I’ve been “away” for awhile. But now I’m back. I was on the brink. Beyond burnout.
Funny how when you’re at that place it seems both scary and interesting at the same time. Like you’re standing at the edge of a cliff looking over. It’s frightening to know you’re that close to the edge… but you still can’t help looking down.
Stress from work plus stress from caregiving equals no relief in sight. I work at home, which is where my caregiving responsibilities are as well.
My caree keeps the television volume turned up so loud, I’m basically confined to my office, behind closed doors just to escape the noise and keep my sanity.
But it’s also hot in there with the door closed because, of course, the thermostat MUST be kept at 80 degrees.
Sometimes, when it’s cooler outside than it is in the house, I’ll go out and sit in the garage or take a bike ride.
But essentially, when the going gets rough, there’s no place to escape to. Work stress plus caregiving stress plus confinement plus heat equals I-can’t-take-it-anymore.
So standing there, on the edge, I made the only decision I could. I stepped away…. from work, and from caregiving (sort of). I took two weeks leave from my job. I didn’t even look at emails. I performed basic caregiving duties but refused to engage in the mind games and drama my caree seems to thrive on. Instead of trying to reason with her about the poor choices she makes, I let her make them.
And I called for help.
Help came in the form of three days away from the house. My brother agreed to come over and stay with my mother so that I could go someplace and chill. I needed to lay low for awhile to get my bearings again.
With a recent reduction in my work hours, I couldn’t afford a full week somewhere, but one night while searching online, I finally found a spot that I could afford for three days. It seemed to offer peace and quiet. Just finding a place made me feel like there was light at the end of the tunnel.
But the light got a little farther the next morning when I called to make a reservation and was told that nothing was available for a week. So I gritted my teeth and hung on, counting the days.
On the morning of my departure, there was the usual pettiness. I was called selfish. Whatever. As soon as my brother arrived, I handed over the list of meds and filled him in on the daily routine, wished him luck and jumped into the car.
I’m sure I left skid marks.
When I arrived at my destination, about an hour later, I was thrilled. A little cabin in the woods, nothing fancy, but within walking distance to a river. A screened porch with rocking chairs (here’s a photo of the actual place). Air conditioning I could set at any temperature I wanted. Four rooms to wander around in instead of one. Total silence. No TV. No work. No email. No on-call 24/7. Bliss.
I spent time reading, sleeping, praying, walking, thinking. And I realized some things:
1) I am (was) a workaholic. An easy trap to fall into when you work at home, and especially when you’re trapped in your office all day. I was stuck in a spin cycle where my stress level was affecting my work, and my work was contributing to the stress level.
2) In work, and also in caregiving, I have been a perfectionist. Caregiving and perfectionism, a lethal combination. Just stop.
3) I am good at what I do. Whether certain people acknowledge me or not. Whether they appreciate what I do or not, I do a good job. And I’m grateful for the people who do take the time to say so, because frankly, once in awhile, I need to hear it.
4) I have a life. Despite what I may have thought. Despite what others may think. I have a life. I’m a human being, with physical needs and emotional needs that are just as valid as anyone else’s, including my caree’s.
5) I need to take better care of my health. Period.
6) I needed to forgive some people. Quite a few, actually. Including myself. So, at sunset one evening, by the river, I released those people into God’s hands. I had written their names on tiny pieces of paper and I after I prayed over them, I let them drop into the water, and watched the current carry them away. Then, as I was getting up to leave, I paused for a moment. I turned back to wash my hands in the river. I knew then that the process was complete.
The three days went by fast. I did the best I could to avoid the dread of returning. Tried to keep a positive attitude, but really, it takes about three days just to decompress so you can actually begin to unwind. Don’t get me wrong…three days was better than no days, so I’m profoundly grateful for that. It was like coming up for air when you’ve been under the surface, holding your breath for a long, long time.
So now I’m back. I won’t say everything is fine because that wouldn’t be true. it’s pretty much the same as it was before. But now I have some perspective, work-wise. I’ve established some boundaries for myself there. I won’t be selling myself short anymore. I’ll speak up when I need to.
As far as caregiving goes, well… it’s another day. And then another, and then another. I’ll do the best I can, and give myself credit for that, because I know it won’t come from anyone else. I’ll let go of trying to be perfect… trying to control the “outcome.” Because in reality, my caree makes her own choices… at least for now. And whether those choices are positive or negative, I have to be okay with that. I have to conserve my energy for the time when she won’t be able to make her own choices.
In the meantime, I’ll lift up my shield when I need to deflect the arrows. I’ll work out my feelings about my caree’s spitefulness and resentment. I’ll try to take more walks to get out of my office. And I’ll probably invest in an air conditioning unit for the window so I can at least control the heat in my area.
The best thing I took away from my break was being able to ask for help and get it. I know I was blessed and I hope the next time I need to take a break, help will be there again. God bless my brother.
And there’s great peace of mind in knowing that, just an hour away, there’s a place of refuge, and refreshing, and rest. So I’ll start saving now for my next visit. And I won’t wait until I’m teetering on the brink to go.