Here's the pattern. I wake-up optimistic and end the day collapsed in defeat. I wake-up every morning like your neighbor's annoying dog, brimming with pep and vim, only to feel that enthusiasm fade into disappointment. I know, I know... It's annoying to be a morning person but I love the idea of a fresh start and relish the chance to begin again. Who doesn't love a do-over?
Mornings are my romance. They embrace that do-over love story but unfortunately, somewhere around noon I start picking fights with the day. I develop a restlessness and it starts encroaching on my mood, echoing reminders that today is just like yesterday and it will likely end in rout. True to form, it often does. Luckily, I've never been good at grudges so come morning, that bad attitude is nothing but a bad dream, until noon, and then here we go again... It's cyclical. I know this, and yet it's been impossible to break.
We all have habits we're not proud of but habits themselves are telling of something more deeply seeded in our character. They are these little comfort zones that will never change without effort. Well, good news! For the past month I can honestly say I have been putting in the effort and I feel a shift. The failures are still abundant but the cycle has been disrupted. There is a freshness that's emerging for the first time in years.
Caregiving (and I imagine parenting) is so all consuming that its immersive nature leaves little room for planning and perspective. Yet, in order to maintain your own sense of identity, it's absolutely necessary to find an approach that works for you. There are too many "experts" ready to thrust their opinions and suggestions your way but for advice to feel useful it has to resonate to stick. Our situations are often much too personal for peripheral advice to feel helpful. If anything, it complicates things. It's one more voice in your head suggesting shoulds and shouldn'ts. It ends up as more noise and ultimately little gets accomplished.
Boom! Next thing you know it's two years later and your facing those same demons. That was me until about a month or so ago when I came-up with a plan. Not just any plan. My own freakin' plan! My own, nonsensical sense-making plan to provide a strategy for getting my head above water and my feet out of the mud cause I can't take one more day of slogging through the fact that this role... this unforgiving caregiving job, is what's become of my life!
So here is what I did. I spent several weeks prior to plan implementation, just coming up with the pieces. I took into account the types of tasks necessary for this role as well as personal things I wanted to include but were being neglected. I compartmentalized them all within the standard Monday- Friday work week with regard to weekends and themed each day. Instead of having one massive to-do list, I actually have seven. I know that sounds crazy but stay with me. It's not really seven lists but a single list that I add to and rotate through the week prioritized by theme. These are the themes:
Monday- Business/Administrative Tasks
This is the mail, the bills, paperwork, phone calls, etc... All the stuff that's keeping the household afloat. It's the kind of stuff made of modern nightmares. Taking care of business on behalf of another person is an administrative circus. It's time consuming and it's important and it's the last thing I ever want to be doing so I put it right up front so I can get it out of the way and put the dread to bed for the week. I also deal with my own such affairs on this day too. I think of it as a household business day but only for that day. This kind of stuff will bleed over if you let it so don't! Just do it on Mondays and move on.
Tuesday- Education/Research/Learning Tasks
On Tuesday's we go to the library and I check-out books and movies for my dad. These are critical to the success of the other days of the week as they act as excellent pacifiers when I'm preoccupied with other things. Additionally, I designate research type stuff on this day. Things like finding additional senior resources or Youtubing how to fix the dryer, or scowering Pintrest for a new recipe... Those tasks I prioritize on this day because they require some investigating at their essence they're educational. I also make a point of reading the paper on Tuesdays as a way to better understand what is happening in the outside world. Clueing into to what's going on "out there" helps with decision making on the home front. Everything from health care, to the real estate market, to the new fiduciary rules, and the pending tax reform all provide intel on how the "system" works. This is important because the system cannot support the needs that exist in elderly care and it's falling on the shoulders of caregivers and crippling them in the process. As a caregiver, I need to know what's coming. I'm already at the point of adrenal fatigue so the last thing I need is another surprise. It's also increasingly important to understand the severity of this problem to assess your personal strengths and weaknesses. There are many layers to this stuff and I feel you really need to know yourself so you know when to ask for help.
- My tip here is to play to your strengths and pay for your weaknesses.
Wednesday- Core Activities
It's the center of week so why shouldn't it represent the center of my life? It's all the things I love doing but sacrifice for the sake of excuses. So now, on Wednesdays, all the things I've wanted to do but never seem to prioritize have an official spot in the calendar, smack dab in the middle of everything, right where they belong. For me this consists of spoon carving, bread making, knife sharpening, and other crafty endeavors that reflect my passions and enable me to retain my sense of identity. Caregiving is all consuming and if you don't drive a wedge into it for the sake of the things you love, you will lose yourself. The caregiving world is a vacuum and you must protect what's important.
Every Thursday I help my dad make a phone call to someone he knows. He can hardly speak in full sentences but he lights up at the sound of a familiar voice which is enough to tell me this activity is a must. We also try and get out of the house. We run small errands. We go to the bank or the hardware store or if the suns not blazing hot, we might stop by a park. This is a chance for us to be out and engaging in the public sphere. It's a day of outside stimulus. It's typically no longer than an hour or two but upon returning he's often tired and takes a nap. I then set about working on other such "community" matters like initiating emails, writing thank you letters, networking/marketing type stuff... It's really nothing too spectacular. I think what gives it meaning is that it's proactive outreach rather than just responding to things. It's also a pretty decent mix of my dad's world and mine and it's actually kinda fun to think about community in this intentional way.
The time will come where I'll one day have to sell our house and the surplus of belongings will have to be dealt with. I can say I have truly turned this place around but still, there is a ton stuff. I've moved enough times prior to living here to know packing-up means you typically can't take everything. So, on Fridays, I try to focus on collecting things to donate, list on Ebay or Offer-up, or just straight-up purge depending. This in truth is time consuming. Taking photos and creating ads for stuff begs to wonder what your time is really worth and I think this question can only be answered by those in the trenches. For me personally, this is a solo mission. If I think too much on what I'm physically doing, I become angry and frustrated that I've succumbed to hawking goods that aren't even my mine! It feels like a burden. But, a little bit one day a week feels manageable and with time, you'll notice improvements.
Saturday- FREE DAY
There is no theme for this day. You can use it however you want. If you didn't manage to tackle something from your list earlier in the week, you can do it on this day, or you can make plans with a friend, or whatever you feel like doing. I don't hold myself to anything on this day. I leave it to desire...
Sunday- Prep Day!
This is for whatever needs to happen to prepare for the coming week. It typically includes getting groceries, cleaning common areas, doing laundry, reviewing the above schedule, and making a big family meal that will provide a day or two of leftovers. It's mostly chores but the kind of stuff that feels like we are off to a strong start. And it's important to feel that! Caregiving often feels defeating so having alignment with positive momentum is important.
As for implementing this schedule I list things forward. What I mean is that as new tasks pop into mind, I list them on the most applicable day for the following week. For example, if I need to pick-up a new prescription for my dad or have the tires rotated on the car, I schedule those things on the next available Thursday because in my mind, those tasks reflect community engagements. If I want to try a new recipe or sew some flour sacks, I note it as a Wednesday task where I leave room for the pursuit of craft.
This themed schedule approach is not a 100% cure-all but it has been a significant game changer for feeling more control when managing responsibilities. It has worked so well I've even adopted a similar approach for exercise and self-care which I can tell you about some other time if anyone is interested but for now this will have to do. And I hope it's a concept that might work for others feeling overwhelmed. The good news is that it's flexible. You can theme the days in a way that works for you and construct a better sense of fluidity when it comes to "how" you are going to get all the things done.
Good luck and let me know how it goes if you try something like this. Also, please, please, please let me know of any methods or tips that have helped you structure your caregiving time. The "how" of it all still feels impossible on some days so any suggestions are much appreciated!