Caregiving is intense and relentless sometimes. Other times it is like the earth has slowed down the rate at which it spins and things that used to happen quickly suddenly take fooooorrrrrreeeeeevvvvveeeerrrr. For the last few years, I have been dreaming of escapes. I think about living on a tropical island with nothing and no one there to bother me – just animals around and all fruit and veggies and fish to eat. Or a mountain cabin with rabbits and foxes keeping me company and long days of hiking and exploring. Apparently… it seems my escape images have refashioned me into some kind of Snow White/Dr. Doolittle cross breed!
Since becoming a Disney character or entering a Hans Christian Anderson fable is not realistic, I need to look at this situation with scientific objectivity. To clarify, I am not the primary caregiver for my mother any longer. I have become her secondary, remote caregiver, handling the financial and logistical side of things. Mom is now in assisted living with my sister and brother nearby to provide family connection and support at her doctor visits. That should have relieved a lot of pressure. It did and it didn’t. Now there’s guilt over not seeing her as often or not doing enough.
I moved in with a friend who also lost her parents, so we were not alone and life is more affordable for each of us. But for the last eight weeks there has been a guest in the home and that, I thought, was exhausting me. I never had solitude anymore. Everywhere I went, there was someone and always there was noise around me – television, talking, laughing, computers, phone calls on speaker phone. Never quiet. Even retreating to my en-suite didn’t dissipate the stress I felt.
I reduced the number of projects I was working on and changed the deadlines and expectations of others to allow me time to work at a less urgent pace. Helped but didn’t solve the problem.
I started house sitting and pet sitting which gave me space and time away, but that came with very un-Disney like complications. Imagine a feral cat attacking one of the dogs or doggie attachment issues so I couldn’t move because my lap was always occupied. That face was just too cute!!
So, I reached out to a friend with a condo in a summer beach town and I am staying here for a month in the winter. Away from all the above issues so I could focus on getting my work done and get healthy. I am here, alone, in a perfect location, with no one bothering me, no noise, no challenges to my energy and yet I am still thinking about running away. WHAT? In the last twenty-four hours I had a revelation that will change the way I move forward. It is suddenly clear to me that my “escape” idea is not so much about space as it is about time.
My desire to run away and take some unknowable pressure off my shoulders isn’t really about where I am, but more about where everyone else is and who’s asking what of me and how do I stop it? How do I move away from needing to impress or satisfy or comply? Even when that is all self-driven and not coming from actual outsiders.
I want to be like the protagonist in Nicholson Baker’s The Fermata. I want to be able to snap my fingers and make the rest of the world freeze, stop time for everyone but me. I could then work at my pace or not. Finish all the things I need to finish to give me peace of mind and a sense of accomplishment and achievement and then, when I’m ready, SNAP. I snap my fingers and the world begins again. I will have aged, true, but no one else would have moved. I will be caught up on work perhaps, and suddenly all the pressure would be off.
That is what caregiving does to you. You wind up putting so much on your plate that you never just stop and enjoy the moment. There’s always the stuff that wasn’t done yet and is behind, the stuff you need to do right now to meet the physical needs of your loved one, and the list of to-do things that are ahead of you that you know you should do. These things become the urgent ‘now’ things as they get closer. And sometimes they become the still-undone things when that time passes. So how can we relax? How can our hearts stop racing? How can we recover if we’re always negotiating our way through three spaces in time? I checked my friends to see what they’re doing.
Dee’s solution is to only do three things a day. She sets her goal for three things and if those get done and she can do more, she does. Or she takes the rest of the time to enjoy her day. Be with friends or family or take solo time for a hike or getting nails done. This allows her to focus on the three things for tomorrow, tomorrow, while living in the moment for the day. I think that helps one feel accomplished and reduces the urgency and self-recrimination, but it doesn’t make the number of things left to do reduced.
May would say that you just have to reduce the commitments and obligations on the list. You can’t always do that when you’re caregiving, but for business stuff, couldn’t I do that? Couldn’t I think about what is most critical and change the number of things I believe need to be done? I am my own boss after all.
Robbie’s solution was to move to another country, stop doing coaching and consulting, downsize to live affordably without required income coming in, and switch to a more solo focused creative outlet, writing, to avoid feeling pressure from outside. When a book gets finished, it gets published. No one else pushing deadlines.
I am questioning… Could I be less perfectionist? Should I stop being creative and coming up with new ideas that stimulate me? Is solving the world’s problems really my responsibility? Could I perhaps delegate more to other people? Maybe my focus should be on winning the lottery so I can hire people. Would that even help? Isn’t supervising people an exhausting and energy-draining proposition as well?
As a person who has always impressed everyone else with how much I get done in any day or month or year, I know the solutions and options for increased productivity. I have employed many of them, but it hasn’t helped. My need to “escape” I now realize is about eliminating everything on my plate until I am working on one thing and one thing only. That is a logistics thing I can handle. It’s a recognition that I do not have to do everything or be all things to others. I need only to be true to myself. And if that takes longer than I originally intended, my attitude needs to change and I need to be okay with that. I am enough. I am worthy. Let go of worrying what others will think and focus on what fulfills me.
What challenges me the most is emotional and physical energy management. How do I get to a point where the place I’m in feels safe and I no longer want to run away, escape, retreat? I’m hoping that by the end of this winter retreat at the beach, I will have the answer. I hope by December of 2024 I will be writing about how successful I’ve been and how happy I am to remain in my own space. Until then, any ideas are welcome. Anyone else feeling this same thing?