Episode 57: They Should Have Told You
Something to know about me…
I’m a bit of a perfectionist… but I’m not really good at it.
I’m not sure if both of those things can exist in one person, but for me, it seems to work.
So does that mean they cancel each other out?
There are some parts of my life that I don’t really care to get right half the time. My husband and I both have different opinions on how to load a dishwasher but I don’t care what the “perfect way” is to load it… I just want the dishes cleaned. If I get a load of laundry washed I’m not too worried about getting them put away right away. At least I’m wearing clean clothes.
So don’t think that my house is a perfectly cleaned, manicured lawn type of place. Yet when it comes to caregiving I have some high expectations and sometimes that creates a problem.
I know I’m not the only one that has this problem… Am I right?
Finding yourself as a caregiver is almost always a surprise and it is without any support most of the time. The emotional, financial, physical sucker punch isn’t something that you were expecting. In all this mess you’re expected to figure things out on the spot. Or at least you feel like you are… and you fail. We all fail at that. There is no way to know how to jump into the role of caregiver if you’ve never had any experience doing it. Suddenly you become a patient advocate, scheduler, nurse, nutritionist, driver, therapist and I’m sure I’m missing a ton of other things that you were expected to just know how to do. On top of it no one even understands this position you’ve been put in. So unless you ask, many times people won’t even know what you need help with.
So what do some of us do?
We try to do it all. We try to make up for the feeling of inadequacy added on to all the other crap we are feeling. We try to be perfect at it. Or in order to try to gain control of a life event that started already off the rails we try to do it all.
Sound like you?
You jump in … naturally, especially if the person is your child or spouse or other family member. You also jump in because that is the mood of the room when you see the doctors or talk to the nurses because maybe they are giving you the feeling that you are the one that needs to be in charge. So not only are you reeling from figuring out something is wrong with your loved one but the message you’re getting from some people is that you need to be strong. Or maybe you’re putting that pressure on yourself? You see how strong the underlying message might be not only from how you approach things but from the people around you?
So you jump into action… you make all the doctor’s appointments. You read as much as you can online about the health concern (even though you know you shouldn’t be) and try to keep it all together so you can…
And that’s when things start to slip…
You miss a meeting at work because you completely forgot about it. Or maybe the kids had a soccer game but you didn’t get them there on time because you didn’t have enough time to wrangle them all into the car to get there. You miss your mom’s birthday or that dental appointment you scheduled back 6 months ago when life was perfect.
And then what do you do? You start to judge yourself for not being able to do it all.
You start to think to yourself how you could be so much better. How you used to be so much better at remembering things and getting to places on time. Your house is a mess and you can’t remember the point when things started to take a turn and even though you want things to be a certain way (you know the way it was before you were a caregiver) you have no energy to do it. So you begin to tell yourself that you are really sucking at life. You aren’t the awesome parent you used to be… you aren’t showing up as your best self at work and you can hardly take care of yourself.
You feel like you are failing at life … and most times you are so embarrassed about it you won’t talk about it with someone or take it as a sign that you need some help with the things you just can’t do anymore. All because no one told you in the beginning how it would feel, what to expect, what the progression would be as a caregiver. The doctors told you about the steps needed for the person you care for. The tests that needed to be done, surgeries, recovery, timelines, expectations… but nobody told you what to expect for yourself.
No care plan…
No support systems…
Meaning, you probably felt like you were supposed to be able to handle it. Does that make any sense to you right now? Does it feel like you are able to handle it all on your own?
What some of us do is in order to seem like we can do it all, we try to do everything perfectly to offset the fact that we haven’t a clue on what to do. Even though we are all human we live in societies, friend groups and family circles where failure is a bad thing and a personal issue. We can’t be perfect caregivers in the sense that everything we do in life is done perfectly. I don’t think we ever thought that was a goal to have as people before caregiving but somehow we become caregivers and start to judge our inability to be super human.
Let me explain something …. The day you become a caregiver. That day you found out your wife has breast cancer or your husband was in a horrible accident. That day is the day your brain began to go into survival mode. Once you feel unsafe you naturally try to figure out ways to protect yourself and your family. Your brain goes into overdrive trying to figure out what the best scenario is and the problem is every time you hear from a doctor the terms change. Plus every time you have to explain to someone about what has happened you have to not only relive those emotions you have to enter into a conversation you don’t have a lot of experience with. Instantaneously you begin to feel tired as your body begins to deal with the stress of the situation and you go into a self preservation mode whatever that may look like for you. You can’t eat, you can’t sleep and you are overwhelmed with worry.
Is that about right? Oh and on top of it you immediately try to figure out what this means for your future. All of your energy goes into this. And then you expect yourself to continue to be that perfect parent or model employee?
It really makes me angry to know that some people actually feel like they can do it all in the beginning. The person who does have benefits and can take off time from work but doesn’t. The parent who doesn’t have anyone come in to help with the kids so they can tend to their spouse. All because they feel like they should be able to do it all.
Maybe feel is the wrong word.
I think we do this because we don’t know any other way. We can’t problem solve outside of what is needed to help the person we are caring for. We try to just go on autopilot in the rest of the parts of our life because we really don’t know what else to do. We don’t have someone sit us down and tell us - get people together to help take care of the household while you take care of yourself and your loved one. Or at least say - be ok with not being perfect in all of the parts of your life because being perfect shouldn’t be important to you right now.
So please know.. if you have just become a caregiver, or you’ve been a caregiver but find yourself in a place where things have become scary again and you question how you’ll get through this next phase… you shouldn’t be expected to do it all and you definitely should expect things to fall through the cracks… and that’s ok.
No matter where you are in your caregiving journey I want you to take a moment and congratulate yourself for what you are doing. And always remember that everything you do, big or small, is important to the person you care for.
You matter to them way more than you might know.
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