Managing Caregiver Chaos
For some reason, I have found that when I have a period of peace, quiet, and routine that I can expect a similar period of chaos to arrive in the near future. Usually the chaos that comes is more than a little disruptive and what makes it chaos is that it comes from multiple directions all at once. For instance, my life is pretty busy with taking care of Lynn and working full time. However, in the past month, my parents have moved in because my 82 year old Mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and needed help when she started chemotherapy; my mother-in-law was admitted to the hospital for excessive bleeding after a colonoscopy; my father-in-law fell and is in the hospital to rule out any broken bones; my son-in-law was in a wreck and totaled his truck (fortunately no injury); one of my four employees resigned; we received notice of a routine government audit at work that is very time consuming (and of course fell under the duties of the person who resigned two weeks before the notice came in so now it falls to me to figure out what to do); another of my employees may be facing medical problems; Lynn’s assistant who stays with him when I have to go into work can’t help because her husband has been in the ICU and last but not least, it’s Thanksgiving with Christmas right behind. Talk about chaos!!!
How do I deal with all this chaos?
As a caregiver, one of my “bags of tricks” is the ability to adapt and be flexible; plus I never throw anything away that might be used to “fix” something later. With that principle in mind, I have a medical supply area and an equipment area of my house to help me address any mishaps to Lynn or to my family members. Knowing that chemo has multiple side effects many of which result in extreme fatigue and weakness, I’ve set up Mom and Dad’s room with all my discarded support equipment from Lynn’s early days with MS that were geared toward preventing falls and conserving energy. Also, rather than being her caregiver, I direct Mom’s care and let Dad do the actual hands-on as much as possible. That practice frees up my time for Lynn and allows Dad to continue to care for Mom.
Most of Lynn’s Mom and Step-Father concerns are taken care of by his sister; however, one of our main concerns for them is if they fall and can’t get help. His Step-Dad is legally blind now and his Mom has a neurological condition that results in very limited strength so if he falls, she can’t help and if she falls, he would have difficulty determining how to help her as well. Therefore, we have bought them emergency alert buttons to wear so they will have access to help when no one is around. By knowing they can get help, Lynn is not as anxious about their welfare or as frustrated in not being able to check on them. If he’s less anxious, then his demands on me are less as well.
With work heating up and becoming more demanding, I’ll need to go into the office more often. Therefore, I’m working on identifying other resources to stay with Lynn while I’m away. Having Mom and Dad here is an unexpected help in that regard in that my brother and his wife are able to come help with Mom and Dad and have offered to stay with Lynn occasionally, as well, if I need to go into the office and Lynn’s assistant is still not available.
My best strategy for dealing with chaos though is “don’t sweat the small stuff.” I do just enough cooking and cleaning to meet essential needs. I don’t push myself to attend events that aren’t essential or take on projects that deplete my energy level. I am giving myself permission to stop work at a decent hour and using paid leave to make up work hours so I can get sufficient sleep to have the energy needed to keep going every day.
One of my most useful strategies for survival is staying in the moment. I focus on what I have to take care of now and when I start thinking of ALL I HAVE TO DO, I stop, take a deep breath, and force my thoughts to the here and now. I’m a worrier by nature and a planner by instinct so it’s sometimes a struggle to be in the here and now but I’ve really working on focusing my attention in that direction. It’s amazing how it helps.
Oh, and one more survival trick…..humor with prayer. After a while when every phone call brings one more crisis, after I hang up the phone, I just have to laugh at how ridiculous it’s all becoming. It’s like a sitcom that you watch just knowing all those things can’t happen to one person all at the same time. I just have to laugh it off and pray for peace of spirit. The laughter releases the tension and the prayers lift the burden onto shoulders that are much stronger than my own. I use my faith to gain strength and know I’m not alone in the struggles and that knowledge carries me though. It’s just like that poem about Footprints. These are the times of my life when I’m carried in Jesus’ arms because I’m too tired to carry the burden myself. Of all my strategies for survival, this one works the best.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We want to check in. How are you feeling?