We are now living in a new normal. We are, all of us, re-evaluating everything we know. Finding ourselves in the midst of a new world order with no clear picture of the future, we are adapting and coping in ways that are surprising, innovative, and creative.
Caregivers are on the front line of this new normal. We face change and new challenges during this critical shift in our lives. Already stretched thin and compromised by the role of caregiving itself, we are now presented with a new obstacle course. One with new rules, new territory to get through, and an ever-moving target.
As all caregivers know, waving the white flag and surrendering to challenge is never an option. So what are the alternatives, and how do we cope with all of this? What tricks have we learned and what tactics can we apply to get us through this extraordinary time? How do we not only survive but thrive?
Staying grounded and grateful are vital lifelines. Like oxygen, we need these lifelines to breathe and flourish. Balance and gratitude can carry us over the finish line even when it is moving away from us each time we get closer to it. When I am at my wit's end, I find that following simple yet powerful actions and practices help me feel anchored and positive.
Accept that there are some things you can’t control
I have to remind myself often that I am not alone. I do believe that a power greater than myself exists and that there is a plan for everything. Although I sincerely believe this in my heart, I have a built-in forgetter that allows me to think I am in control. If I can control things, I will make it all go my way, nothing will hurt me and nothing bad will happen.
The truth is I can’t control it all, I do get hurt, bad or uncomfortable things do happen, and things don’t always go my way. So I need to focus on the things that I can control, like staying in my present moment, and showing up and doing the best I can. When I let go and let God (good orderly direction), I can accept those things I cannot change and let my higher power into the driver's seat, taking over the wheel. Then, as a passenger, I can look at and enjoy the scenery along the way. It’s a relief not to have to do it all myself.
Feel the big feelings
I have always had big feelings. While it’s very important to remember that feelings aren’t facts, it’s just as important to give myself permission to feel my feelings for what they are. My feelings are acceptable. Since I’ve always been very sensitive and emotional, I’ve had to learn to be kind to myself when new events or situations trigger big feelings, some of which remind me of my past.
I need to remember that just because my reactions might feel like a throwback to a past event, I am just having a natural response to a new situation. It may be reminiscent but that was then and this is now. The good news is that my past gives me wisdom and guidance and reminds me I have survived so many things before. I can’t control what happens to me, but I can control what happens in me.
I can take on my feelings, sit with them even if it feels yucky and awful, and know I’ll be okay. It doesn’t make me weak, or a bad caregiver or a failure if I take the time and energy to be in touch with how sad, scared, or mad I am. When I give myself time to feel and heal I am honouring my heart.
Vulnerability opens a door that friends can walk through. Letting down my defences, asking for help, and sharing my heartbreak allows other people to show me support and love. When I stop trying to be perfect and let people know I can use a helping hand, I am being far braver than when I suffer in silence. Letting someone lift me up gives me strength to lift up others.
My dad’s glass was always half full. No matter what the situation, he always had a positive outlook. I often wondered how he could stay so calm and happy even when he was in pain. I finally realised it was because he was perpetually grateful. His secret to life was gratitude. No matter how hard it was for him to see it, he was always looking for the thing to be grateful for. He taught me that I can always see something if I truly look. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.
To reduce my suffering, I begin with being grateful for my time with him. His simple message of count your blessings is profound and guides me to be open to the wonder and possibility. Gratitude is an attitude and a game-changer.
Nothing is easy in a caregiver’s life and lately, it’s become even more daunting. Pain and suffering, fear and worry, heartache, and grief are always waiting in the wings. Yet we are not alone, we can do hard things. We are brave because we feel so much and strong because we choose love over fear, daily. By being grounded and grateful we can keep our perspective right-sized, and be open to change. We can have faith it will all work out, that there is a rhyme and reason to it all and we are exactly in the right place at the right time for the right reason. This is a time of great upheaval but also a time of great possibility. I believe in us.
UK/MED/20/0180 June 2020