I never expected to find myself preparing to be a caregiver, but who does? Dad’s difficulties with memory and language came on slowly enough I’d been able to rationalize them away, one little worried thought at a time.
But eventually, we got to the point it was obvious denial wasn’t working. My parents got some medical advice and started making plans.
One of those plans was talking to me about helping out.
That’s when I started researching dementia. I knew I was going to live in a different world (and had no idea how to pack).
So how DO you prepare to be a caregiver?
I quickly recognized we had a near-infinite number of potential trajectories here and hence, no way possible to prepare for each. “Prepare for the unexpected” was the phrase I kept seeing, and it’s as annoying as it may be true.
I mean, how am I supposed do that? Close my eyes and brace for non-specific impact at undetermined time? Resign myself to feeling utterly unprepared from here on out? Get anxious and cry a lot? “Unexpected” is ridiculously broad to the point it has no real meaning in practical, actionable terms.
After panicking for a minute–okay, a lot longer than a minute–I opted to focus on what I DID know. I could certainly predict extra demands, even if I couldn’t predict particular causes or remedies.
I’d need to stay flexible. I would no doubt find myself strapped for energy. I’d have less time available for my own work, so earning potential could be a thing. I could expect an emotional toll for sure, including stress and grief. Heck, I was already paying some of the emotional toll.
In short, even if I couldn’t predict specific challenges, I knew “hard” would be on the menu.
Streamline & Simplify
If you are realistically preparing to be a caregiver, you quickly realize your life is about to become a whole lot more complicated. So, you’d best make all other areas of life as easy as possible and take especially good care of yourself throughout.
I took this realization to heart. “Streamline and simplify” became my new mantra.
I knew I’d downsizing. I’d lived in my home close to twenty years. A LOT accumulates in the closets and corners over that many moons. So many half-finished projects, ideas not realized and things that just didn’t fit my life anymore.
Even the thought of sorting through it all was depressing and overwhelming. It felt impossible. But I still needed to make it happen.
While not everyone who is preparing to be a caregiver will be moving themselves, it’s very common someone will be making a move, so the same ideas apply. Take it one bit at a time!
Something that helped: I got a Rocketbook Panda Planner and started using it daily. By having a big-picture view of what needed to be done and breaking large tasks down into smaller chunks, prioritizing appropriately, the job became to feel more manageable.
Also something that helped: I took on the purge-fest slowly, one room, sometimes one drawer at a time. Did you know it feels like your energy is a little bit lighter each time you get rid of something?
Something else that helped: Filling up old boxes with donatable stuff and loading them into the car as I finished each one. Whenever I was in town, I’d drop off boxes. It made a dent in the clutter over time and I felt better knowing someone else would be able to get use out of the stuff.
A thought that helped: Loved ones gift to share joy and show love, not to add burden. Feelings are forever, but the token of said feelings can be discarded if it doesn’t fit your life without dishonoring the gifters’ intention. Let yourself off the hook for letting go of gifts. And if it was broken? I didn’t need it, and nobody else did, either. It’s not wasteful to discard what’s served its purpose.
Essentially, I was giving myself permission to let go of ANYTHING that didn’t fit my current life, and it made a huge difference.
What helped with the move itself: Taking our time. We were moving long-distance, so brief visits before we were able to settle here full-time took away some of the urgency. Overlap between the old place and the new helped. And making the decisions based on our needs and not anybody’s expectations definitely made things easier. (That means I live in a very old trailer in the woods, held together in large part by duct tape. But we’re happy here and that’s what counts.)
Saying “No” to High-Maintenace
I started paying attention to where my energy was being used inefficiently. How much time did I spend looking for stuff? Too much, that’s how much!
So I started organizing as I went through things. I spent less time looking for what I needed and as a side benefit, my environment was tidier and more pleasant.
Things that helped: Replacing items that weren’t working well. We traded in the fancy-but-fussy coffeemaker with a ten-dollar model and traded in the worn-out Cat Genie for a subscription to Kitty Poo Club. Basically, anything that demanded extra time or energy got re-evaluated.
Something that really helped: Online shopping (looking at YOU, Amazon) and grocery pickup (thank you, Walmart). The point is, I adjusted my expectations, smoothed out what I could, and gave myself permission to utilize help.
Come to think of it, “giving myself permission” is kind of a recurring theme here, isn’t it?
Even when I was still preparing to be a caregiver, I had started actively grieving. I cried regularly. I felt unbearably anxious at times. In general, I just felt scared about what was coming and sometimes, lost.
After learning about the toll caregiving takes–and realizing that nobody would benefit if I went down–I decided then and there, self-care isn’t optional. So I looked to ground and stabilize as much as I could through self-care. Of course, that will look different to everyone.
What helped me: Doing stuff just for me, as a priority. Things like coloring my hair, doing my nails, wearing makeup daily, crafting, crochet, gardening or coffee with friends cheered me up tremendously. I made time to do things that I enjoyed regularly.
And always, time outside helped me do the emotional processing I needed and clear my head. That’s big on my priority list.
I also tried (although not always successfully) to eat well, sleep well, and take vitamins. I began experimenting with meal prep. That’s an ongoing process, but even getting started with meal prep makes a huge difference. (Look for more on that coming up.)
Why are you preparing to be a caregiver, anyway?
I mean, once you start to get a clue of what sort of commitment you’re taking on, you really need to understand why you’re doing this. You must know what drives you because I can promise you, you’ll be asking yourself if you’re up to the task sometimes.
I guess there are people caregiving out of obligation or due to family pressure or something. I have no idea how they manage but hats off to them. I don’t know I could.
What helps me through the rough bits is remembering exactly why I decided to do this. It had to be my choice. I don’t ever want to do anything with resentment in my heart. When my folks are gone, I want to be at peace. I know they have looked out for me my whole life. I want to look out for them now, and know I’ve done what I can to make this part of their lives as comfortable as possible. That’s love made tangible.
Know your own reasons. Realize you cannot fix things, but you sure can make a big difference. Pour love on top of everything to smooth it out. Give it the best you’ve got.
And take good care of yourself the whole time, because you know what? You’ve got to fill up your own cup to be able to help anybody else.
Much love to all your caregivers out there. I feel you! Thank you for all you do. It matters. You matter. And you know what? We got this!
Have you done any streamlining and simplifying to become a caregiver?