? I know what I’m doing, but the simple act of explaining myself is more than I can handle so my poor Mother bears the brunt of my anger. I try to walk away, not to be mean or ignore her but to placate my Jekyll and Hyde tendencies and avoid an argument.
There are times I’m short with my Father. I ask him to sit down but he doesn’t understand. So I get upset, which only frustrates us both. I need an oxygen tank full of kindness, but it must be running low. I have not been to church in months, have not tucked myself into a room full of believers worshipping and letting the music and God’s presence wash over my weary soul. I pray and worship at home, but I miss being with my church family and the strength that it gives me.
I am in a hard place. A very, very hard place. I wash clothes, bathe and dress my Father, prepare and clean up after meals, run errands, shop for groceries, take my Father to the restroom, organize medicine, ferry my parents to doctor’s appointments, pedicures and haircuts. And much more. I don’t do this for a husband and children of my own. I do this for my parents. I don’t regret it. I just wish there was more to my life.
I have been in a battle with a disease that is slowly killing my Father. But now it seems I’m in a battle with myself. And I feel like I’m losing. I crave peace, stillness, solitude. I try to find it everywhere I go. A sliver of quiet that I can squeeze myself into, wrap around my whole body to steal away from the craziness of my life. I look for zippers, handles, doorknobs, drawer pulls to grasp and open up a space of quiet in my day. There is so much noise, so many things being tossed in the air, swirling, falling, crashing. I cannot catch them all. I try but I fail. I think if I just had a better grip, I could do it all at once, be the caregiver I need to be. But it’s an illusion.
How do I alleviate the pressure? If I had a migraine, I’d take a pill. If I were sleep deprived, I’d take a nap. But what is the cure for a caregiver bordering on burnout?
It’s called self-care and it’s the absolute last thing on a caregiver’s mind. There are things to do and boxes to check. People to take care of and things to stay on top of. It’s much easier to skip over those things that help me. Only it isn’t. Because when you avoid self-care, you become irritable, short-tempered and angry.
It’s like having a social life as a single person in Washington D.C. You must carve out time for hobbies, meeting people and doing things you want to do. Otherwise, the tyranny of the urgent screams at you and you become your work. You tell yourself that you are important, your work is important. No one moves to our nation’s capital to establish roots. They move there because of a job, a career, a cause. And if you aren’t careful, the cause becomes your life. And that’s where I am. Caregiving has become my life.
A couple of days ago, I stumbled across a checklist from A Caregiver’s Guide to Dealing with Dementia. It’s a marvelous tool to show just how well a caregiver is at self-care. This time I scored a 35 which is considered good but it’s borderline for being at moderately high risk for having personal health problems.
I’m a word girl. And looking at all those words of what self-care actually looks like opened my eyes to the things I need to do. When I think of self-care, I think of my friend’s grandmother. Her grandfather had dementia and his wife became his caregiver. She sacrificed so much to take care of him that she died before he did. Sadly, this is common for caregivers. I don’t think I’ll die before my Father, but I know that my lifestyle is having serious effects on my health. So I have no choice.
It’s time to take care of myself.