My family and I had a fantastic long weekend in Toronto, but I returned home yesterday to a full day of busyness. In addition to the normal stuff of life and caregiving, my husband wasn’t well and spent most of the day in bed, my youngest son had his spring music concert, and my middle son had a celebratory gala with his colour guard. Since I haven’t mastered the art of being in two places at one time I ended up at the spring concert while a caregiver attending Matthew’s colour guard gala. It was a crazy busy day.
My days are sufficiently busy and my to do list is so very long that I have a hard time sitting still doing nothing. I can almost always think of about fifteen things to do at any one time. Even my leisure time is consumed with relatively productive activities like sewing, walking the dog, or reading. During those rare moments I watch TV there is a good chance you will find me folding laundry, ironing, or knitting. When I am not doing something I feel guilty.
Research tells us that extreme caregivers struggle with an almost chronic sense of burden. But when you live every day knowing that there will never be enough hours in the day to do what you need to do it can be hard to “turn off”. For extreme caregivers it is further complicated by the fact that much on their to-do list is vitally necessary to ensure the health and well-being of another, often at a cost to themselves.
One of the first things every caregiver is told is to engage in self care. I have already written about the fact that from a purely logistical standpoint this can be overwhelmingly challenging. It is not as if I can decide that I won’t perform my son’s personal or medical care today because, you know, I need a break. But the psychological side to the whole self-care challenge can be equally difficult. When your life is a constant flurry of activities you MUST do to ensure your child’s survival and the general functioning of the family (like meals and clean clothes) it can be hard to give oneself permission to take a break. Ever. In the face of constant need-to-do’s it can be very difficult to create the necessary psychological space to stop.
Yesterday at about 4:3opm I briefly collapsed in a chair with a cup of tea and just sat there. I didn’t do a damn thing for about 20 minutes. I kept thinking I should do something. I should get up and get back to work. I had yet to start dinner. I had to feed people and leave for the spring concert shortly after dinner. There was a house and yard full of chores that needed to be done. I was wasting time just sitting here with this cup of tea.
And then it dawned on me that this was self care. Self care was more than sleeping for 8 hours, eating nutritious meals, and engaging in appropriate amounts of exercise. Self care was more than another activity I needed to do before I could cross it off the to -do list. Self-care was also creating the psychological space to do nothing. Easier said than done by the way.
I know. I know. It is so obvious how did I miss it? But when your life is all about ‘doing-for’ all the time it can be very difficult to do nothing and believe that the doing nothing is actually doing something. That these moments of seemingly doing nothing are not wasted time, but in fact a productive form self-care.
So if you are an extreme caregiver I would challenge you to try to find the time in your day to do nothing. Even if it just for a moment.