Someone recently told me these kind words, “You inspire me.” I looked in the mirror feeling anything but inspiring.
I then recalled a recent memory. A few weeks before I was participating in a yoga class where I was reminded to bring deeper awareness to myself. The teacher prompted us to slow down and observe what was happening in our minds and bodies. So I did. I sat on my mat listening to the sound of my own thoughts. And I saw something clearly. As strange as this might sound a word appeared to me in large, bold letters surrounded by fiery flames.
The word was OVERWHELMED.
The second I saw the word I also felt the word within. My chest filled with an unfamiliar and annoying fluttering as if a million butterflies had been released in the space above my rapidly beating heart. I understood myself to be exceedingly anxious and physically worried. My body held the sensation that comes when you know someone is about to deliver impactful or extremely important news. This was not a positive sensation. It wasn’t the same as fear, but it was similar.
I knew I was in a safe space in the studio. I understood this to be an emotional response. It was something I could address later. So I continued the practice.
Over the next few days, I shared my observances with some trusted friends. I admitted feeling overwhelmed. I started to focus on exploring areas in which I might be able to pull back, or lighten my load. Then another thought occurred. It was the question of why it is that I keep so busy? Is my busyness intentional? Is this the natural path of being a caregiver who works full-time, teaches yoga part time and speaks, writes and advocates about traumatic brain injury? Or was this a mixture of all of these things?
Being busy and doing important things is not bad, but experiencing burnout or feeling as if your mind never shuts off is unhealthy. Especially for a caregiver.
This goes back to the concept of honoring our survivor, our family and our friendships while also remembering to honor another important person…our self. Practicing self-care often gets pushed aside. And that is dangerous.
While half asleep on on Sunday around a week later I began running through what the upcoming week was going to look like. My mind went from my 9-5 job and expectations, back to my home and those expectations, and then to the extra-curricular activities and those expectations. My head spun with lists, dates and information. Organizing my thoughts felt difficult. I was keenly aware of the busyness that would continue over the next few days and weeks.
As I considered my thoughts carefully during my waking hours I had to explore ways to take better care of myself. I listed practical solutions that seemed to ease some of the pressure I was experiencing.
- Taking a good look at my calendar. Were there one or two things I could eliminate or postpone? Could I admit to myself perhaps I had overscheduled? In the future can I be more mindful of the things I commit to?
- Exploring the idea of hiring a companion to spend a few hours with Taylor on the weekends, giving us some free time. This service is not inexpensive, but giving both my husband and I a break when we are NOT at work is important.
- Making sure I continue the areas of self-care that are working. A big one for me is yoga. I must make sure to schedule not only teaching time, but also times when I can go to class. This is a priority, because I know the results yield peace of mind.
- I was thinking about the last time I had a getaway. I think it was May of 2018. I need to work in events and times away that I can look forward to. Having to look forward to is important. It is sort of like trusting a long winter will be followed by a bright spring. This one is harder to access, but something I am working on.
- This may seem strange but I captured a photo of myself in the midst of a sad and overwhelmed moment. I remember a teaching that has really come to life for me. And it is this, “I may feel broken, but I am whole.” This doesn’t mean I don’t give space for my feelings. The photo is a reminder of how hard things can get and feel, and to work to create more spaces of happiness and joy, than the deep sadness and overwhelming emotions that come with caregiving. The photo is a tangible reminder to throw myself a life preserver, before I start to feel as if I am drowning.
- Finally, these seem kind of obvious but when we are worn down sometimes we forget to eat healthy, rest well, exercise, step in the sunshine and step away from electronics daily. Going back to the basics of self-care is often the best place to start.
I want to remind you our feelings as caregivers, are not “good” or “bad”. They are simply our feelings. We do not need to have guilt about feeling sad, overwhelmed, broken, stressed out or needing some space. We can acknowledge our emotions and if they feel painful to us we can ask how to work on easing our burden, and giving ourselves opportunities to feel better. Labels for emotions add more to the caregiving plate. This is all a work in progress, I am a work in progress (much like my survivor).
If you are a caregiver reading this, I want to remind you…you are not alone. On your worst days. At your hardest moments. On your best days. When you are a shining star. You have a family of other caregivers who understand and care about you.