I got back earlier today from doing something that was a part of my job before I retired.  I remembered.  I remembered what it is like to have to get someplace and do something required by a paying job, while at the same time having a more important responsibility tugging against that job, responding to the needs of the one for whom  you are caring.  The chances are the income from that work is necessary for putting food on the table and keeping a roof overhead.  You are likely to be the sole sustainer of the environment in which you do the Caregiving. 

What can complicate it even more for those who are working full time and doing full time care for a Loved One, is, should it be so, that job being something deeply satisfying and fulfilling, something that gives meaning and purpose to your days, something for which there is not only the tangible affirmation of being paid for it, but sincere words of affirmation from those being served through your work. 

I remembered.  I remember the feelings of being so tired that it hurt, it just hurt.  I remember seeing no way to survive the next week or day or hour or minute.  I remember the panic of knowing there was an absolutely necessary commitment being threatened by a last minute major need in the life of the one loved deeply who needs you a that same moment.  I remember heading off for a day so full of intensely demanding activities as to be more that could be handled when rested — that day being faced after the third night of very little, sometimes no sleep.

Help!!  Some of you who happen upon this post are at your wit’s end, the end of your strength and stamina.  I have read emails from folks who work and care for someone far into Lewy Body Dementia.  I have known well a number of folks who have cared for someone with Alzheimer’s Dementia.  I have walked alongside many who have cared for someone dying of one or another form of Cancer, ALS.  Most of them have had to somehow manage to maintain a livelihood, a career, a job of some sort, while their heart and mind and attention were dominated by the needs of the one they left when they went off to work each day.

When I was working full time and doing full time care when not at work, sometimes people would say, “I don’t know how you do it!”   My answer was usually something like, “It is just what I do.  Everybody has something to deal with.  This is just our particular challenge.”  Now that I am retired and doing full time Caregiving only, I don’t know how I worked full time and cared for Mary Ann when I was at home. 

I have no simple solutions to the problem of balancing work and caregiving in a way that keeps the Caregiver able to function at both tasks.  As I reflect on those years, there are some things I remember doing to keep from being reduced to a heap of quivering flesh. 

I started with having a career that is deeply fulfilling.  It was stimulating, creative, energizing, brought me into some of the most intimate moments in people’s lives.  Finding purpose in work helps the work become a tool for survival.  Even if the job sometimes seems to you to be such a small part of some institutional activity as to be virtually meaningless, think for a moment.  Of what is your job a part?  Who depends on you doing your part of the whole task?  Finally, there is some reason that you are being paid to do whatever it is you do.  Someone needs the product or service that is the end point, no matter where what you do falls in the process or how tiny a part it may seem to be.   Yes, there may be people in that workplace who seem bent on making your life miserable.  Yes, there may be a culture that diminishes the value of what you do.  Don’t give away the power to decide for you what value you find in what you do.

Lot’s of folks I know bring a healthy lunch with them to work, along with some walking shoes and head out with a friend or two for a mid-day dose of exercise and the concomitant endorphin rush (a legal high).   Sometimes a two minute visit to an online site that has beautiful pictures and music can provide a moment’s retreat and help provide some balance in the day.  Exercises at the chair, or walking the stairs instead of using the elevator, or parking a long way from the door can provide some help in managing the impossible load. 

When returning to the house from work, the needs for my help were always immediate.  There was never any decompression time, transitional time, a moment to catch a breath before the accumulated needs had to be fulfilled.  I have heard some say that they arranged for whoever had been staying with their Loved One (whether paid or volunteer) to stay an additional length of time to give them a change to get their bearings.  That never worked at our house.   There was always an expectation that I would give immediate attention. 

While at home, having a list in mind (or written down) of things that take very little time to do, whether household tasks or activities that provide a moment’s break or some activity that includes a bit of renewal or personal satisfaction can allow a touch of balance.  Instead of wasting precious time immersed in frustration and feelings of powerlessness, be very intentional about creating and taking moments for yourself.  In  my case those moments would be used immersed in my own thoughts, reframing what I had just been doing in a way that allowed a sense of accmoplishment or purpose.  I sought moments of distraction engaging the elements of the day, sun, rain, clouds, birds, flowers, trees, fresh air, the feel of the breeze.   A trip to my favorite spot for soaking in a Kansas view can be done in twenty minutes including travel time.   Two night, three day, trips to the Spiritual Renewal center in Oklahoma happened twice a year when I was working.  The time in the car was retreat time as CD’s of my favorite music calmed my spirit. 

While those moments of reflection, of engaging my senses worked best for me, what has worked for you?  The challenge is to find things that can be done in the moments in between caregiving tasks.  How are you managing to survive both working and caregiving?  How do you keep from unraveling completely?

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