To be a caregiver at home for someone who is severely injured is to surrender. You surrender your time, put your ambitions on hold, and surrender many of the simple pleasures that made up your life before you were a caregiver. You also surrender your peace of mind, your good night’s sleep, and any semblance of a routine.
Yes, doctors will all tell you that establishing routines is the route to happiness and good health, but that is sometimes not possible when the person you care for struggles with multiple symptoms. For many, TBI results in disruptive sleep habits that can affect an entire family. I remember spending days and nights in my yoga pants, and only feeling grungy when I had to make a trip to the grocery store and saw other people. Wow, people sure look nice when they wash and comb their hair and put on decent clothes, I thought. Who has time for that?
Caregiving will not be kind to people who fall into resentment easily, and it’s certainly not for people who want to do what they want to do when they want to do it. But there are ways to make life a little easier and more enjoyable—to reclaim a sense of self when you are devoting so much of that self to another—and it involves reclaiming micro routines and snatching time when you can.
Micro-routines are specific activities that make a difference once you build them into your schedule until they become routine. Here are a few examples:
- Before responding to a call for help from a loved one, inhale deeply and set your mind to patience mode. Patience is my intention.
- Remind yourself that love is at the heart of caregiving. Love and care.
- Clean up the small messes instead of complaining. Action helps us focus. Clear the sink of dirty dishes; stack the magazines you don’t have time to read for a later date.
- Make your shower or bath an indulgence. Smell the soap, linger in the warm water, feel the brush on your scalp.
- Stretch. Sun salutations are a great way to greet the morning. If you don’t know how to do them, check out YouTube.
- Lay out some real clothes, something other than pajama or yoga pants and get dressed to feel like part of the world again.
- Ask someone in your family to give you a five-minute neck rub. Any kind of massage will give instant relief.
- When your loved one has a good day, take advantage if you can. Get out of the house. Go for a short walk. Sit on the deck and breathe.
- Anytime someone says they want to help, ask that person to take over for you so you can call a friend and go to a movie or grab a cup of coffee for a few hours. Free time creates sanity!
Most people and nearly all the caregivers I know are understanding, helpful, and compassionate, but we can only be that way when our own bodies and souls are fed. We can only expect to surrender so much before feeling isolated and depleted.
The care and feeding of our selves can be the hardest routine to figure out. What are the micro-routines that get you through each day? Perhaps the habits you’ve established might help someone else. Please share your ideas below.