• La Shawn L. Splane-Wilburn, Founder of Homagi

Creating The Rest Stops on The Sometimes Uphill Climb of Caregiving

“You will never always be motivated so you must learn to be intentional and disciplined.” - Unknown

Almost a year in and we are still figuring out how to solve the problem that is Covid19. Many have not returned to offices, school, or leisure outings, and for those who have, there’s a new way of existing outside our homes. Navigating spaces where debates about who’s having consideration for public safety, and who isn’t can be difficult, but errands must be tended to, and medical appointments(those still available) are necessary.

All of these challenges pose and create multiple opportunities for additional life stress on top of the financial turmoil many are facing.

Mental Health Family Caregivers add an additional layer of tasking the art of deescalation and diversion. Existing in both the tangible world, and in the world our loved one may be experiencing. Without access to life and resources outside of our homes, life can be very difficult as we search for places where we can find refuge, or a little calm from what can be an ever raging storm.

Speaking openly about the trials we face as Mental Health Family Caregivers isn’t a luxury we enjoy. Sharing on online platforms, the way we watch other caregivers give and receive open support for discussing the challenges with battling a long term illness of their loved ones, just isn’t a luxury we can openly enjoy.

Loved ones wishing to remain private about their diagnosis, as they can and should have the option to, means we don’t get to speak openly about the difficulties we may face. With little to no support before the pandemic, many of us are now without support at all. That can be lonely and isolating.

Mental health family caregiving can be likened to a hike up a hill, not one we are familiar with, but one where we never know what’s around the corner. We don’t know what’s up the next incline as we come up to it. We do understand one thing for sure. Climbing is what will must continue doing.

There are times we can find a resting spot as we March forward. It’s those times that we learn to maximize our moment to rest. Take refuge in the recesses when possible. To actually breathe. It’s those times that we ask ourselves how we made it through the last crisis with our full conscious selves. It’s those times that we realize just how severe a situation was, once on the other side. That can be due to going into autopilot or due to exhaustion and a struggle to stay out in front of the crisis.

We sometimes raise from battles tattered and torn, barely able to keep our eyes open. Only then to face the scrutiny of observers and the sometimes, not so gentle urgings about how we’ve failed to see to our own care. We refuse the allure to go to battle because we have either been in active battle already and just want to rest, or we are in active battle and this is just another fight we don’t have the resources for. Either way, they both require attention we may not be able to spare. So we isolate. It’s easier sometimes that way. Less work fighting at home and outside the home.

It’s the moments when we need to create the rest periods when there are none available.

Moments where we need to pull off the proverbial caregiving road for a rest stop in the midst of the battle.

When I speak to caregivers about these moments where we are in an active battle, and we have to make a conscious choice of self preservation? There is a common theme:

We are all at the point of walking out and not looking back.

Regardless to the age of our loved one, there is at least one crisis where we couldn’t see pulling away for a moment as an option. It just didn’t feel sufficient enough.

The total and complete retreat felt like the only form of self preservation that would quell the fire inside of our brain and bodies.

Getting to that point means we’ve stayed too long on the hill without a rest stop. Not only is that a dangerous place to be for us as the caregiver, but it’s also a dangerous spot to be for our loved one.

Many caregivers have left and not returned. I’ve read accounts where couples have had the other mate, up and leave. Family members who just move away without explanation.

Avoiding burnout or caregiver self neglect is crucial to our survival.

Staying out in front of ourselves. Being our own best advocate for taking the break before we are beyond exhausted.

Here are some tips to help take a break during your up hill climb:

  1. Step away from your loved one immediately when you’re feeling trapped in madness. That’s an early sign you are already way past “over it” and need a break. Make sure they can’t hurt themself and then step away. “I’m not upset with you, I just need some air for a moment”

  2. Be vigilant about recording signs of a crisis. There’s normally indicators that will give notification that a crisis is on the horizon. Ignoring it doesn’t make it disappear. Discuss ways to give a verbal cue or leave a special gift or tool nearby for a loved one headed into crisis. Make this agreement when they are stable, otherwise it’s futile.

  3. Practice calming techniques during stable periods. An example would be, do an exhaustive task to get your heart rate up, and then sit still and use breathing and imagery to slow down your heart rate. It’s a very impactful tool to highjack your brain and body, before you need to.

  4. Get comfortable with stating you’re not feeling well and need a break. Our loved ones need to hear that too. Taking the break uninterrupted is the next step in sending a clear message that you need rest and you’re not a robot. If they are going to be in crisis anyway, there’s no use in burning valuable energy in trying to keep them out of crisis. Your energy is best spent storing up reserves for when you’re in the thick of everything.

Create your own rest stops on the climbs. Don’t wait until you get to a pace to get off the trail. Learn to step to the side and breathe. To take as much time as possible there, and without guilt. Self preservation is not selfish.

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