Rut Breaking

2015 May 18

You almost never hear this talked about because most people don’t think much about the caregiver perspective. Don’t get me wrong, most people think your role as a caregiver is incredible, heroic, and admirable. Yet, after acknowledging your role, few people think about what your everyday looks and feels like, and even more, what special challenges you are prone to experience despite your best efforts.

Habit is a caregiver’s best friend. Routinizing your day and the needs of the person you care for is vital to managing the responsibilities of care that do not cease once the sun goes down. As you know, caregiving is not a 9 to 5 job. There is no check in time and no check out time, and no contract indicating when you are “on” and “off.”  Something like vacation time is probably beyond your wildest imagination. Scratch that, it’s surely in your imagination but your duties remind you that it might remain in your imagination for quite a while.  Because your physical presence is so vital to your role, you are susceptible to ruts. What’s a rut? The dictionary will tell you it’s a “sunken track” but we experience it as something else. You know you are a caregiver in a rut when:

(1)  You wake up in the morning exhausted and that feeling of exhaustion stays with you throughout the day.

(2)  The days blur together so much so that you don’t know (or don’t care) what day of the week it is as Saturday is the same to you as Tuesday.

(3)  Engaging in tasks (e.g., work, projects, paying the bills, planning for the future) that you used to easily begin and complete now exhaust you because there mere thought of them weighs you down.  But you carry that mental weight with you all day, hoping that tomorrow, when you wake up in the morning, you’ll have the energy and focus to take care of them. See #1 above why this is such a vicious cycle.

(4)  You can’t convince yourself to look forward to anything in particular as your caregiver identity and responsibilities seem to give you little wiggle room to plan beyond the immediate needs of the moment.

If any of these experiences sound familiar, you might be in a rut.  Unlike others, however, you probably can’t set off for a vacation to recharge. Caregiving typically doesn’t allow for vacation time as caring for others doesn’t take note of your needs.  Going on a vacation is really about changing scenes and breaking habits and making the strange normal again and refreshing the everyday.  This is why vacations are so essential.  They take us away so we can come back to our everyday ready to take on the everyday tasks of our lives.

So how might we get the same benefits without going on vacation? Here are some ideas that might help you change scenes without the aid of a vacation:

  • Call up a friend you haven’t talked to in months. You’ve been busy. Overwhelmed. Time works differently for caregivers. But find (create) an hour and call a friend. Hearing a familiar voice will help you change scenes. It will help you transport yourself into laughter, comfort, kinship that you might not have allowed yourself to experience.
  • Take a day trip. For some, this may be impossible. But if you can arrange this, a day trip allows you to change scenes while also providing for the fact that you can return home in the evening. As a caregiver, most of your trips may be within a 20-mile radius—doctors’ offices, grocery store, pharmacist, and physical therapy. If possible, drive beyond this circumference of responsibility to see new scenery. Finding new scenery is essential in helping us break ruts because it forces us to see anew. When we are in a rut, everything looks the same. When we drive somewhere new, everything is different, forcing us to realize that life can be fresh and new.
  • Change the way you move.  For those of you who can’t take a day trip, changing the way you move might be your best option. Change the way you think about yourself and your situation by walking a different route. Or take some time to pump up your bike tires (no doubt they’ve been flat by lack of use), and ride around your neighborhood. Or sit in a different part of your yard. Force yourself to break a physical habit to make possible seeing yourself and your situation from a different perspective.
  • Force yourself to be inspired.  I know, I know, forcing yourself to be inspired doesn’t seem to make any sense. But we’re a bit different than most. Most others are inspired in the company of others at work, with friends, on vacation, etc.  Since habit and routine are essential to a caregivers’ life, being conscious about inspiration is a must. Order a new book you’ve had on your “to read” list for some time but haven’t gotten around to it. Watch your favorite movie again. Watch a movie you’ve been wanting to see but haven’t given yourself time, nor opportunity, to enjoy.

There’s no cure for getting stuck in the inevitable rut.  Unlike most others, we have to be more conscious and deliberate about getting out of our ruts because we often find ourselves isolated and distant from the outside world’s concerns.  Finding space to mentally change scenes is vital to the way you think and act and live and care. No one will tell you this is necessary because most don’t know what caregiving looks and feels like on a daily basis. Make the time to give yourself permission to break your rut and see life anew.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS