Episode 96: Why You Shouldn't Eat Your Caregiving Emotions

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I have a confession to make…

It’s the middle of January and I just put the holiday decorations away.

Let’s talk about how important it is not to let your Christmas tree become a fire hazard (lol)

Let’s talk about how important it is to acknowledge your emotions.

Have a step into my world. My family celebrates Christmas and I love decorating for the holidays. I get it… it’s January and you want to be done with all of that.

That’s why this is important. 

You see we have our traditions and specific times we set up our tree and decorations and take them down. Without fail for most of our 26 years of marriage. 

This year was different. 

The end of this year felt harder than any of the past. It was a combination of not being able to travel to see family, having maybe too much family time for two weeks and definitely because we all were extra tired and just felt off the first week of January. 

2021 was a hard year. It was such a hard year, just in general, that it surprised me when I did my own caregiving review that I took you through two episodes ago to remember my husband actually had a pretty extensive surgery and recovery for almost the first half of last year.  That’s why it’s so important for you to take time to review what worked and what didn’t. We have so much going on that we just keep getting back up and moving forward without time to process what has happened.

So the decorations went up without a hitch but in the end no one had the energy to take them back down. My husband and I kept sending each other funny videos about not getting your decorations put away and we talked about how we really needed to do it. It just didn’t get done. 

You might be saying, what’s the big deal? 

Let me explain,

First of all, if this were any other year I would have done everything to get Christmas put away on time - whatever that means. No matter how I was feeling I would get things put away most likely at the determent of my health, I would probably have had become passive aggressive about doing it on my own - which I really hate to watch myself do - and I would have finished off exhausted and resentful. But it would have been completed all along with a bit of arguing, a dash of letting things slam more than usual and three very unhappy people putting away things we put up to enjoy holiday happiness.

That didn’t happen this year because I very easily gave myself permission to make myself more of a priority and I trusted that things would get done when it was time. 

So last weekend we all mustered up the energy to clean and put things away. I put a record on - because I grew up in the 1900s as kids are saying it now- and I wanted the cozy feeling of a grainy record to listen to )if you get my newsletter I’ll share the Spotify playlist for the record I was listening to, or you can send me an email and I’ll forward it to you. 

So, my husband brought up all the boxes and I started on the tree and everything went well until I dropped and broke the first ball. It wasn’t a special decoration and I break ornaments all the time. But breaking this one made me really sad and I realized that putting Christmas away wasn’t hard because last year was difficult but also because putting them away meant I had to keep moving forward into this year and all it has to offer. 

Keeping Christmas up was our first collective family experience of putting our heads in the ground and trying to ignore what this year has to offer. We could forget about the realities of life because it was perpetually Christmas. 

My daughter will be moving on to college this year. We have a lot of changes we will be going through as a family and then there are those we don’t know of. How will my husband’s health be this year? Will we go into a third year of surgeries? 

As a mom I have an idea of the big changes that are coming and as a caregiver I don’t. Neither of these feel any better than the other. 

Here are some things I was reminded of while putting things away.

  1. Prioritizing yourself can look like not putting the holiday decorations away because it would be a little too much for you at the time. It might not be the Christmas tree. It could be the pile of clothes you have to wash or the stack of benefit paperwork you need to file away. Asking yourself why you feel tension about something not getting done is the first thing to do. Quite frankly, if it isn’t essential for you to do. If no one will suffer and it doesn’t cause a health issue or put anyone in danger then let it go for later. You will find at some point you’ll feel compelled to do it. So putting together dinner so everyone has a meal and making sure the person you care for has their medication on time are things that have to be done. Pairing your socks - not so much.
  2. Sometimes you don’t see the emotions you’re holding on to until you break a Christmas decoration. I was surprised how sad I was when the decoration broke and I was quick to realize how much more emotion was involved in delaying the end of the holidays. Maybe you didn’t want to put the holidays away because it might be the last one with your loved one. Emotions will pop up when you give them the smallest of openings. Being aware of why you’re really sad or angry is a good tool to have so it isn’t displaced. I knew I wasn’t sad about the decoration and I had to identify what was going on so I could put that emotion in the right place.
  3. That brings me to number three. When you feel something, try not to shove it back down deep from where it came. The more you acknowledge your emotions and see them for what they are, the better able you will be to understand how you are feeling about things. We are all under a certain amount on underlying stress and anxiety. It’s really difficult to be a caregiver and not be. However, to be able to know why you are anxious and worried is much better than feeling it, not acknowledging it and not attending to it. Then it just all builds up and explodes in, usually, an unfortunate way. I didn’t fall into a puddle of tears while trying to sweep up the glass. I just took a minute to see the emotion. To feel sad and understand that this is going to be a big year and it can be hard to move forward knowing that. I gave myself permission to feel this sadness instead of feeding it or trying to starve it and it passed through much quicker because of that. If you can learn to see the emotion, name it and watch it as if it’s a movie let’s say, it’s easier to witness how your feeling and attend to what you really need. 
  4. Next thing I realized is change is hard but it also can be good. Being uncomfortable can bring growth and as a family we can support each other in feeling uncomfortable and grow throughout this year together. If you are able to understand the things you are feeling and talk to your loved ones about it, it helps to grow from your experiences. Does your husband have their 3 month scans coming up and are you scared about what they’ll find because they were already watching a tumor last visit? That’s a valid concern. Will you go to the visit with them? Of course. Will it be hard for both of you? Yes. Having that experience together and sharing how you feel about it can help both of you see that you’re a team and together you can get through almost anything. That alone not only helps you grow as a person but helps your relationship with that person grow as well. 
  5. Lastly, the more you try to hide from something the harder it is to be in the present. I don’t really remember much about the first week of the year. I do remember the tree being up. I remember all three of us talking about how the decorations were still up. However, that’s about all that really stuck with me for that week. Trying to hide from the year I have no control over because I can’t stop time, by not putting away holiday decorations highjacked the beginning of my year so much so that I wouldn’t be able what we even had for dinner once that week. Hiding from things or trying to ignore the inevitable consumes our attention. Don’t miss out on time that could be spent enjoying the people you love, doing things you enjoy because all of your energy is spent on trying to forget.  

It’s difficult to be you, I completely agree. I might not know you personally, although I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the pleasure of getting to know some of you through email, but if you’re a caregiver your life is difficult in some way and having a healthy connection with your emotions is difficult to do. There’s too much to handle. There are too many things to do, and to worry about. I know. 

But if you are able to find a way to slowly start to acknowledge what you’re feeling when you’re feeling it you will find that it takes a lot of the heaviness out of them. It makes life a little bit easier and when you are caregiving having something become a little bit easier is an important goal to have. 

Take care of yourself and thank you for listening.

Want to grab that playlist for the record I listened to? Here it is... Siembra


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