To do any job, to drive a car, cook a meal, to help someone, in fact to do everything we need a degree of concentration – and focus. When that focus is centred only on our loved one it can become constant and intense, virtually an obsession that ‘blinds’ us to other aspects, to the bigger picture.
In earlier times when I was caring for Dorothy at home, I developed a kind of alertness that could be called a ‘single or narrow focus’. I was switched-on and alert all the time, twenty-four hours a day. For ages, I didn’t realise that I was virtually excluding everything else from my mind and my life. As a result, I could never then quite see beyond the immediate scenario; captive to a restricted lifestyle. I was constantly tired, even lethargic, and certainly less able to be a stimulating companion. It was hard, sometimes challenging work, but a labour of love.
Other people, our friends, our family and medical staff, each with their own unique perspective are more able to focus on us and see our total lifestyle. They see the bigger picture easier than we can manage – they have a ‘wide-angle view’, one that as carers, we can fail to see or understand. Only when we consciously step back, take time out and get some help, can we properly and safely assess the whole of our circumstances.
It took me quite a while, too long, to realise that Alzheimer’s had crept into our lives and we needed to seek help; then later, as a carer, to see the need to periodically take a break – to become refreshed and better able to cope. It is so important for carers to stop and smell the flowers; to pause from routine, to step outside the circumstances of the day, even of the moment.
Caring means so much more than kindness or concern, it encompasses a vast range of actions and emotions. It’s true we all care for something or some person, and care requires a commitment. It’s more than just work or love, and we apply ourselves to it in various and complex ways; it’s what defines us. But it always requires the carer to be ‘fit for purpose’. Simply put, that means we’re no good for anything if we don’t care about ourselves. So, I’m writing this for you, my reader, to remind you of that fact!
It is often said that ‘variety is the spice of life’ and I think we’d all agree. And it’s especially true for those who have the care of someone at home (and for the staff at care homes). Being in the same place and repeatedly doing the same regular routines can take its toll. There is certainly a place for familiar routines but, over time, the constancy and repetitious sameness can become depressing and debilitating. It can affect a whole family, indeed a wider circle of friends, not only of the person being cared for but, importantly and especially, the carer and their family and their circle. Constantly and consistency are not good bedfellows over time!
That’s why all of us, carers or not, need to re-charge our wellbeing batteries sometimes. A particularly vital role for all carers is to recognise and know when to re-energise. Then how to arrange a regular substitute carer – for an hour or two, or for a week or more. It is absolutely critical to plan and arrange that ‘me-time’. At least try to set aside some personal time each day or each week, no matter what your circumstances. Don’t give up caring for yourself! Have you noticed how tired you’ve become lately? If that’s so, then you simply must make an effort to get help. The time-out, for you and/or for your loved one, is respite time and without it you simply can’t effectively care for both of you, even with love. Families are often not able to provide that kind of help, so you might need to look for a respite carer yourself. Check out some of the available resources right here on this website (see above: ‘Links to useful sites’). All of us, including those who work in care homes, need to look after ourselves, mentally, physically, and socially, and ensure our diet is wholesome, too! Maybe you need help with meals, cooking, shopping, cleaning, and other things, and those links might help to get you started.
I well remember my ‘battery-charging’ event when I was able to place Dorothy at a nearby local facility for a whole week (MannaCare). She had her own bedroom, was involved in carefully managed joint activities every day, and was fed well-prepared meals. I visited her there during the week and had a meal with her. Good for her, good for me. It was also (although not planned at the time) an excellent chance to see how she coped in that environment. Later, I arranged for a whole-day session each week so I could have some regular me-time. Ultimately, as Dorothy’s Alzheimer’s progressed, I had to place her in full-time residential care at BlueCross Box Hill, where she was able to have excellent round-the-clock care and I could visit at any time (in those pre-COVID times!).
So, while you still have your partner at home, please make time to be a better carer/parent/friend – don’t become a worn-out drudge who’s no fun at all to be with! Keep your eye on the whole of your lifestyle. Like these new-fangled phones with whizzbang cameras, we need a ‘wide-angle focus’ to see the whole picture and get the exposure just right!