I've Hit Caregiver Burnout...Now What?
I'm sitting here at lunch on a Friday thinking about how I'm going to get through the next 12 hours. I know what's coming. Dinner needs to happen. Kids need to go to bed. There are 4 IKEA bags of unfolded laundry sitting in my dining room. All that plus my husband with AS, Keegan, is overdue for bloodwork and he'll be getting it this afternoon. I look at myself and wonder how I'll get through the next few hours without spontaneously crying or lashing out because I'm exhausted.
It's clear I've hit caregiver burnout, and it's not just the mom stuff. There's anxiety that creeps in during the middle of the night. I've written about it before here. I'm on edge some days wondering if there will be another big medical event for Keegan, and how it may change our family, how it will affect me emotionally. Some days I have to be the rock.
But rocks erode and crack and fall apart over time. And I feel that happening. I do everything I should be doing for my own mental health. I work out every other day. (And I'm not just saying that--Keegan and I rotate who gets to work out and who watches the kids every morning.) I meditate regularly. I know breathing exercises for when I feel overwhelmed. I meal plan. I budget. It's all there. The puzzle pieces are in the right spot, yet I don't feel any sense of recovery.
Have any of us truly recovered from the last 18 months? Underlying all of this is a deep desire to feel like I'm thriving. I want to stop surviving. I want to be able to do things with my life. I'm incredibly antsy. I look up images of places I want to travel to and listen to podcasts from the "before times" (that is, pre-pandemic) remembering what it was like to enjoy going on dates with my husband.
The biggest reminder to myself now is that things will change. I can't know how or when or where. I struggle with following that truth in life. What do you do when you feel like your life and sense of self has been stripped down to nothingness? I'm not sure, but I do know I can start to rebuild small pieces of myself.
Finding small moments of joy
And so, to the caregivers out there, that's what I can tell you. I'm finding places in my life to find hope and small moments of joy. That's what keeps me going. I recently took up skateboarding. I've never skateboarded in my life. But it's something that's just for me. I don't have to do it for anyone else and it doesn't matter how skillful I am at it. But the feeling of going fast on a board with the wind blowing by me is amazing. And I feel free.
So observe your day-to-day and if nothing in your life gives you a sense of living, then figure out an activity that will help you feel that way again. I tried a lot of activities, including watercolor, cross stitching, running, and indoor cycling. I did something that both slightly scared me and made me feel giddy when I imagined myself succeeding. Honestly, I feel like a kid again when I skateboard.
So what small joys make you feel more connected? What gives you hope?
How long was your longest flare?