Spring is the time to clear out straggling leaves, twigs and sticks still clinging to winter in order to redefine the garden’s borders. It’s a time when landscapers spread fresh mulch in an effort to keep weeds from trespassing. And it’s a time of new growth, bursting with vibrant green meadows and colorful flowers emerging from the heaviness of winter. The smells alone can put a smile on your face.
For the 24/7, non-professional caregiver, spring can feel like a reprieve. In winter, just getting out of the house can feel like an insurmountable chore, especially if the person being cared for has limited mobility or requires a wheelchair and oxygen, which slows the process of running errands, trips to the doctors or just going out to see friends. Spring weather lightens the burdens of transporting.
Winter does not easily yield to spring. It goes in fits and starts, first tempting us with warm days to plant seeds and flowers, then turning about-face to give us freezing temperatures that threaten those new plants. On the caregiving front, family members who have been uninvolved in caregiving may emerge like weeds and try to encroach on your own personal borders. They may judge how you do things or try to redefine the way you provide care, making uninformed suggestions or demands that you do things differently because they have a friend who did ‘this or that’ and it worked well.
In OK Now What? A Caregiver’s Guide to What Matters, we call the people who trespass on your boundaries and borders in this way (and others) not weeds, but dragons. In defense of the dragons, those unable (or unwilling) to truly help provide care may feel guilty, helpless and out of control. They often come with their own agenda: They may want to be involved but not obligated, to help with suggestions that you as caregiver must implement in an effort to make a useful contribution. Usually, they fail to recognize, let alone acknowledge, ALL you have accomplished already. Some dragons, you can educate. Some won’t change. There’s emotional baggage that’s difficult if not impossible to unpack and sort out. For those dragons, let them come in breathing fire. They won’t stay, and once they leave, all goes back the way it was. But it can leave resentment and exhaustion in its wake.
Just as with the garden’s borders, it helps you as caregiver to define your own boundaries. This is self-care. Caregivers sometimes view self-care as selfish. I’ve heard some say ‘My time will come, I can do that down the road, I need to do this now.’ But the reality is: you need to maintain your own health, sanity and relationships in order to care for anyone else. Caring for yourself is good for you AND for the person you’re caring for.
Instead of starting the day hopping on the treadmill and pushing till you drop, we would suggest starting the day carving out some time for yourself. The key here is making a plan for self-care and sticking to it!
To do that:
- Create boundaries to be able to tend to your own needs to prevent exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed.
- Set times for visiting, especially for the dragons — if possible when the visitor is there alone with the loved one so you can have a break from the caregiving.
- Learn to say No. You don’t need to hang around people who are draining.
- Practice saying No in a number of different ways: ‘I’m sorry today won’t work.’ ‘ I’m afraid mom/dad isn’t up to visitors today.’ ‘We have an obligation to attend to’ (It could be quietly watching TV or reading together).
Spring is a great time to de-clutter not only your living space but your body, mind and spirit. (Sometimes, decluttering your living space helps to declutter your mind and spirit at the same time). Start small doing one thing a day. Dust, remove cobwebs, change filters and smoke alarm batteries. If you have unwanted stuff, get rid of it. Lightening the load may promote energy and a feeling of rebirth. Put on a few pounds over winter? Try a smoothie instead of sodas and salty snacks. Feeling stressed? Focus on your breath to bring you to the present moment.
Making a self-care plan on top of everything else a caregiver has on the plate might feel overwhelming at first, but it’s important, and will ultimately make everything easier for you. Check out OK Now What? A Caregiver’s Guide to What Matters.
Happy Spring to all: cheers and blessings to you and your redefined boundaries!