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What I Wish I Knew When I Became a Caregiver

Getty Images / Dean Mitchell

Caregiving is scary. Especially in the beginning. It feels like you are standing on the edge of the unknown, alone and lost.

Many of us jump into our new role so quickly, that we are unprepared for the emotional roller coaster and the physical demands caregiving inevitably brings. We quickly become exhausted and overwhelmed.

This happened to me almost immediately when I began to care for my parents. 

Trying to be perfect

There were many mornings when I would open my eyes, feel my new reality hit me and be flooded with a wave of panic. Being responsible for the care of those I loved had me worried and scared. I felt an enormous pressure to be perfect. I wanted to make everything OK and put all the pieces back together. I wanted to fix everything. Immediately. 

I pushed myself harder and harder to control it all – to make it all better. I drove myself crazy and started to burn out. I simply believed that I could make it all better somehow if I worked faster and harder, with more conviction.

However, things were not getting easier, just more complicated and the only control that was happening was me spinning out of it! 

I slowly began to realize I was making a very big mistake. I had cooked up a recipe for disaster. I was doing what all new caregivers tend to do. I was trying to be perfect, trying to do it all at once and trying to do it on my own.

Slow down

One of the most important things we can do for ourselves when caring for others is to understand we don’t need to do it all at once. We need to ease into this strange new normal since the learning curve is daunting and the emotional ramifications are often unexpected and confusing. Everyone needs time to adjust, including those we care for. 

I was forced to reevaluate my game plan. It was very hard for me to slow down, to take one step at a time, and to reach out for help and stop trying to fix everything. Yet, by making the attempt and taking baby steps to change how I was thinking and behaving, I began to feel some relief. I slowly started to go easy on myself. I didn’t have to be Wonder Woman. I just had to show up, get adjusted to my new role and do my best.

Taking my foot off the gas allowed me to breathe. To my surprise, lightning didn’t strike, nothing fell apart and my parents were still safe and sound. 

You’re not in this alone

Although I faced challenges and stumbled around, I was no longer trying to be a one-woman show of control and perfection. I gave myself and my parents room to breathe and grow into our lives together. It didn’t all have to be done at once nor did it all have to be done by me. And it most certainly wasn’t all under my control. Once I understood that, I was on my way to being the best caregiver ever.

There’s no medal for caregivers, and no end goal. It’s not a race. And if it were, it would be a marathon, not a sprint. Having the desire to make all the bad stuff go away and fix everything else is admirable but not realistic. The job requires you to be available to guide, comfort and help.

This takes time and attention, not expediency or having all the answers. And don’t look for a rule book because it doesn’t exist. We all make it up as we go along and what’s right for me may not be right for you. What works best is a heart filled with good intention.

Just being you, being kind and being loving is more than enough. This puts you in a state of grace and gives you all the power you need. Everything will work out exactly as it’s meant to. Trust yourself and the process. None of us are ever ready to be caregivers and then again, we have been ready all our lives. Try to relax. You’ve already shown up and that is more than half the battle. And remember, you are not alone.

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