Remember that song by Janet Jackson back in the ’80s: What Have You Done for Me Lately? The lyrics went like this:
Used to be a time when you would pamper me
Usta brag about it all the time
Your friends seem to think that you’re so peachy keen
But my friends say neglect is on your mind – Who’s right?
What have you done for me lately?
Ooh ooh ooh yeah
What have you done for me lately?
Ooh ooh ooh yeah
I want you to take those lyrics, and ask yourself if you could be talking about yourself with those words? As a Family Caregiver, you know how hard it is to carve out time to do the things you once did…from simply reading a book or a magazine article to going out with friends for lunch, to dating your significant other or even spending time with your own children. Caring for older family members, or those with special needs can be both exhausting and time-consuming. Depending on how much help you have from others, you could be providing care up to 24/7! Just ask yourself this question: What have I done for me lately? Ooh ooh ooh yeah!
Finding time to pamper and care for yourself when you are caring for someone else can seem impossible, but I promise that with a game plan, you can care for yourself while caring for another. Building a winning strategy involves collecting information, developing a plan, gathering resources and implementing the plan. It also involves regular check-ins to determine what is working and what is not, and a willingness to make modifications and try different ideas if the first one, or several, are not helping you achieve the desired outcomes.
Let’s say your desired outcome is to find one hour every day to spend alone, relaxing and resting your mind and body. Here are steps you will need to take to accomplish this goal.
- Consider the schedule that you and the one you care for currently live with. Think about the needs you are meeting with your loved one, and what other obligations you might have. Keep in mind that sleep and nutrition are ultimate necessities, so you cannot short-cut either of these when carving out your hour. Does your loved one nap regularly? Does s/he eat or take medications on a tight schedule? Does anyone come into the home on a schedule to provide support services like cooking, cleaning, or caregiving services? How does your current schedule align with all of these details?
- Once you have collected all of this information, you are ready to develop a plan. Write everything down for a week or two, and then examine the schedule to see if there is a time where you can “step away” and rest for a while. If you cannot find anything, ask a friend, family member, or someone you trust to look with you. Ask this person to push you to find a solution to your dilemma.
- Once you have found your window of time, you need to gather resources. Use a pillbox to pre-sort meds so someone else might give them if your window of availability occurs when it’s time for your loved one to take medication. Consider who else might be available for the hour you need if there simply is no safe way to leave your loved one unattended. Hire a professional home care company to provide support if you don’t have any local family or friends who can be available. Designate a space in your home that is your quiet place. Make it comfortable and cozy, and gather those things you want around you during your quiet time. Think about what you need to make this space and time helpful to your rest and restoration, and put it there.
- Finally, put your plan in motion! As much as is possible, when it’s time for you to unplug, do it! You might need to start with only 15 minutes or so, to help the person you are caring for learn that they can trust another while you are away. Be firm with the substitute caregiver; they need to figure out how to manage while you are taking some time to care for yourself. You need this time to be a better Family Caregiver, and they are here to help you accomplish this goal! Work up to your hour, and maybe even go beyond it. You will be amazed at how much better you feel, and how much more you can get accomplished with a little break every now and then.
Once you’ve implemented your plan over a few days or weeks, you will want to check in with your support caregivers, as well as the one you care for, to discover how things are running and feeling for them. Sometimes it will be obvious that the plan is not working. Perhaps your substitute isn’t working out or needs you for something every day. Maybe your loved one is more difficult to manage when you are away for the hour over several days. Any number of things can go wrong, but with patience and a willingness to make small adjustments in your plan, you should be able to find a working solution before long that will help you take your “me” time regularly, and you will be a much better Family Caregiver for doing this! And I promise, when you are able to pamper yourself regularly, even just a little bit, you will find yourself saying, “Ooh, ooh, ooh YEAH!”