By Breeda Miller
Life as a caregiver is life on a rollercoaster. So you have to buckle up Buttercup. It starts out innocently enough. You love your parents, you’re the “best option” to be their caregiver as they age. One day you’re having dinner together and the next day you are in urgent care with a sudden symptom that scares the bejeebers out of you. It’s a life filled with ups and downs and sometimes you want to throw up.
A self-induced Panic Attack
The ups and downs are consistently inconsistent. That ominous feeling that you are heading toward a “situation” is ever present. I remember the time I was on an actual rollercoaster (BTW, I am not a fan) and felt the click, click, click as the carriage carried me to the top of the first hill. The feeling in the pit of my stomach was the closest I ever got to a full-on panic attack. I seriously considered lifting the bar and getting out. Instead, I closed my eyes and started counting, thinking it would be over soon. The next thing I knew we were climbing up another hill and it seemed to go on forever.
A Day at the Improv
Caregiving can feel like being stuck on a roller coaster with no exit somedays. Just when you have a routine going well, something will happen and you are back to square one trying to sort out medications, allergies, balance issues, and dietary needs. Of course, this is nothing compared to dealing with dementia. Caring for someone living with dementia is like living at the Improv – every day.
You have to be flexible and creative. You have to commit to entering their reality rather than trying to bring them back to your reality. This can be so hard, especially in the early days. It can feel like you are lying to them, and you might feel compelled to help them understand the status of other family members or where they are living at the moment. Soon, your reality sets in that this is an exercise in futility and only causes frustration for you and for the person living with dementia.
It’s not Selfish, it’s Survival
It’s so important to set your expectations as a caregiver. Expect the unexpected, prepare to adapt and for the love of all that is covered by Medicare, take care of yourself! You need to be your best self in order to care for someone else. It is not selfish to take a nap when you are able. It is not selfish to go for a walk on your own or to sit on the porch and enjoy your coffee by yourself. It is not selfish to ask a family member or good friend to spend time with your loved one so you can go get your hair done or wander around a favorite store or the library. You need to allow yourself time to rest and re-charge.
Mental Agility Mindset
If you don’t, you will become ill, both physically and mentally. You won’t be your best self. You need to have your wits about you to have the mental agility mindset you need to be responsive and deal with the next loop-de-loop that being a caregiver provides. “Blessed are the flexible for they shall not get bent out of shape”.