Back from the Brink

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.


16 thoughts on “Back from the Brink

  1. Avatar of Old BillyOld Billy

    Good for you Jan. I can just imagine pulling up to that cabin and forgetting anything else to collapse into one of those porch rockers and numb out for a few hours before I even thought about unpacking my bag.

    Love that top picture too.

    Are you going to keep the location a secret. I know sometimes the desire for quiet can be so strong even the sound of the surf on the beach is too much noise. The singing cricket though, now that’s a lullaby.

  2. Avatar of Pam

    Hi Jan,
    Thanks for your blog – it helps to know that others are having to deal with spitefullness and caree’s that make bad decisions (like refusing to take meds on time) – it helps me acknowledge that I cannot force them to do anything.
    I “connected” to your comment about the TV – my husband has bad hearing and at the advice of our ENT doctor we invested in “TV Ears”, that’s the brand name, if you google them you’ll find them. They were under 100. if I remember correctly and if your caree will use them she can have the TV on mute so you don’t hear anything, but she can adjust the volume on the ears to whatever volume she wants – only she will hear it. They sit in the ears like an airlines headset. – - worked great for me, although I do have to ask him to use them sometimes because he forgets :)

    Thanks again,

  3. Avatar of JanJan Post author

    You’re right, Billy! That’s exactly what I did… just headed for that rocker and sat there for the longest time before I even went inside… :)

    Thanks, Pam…. yes, I bought TV Ears, but they didn’t work with my Mom’s TV. I know they make a more expensive version, but instead of investing in that, my brother’s thinking it might be a good idea to just get her a newer TV and try them again. Fingers crossed!

    Hang in there… we’re all in this together!

  4. kristin

    Good post, Jan. It expresses what a lot of must feel at one time or another. I’m so glad you got some time away. Even a few days helps. Just to not have that incessant demand that being a caregiver entails is a blessing. You mentioned that, before leaving, you stepped away from those demands. This is something I do once a week, unless Mary is sundowning. On Sundays I do the absolute minimum to keep her fed, clean and safe. I don’t keep her company or do anything extra. I think she appreciates this as much as I do. She has to be sick to death of me. I read, listen to music, take a walk with my dog. It’s not a total break, but it helps me.
    We tried the TV ear things and Mary wouldn’t or couldn’t use them. So I got noise-cancelling earphones for myself and they really help.

  5. Avatar of Bette

    Hi Jan,
    I’m so glad you were able to take some time away and knew when it was time (:

    I love that porch – it sounds like you were able to have a break physically and mentally. You so deserved it!

    Thinking of you.

  6. Avatar of Cindy

    This exact thing is what I’m asking my family and Daughter’s father for as my Mother’s day Gift. And I like you are standing on that edge just looking…….Glad you got away :) and to such a beautiful place as well!

  7. Avatar of DeniseDenise

    Hi Jan–I’m so glad this worked out for you. You deserve the break–and the one you’re already planning. Do you have a date for the next one?

    What was it like for your brother and your mom while you were gone?

    The porch looks soooo inviting. :) It looks like a caregiver’s best friend.

  8. Avatar of carlaschuchmancarlaschuchman

    Jan, Amazing post, enjoyable to read! So glad for your rest. That is just what I need, but I am afraid I would never come back! LOL.

    God Bless You! For what I connected with is your realization to forgive and release some of those people in your life. Yes, I must do that to. I am a short walk from the river and a drive to the ocean, I believe the ocean is calling, soon, very soon.

    Thank You!

  9. Avatar of ejourneysejourneys

    Awesome post, Jan. I love those photos! When my partner was in much better shape, we spent time at an Appalachian Mountain Club cabin in the woods and it was Paradise.

    I love your meditations and your ritual by the river. I could feel myself relax just by reading. I also love that you detached from the mind games and the drama and starved those fires of their fuel.

    I identified with so much here. My studio is at the end of the house, so it’s the hottest room in summer and the coldest in winter. My partner keeps the thermostat both up and down, anything to avoid having its fan blow on her. I’ve got a ceiling fan (yay!), plus table fan and space heater, and those have been invaluable.

    No aural noise here, but lots of visual noise. :-)

    I am so glad your time away gave you a chance to come back to yourself and to your life. I know what it’s like to be a perfectionist workaholic — bit by bit I’ve been getting rid of those bad habits. :-) I’m also glad you’re planning your next hiatus — and bless your brother for stepping in!

  10. Avatar of Eileen

    Hi Jan,
    Thanks for sharing. I am at that point NOW. I spoke to a friend for an hour today and it helped. I have been on 24/7 – We have an Aide that comes in daily but my brother is confined to bed and full care. I found out last night that due to negligence hot soup fell on my brother and burned him, since it was in the groin area – they both hid it from me for a few days and yesterday my brother banged his foot , another accident and toe was gushing blood… WOULD BE GRATEFUL FOR SOME OPINIONS ON THIS …??? I lost it , got upset and did the best that I could with cold compresses etc – Overall I have felt overloaded, overworked and overwhelmed. o Resentment comes through . I know I need to leave soon, but there is no other family…!!!
    I am feeling a little better right now. I really related to alot of what you said Jan and will be taking better care of me. Letting go of trying to fix everything perfectly. Also if my brother makes a bad decision trying to let go , but it is hard….

    Thanks for listening and responding to my post
    Any respite resourses in NYC?

    • Avatar of JanJan Post author

      Bless your heart, Eileen, you sound pretty frazzled! I’ve sent you a PM. Hope you get some respite SOON!

    • Avatar of Roaring MouseRoaring Mouse

      Dear Eileen,

      My own husband is a tetraplegic with 3 rare spinal disorders. He too spends alot of time in bed.

      Your story of the hot liquid and no one telling you is horrifying. I don’t know how well you like this company or don’t like so let me give you a few thoughts:

      - contact the manager of that office directly and tell them what happened. See if they’ll take over the responsibility for getting your brother treatment promptly.

      - forbid the healthcare workers who worked on that shift and subsequent from working with your brother again. What else might be happening or will happen to him that they might not tell you about?

      - if for any reason the company does not take responsibility, reach out and contact your local/state governing medical boards. You can also contact your local Area on Aging, even if your brother were not to qualify by age…they would still refer in a heart beat!

      - If you haven’t sought any treatment for your brother on this, do so now. My guess is that the doctor will prescribe a daily washing with Hibiclens soap (at Walmarts) at a cream to be put on …not heavily.

      You also said you were looking for respite in NYC…again contact the Area on Aging, reach out to your CIL/ILC, and just google respite and your major city and see what comes up. That’s how I’ve learned of many programs.

      Hope these help!

  11. Avatar of Eileen

    respite group on here , where we exchange our circumstances for a couple of days? different environment , Is this a thought that makes some sense ?

    sorry about the multiple posts computer glitch

  12. Trish

    Jan, I am so sorry you’ve been at the brink! Your photo of the cliff demonstrated this very well and scared the you-know-what out of me. :-) What I loved about this is you had to compromise so much yet you found a way to get that respite! (Only taking 3 days instead of a week; waiting to go instead of being able to leave immediately). You could have seen those as defeats but you kept going and got to have at least a little break. (I understand what you mean by needing several days of time off just to decompress). Your river ritual – that was genius! I’m so happy your brother was able to stay with your mom and give you a break. I have the same question as Denise – what was it like for him? It must be nice to now have someone else at least realize what you go through every day.

  13. Brett Daniels

    My Aunt went through a terribly rough time caring after her mother before she died from cancer. She had a very hard time accepting what was happening to her mother and as her mother got worse, she became harder to take care of. It was heart breaking to watch, and my aunt slipped in to depression. It was recommended to her to read a book called “Waking Up: Climbing Through the Darkness” by Terry Wise

    It helped her get through her tough time, and now she recommends it to anyone who might be faced with care giving, PTSD, Depression or any other personal issues along those lines. These things can take a real toll on someone and for her, she talks about how it was nice to read a book that actually helps!


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