Caregiving, Take the Leap!

caregiving leap

I recently heard a good riddle. Three frogs were sitting on a log. Two decided it was time to jump into the stream. How many frogs were on the log?

The answer is three. Two frogs decided it was time, but they never took the leap.

How often have you said, “I really have to get to the gym more” or “I really need to eat better” or even “I’m going to stop smoking”? It is easier to identify what we need to do than it is to take action.

So, as a caregiver, how do you take care of yourself? Everyone has heard that old overused metaphor about putting on your oxygen mask first, but how do you do that when there are so many immediate and pressing needs?

The first step is easy. Know that you are the linchpin that holds everything together. If you fall apart, so does everything else. You already knew that. That’s why you feel tired and stressed.

The second step is also easy. You already know what you need or want to do differently. You have already identified “I really need to …..”

Filling in that blank, you have named your frog. You know what it is time to do. But something has stopped you. Something keeps you from jumping into the stream. Can you identify what that is?

Usual answers include lack of time, lack of money, and lack of support. Each of these excuses makes assumptions that may not be true. The challenge is to refine your “frog” to its essence, simplify as much as possible, to get to a way to jump in.

Not enough time? We make time for those things that are important. You are important. I know one caregiver who would wake up at 5:00 so that she would have 90 minutes before she had to start getting her disabled husband and daughter out of bed. Of course, she also went to bed at 10, after getting them in bed, so she had enough sleep.

Another caregiver marked her calendar with blocks of time that got nothing else scheduled. This was her time to exercise, read, meditate, breathe. Just like other appointments, it was scheduled. Yes, emergencies occasionally intervened, but not as often as you might think. And the next breather was already in the schedule.

Identify a small piece of time – 30 to 60 minutes- that can occur on a regular basis. Put it in your schedule.

Not enough money? Reading, meditative breathing, walking, Zentangling, coloring, listening to beautiful music are all free.

Disease organizations often have money earmarked to help with respite. Some organizations, like Well Spouse Association and For Pete’s Sake, provide weekend getaways without cost to caregivers. Hospice services under Medicare or Medicaid include respite care. Check your resources.

Not enough support? First question is, “Have you asked?” Some people want to help but don’t know what to offer. Your specific request is not a burden. It is a gift because people want to help. They just don’t know what to do.

You’ve asked and no one answered? Again, go back to those disease-specific organizations. They often have respite services. Check with your local churches, synagogues, mosques, or service organizations. They often have volunteers who will come and stay with your loved one on a regular (weekly or monthly) basis so you can step out.

Not taking care of your own health and well-being means that linchpin on which everything else revolves is at risk of breaking. Neither you nor your loved one is served by that.

So, steps to maintaining your own health:

  1. Name your frog. Identify what it is you need or want to do.
  2. Just take on 1 frog at a time. Keep it as simple as possible
  3. Identify what keeps you from doing what it is you know you need to do
  4. Identify resources that help solve that obstacle. They are out there.
  5. As the Nike commercial says, “Just do it.” Make that jump into the stream. You’ll feel better for it, and so will everyone else.

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About Elissa Lewin

Elissa Lewin is a Licensed Psychologist and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has maintained a private practice outside of Philadelphia for 25 years. Her own experience as a caregiver led to her founding Nancy’s House, a comprehensive respite program for family caregivers. www.nancy's-house.org

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