Building Your Caregiving XP: The Importance of Recharging Your Batteries

A woman sleeping with cord connecting her head to a battery icon with lights indicating charging
Sleep and Recharge

My husband, Russ, went away for a week for a gaming retreat with some of his oldest veteran buddies. It was a week-long nerdy celebration. An annual event he uses to destress with trusted friends. They played board games and video games, RPGs, First-Person Shooters, and more. A great time was had by all and I even got a T-shirt.

I was nervous because of the latest Omicron surge but they were all very cautious and careful, vaccinated, boosted, and masked. He tested every day and was negative the whole time. Then, on his drive home, he started to feel ill. And then he learned that one of his gaming buddies had tested positive at work despite having no symptoms. On his first stop, he tested once more, and, yes, the results were positive for COVID. He was halfway home and we were scrambling about where and how he would quarantine at our house with two young children and four immunocompromised adults. In a multigenerational household, we simply didn’t have a spare room where we could safely keep the girls away from Daddy. He even offered to camp in the backyard. I reminded him he would still have to come in to use the facilities. I am so glad he didn’t go that route since we’ve been having record heat waves and thunderstorms. He would have been baked then washed away!

We are very lucky that we had the resources to pay for a hotel. We have always considered travel a necessity, so we budget for a vacation every year. Travel is our self-care. Before having kids, it was our way to spend focused time together while doing something fun or learning something new. We always try to include a museum or historic site in our trips. Even when we were on a tight budget when I was between jobs, we would travel. A short day trip would be enough to feel good and reconnect. Luckily, many parks — national, state, or otherwise — are free and loaded with nature or history. Once we had kids who didn’t stop, we just had to adjust to more family-friendly excursions. The girls have already seen many battlefields, parks, museums, and been aboard a Viking ship.

Since the start of the pandemic, we really haven’t traveled much. We’ve had small jaunts for work and I have traveled for my choir and a sewing conference at Jamestown. But we haven’t really done a family vacation other than camping at the beach. This is partially due to competing work schedules, but really, we are still pretty locked down due to the pandemic. We never stopped putting money into that travel fund, so the travel funds this year were used to keep the family safe. It was expensive, I won’t lie, but it was the only way to ensure no one else in the house would catch it.

While Russ was away for nearly three weeks, my home responsibilities ballooned. In addition, I was caregiving for Russ from afar, picking up and delivering medication, food, and supplies to him, but also wishing I could monitor and help him in person. It was all pretty straining. Russ also tried to telework a little while he was there, but he didn’t have anything prepared to work on away from home, so I ended up being his personal assistant while still working full-time and parenting. It was less than ideal. I had no time for self-care or recharging. It started to show in my work and my fuse was short at home. I was yelling more than I would have liked. I could not compose a simple email without support, let alone attempt tasks that required heavy concentration or deep thought. I ended up taking a sick day just to make up some sleep. And what a difference! I needed it! Twenty-four hours was enough to sleep in, relax, get neglected chores accomplished, and still have time to make another run for medication/supplies. I am so grateful for having bosses and colleagues who understand and a job with good sick leave policies. I know not everyone is as lucky.

I needed to recharge myself. I like to think of it in gaming terms of XP or experience points. Your experience or “life” points can be earned by accomplishing a mission, overcoming obstacles, eating, even resting. Throughout the day, your XP can get depleted; it can also be recharged, but it takes time. Inspirational Author Eleanor Brownn famously says, “You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” Indeed! You can’t use your phone without battery power and you definitely won’t function well if you don’t have any XP. Sleeping well, eating right, and drinking water are key elements to good basic self-care, but creating time and space to simply do nothing is self-care, too. I need to get better at practicing what I preach.