Almost daily I speak with someone who is really struggling with their personal caregiving journey, someone who is experiencing caregiver burnout. As we spend time discussing the challenges that they are facing, I always hear the words "IF ONLY…" If only I had more free time. If only I wasn't so tired. If only I had siblings who would help me. If only my mother would appreciate me…it's one "IF ONLY" after the other. My response is always the same.
"If only you had (fill in the blank) what would happen?" When I ask this question there is either silence on the end of the phone or some amount of stammering. Somehow when we are asked the one poignant question that forces us to really look at our life situation, we don't have an answer. This is because it's so easy to get stuck in the "If Only" scenario. This often happens when a caregiver is getting burnt out.
Does your life look like Groundhog Day? Is it the same, day in and day out? Do you dwell in the "if onlys"? Here's the thing: the "if onlys" are never going away unless YOU make a decision to change what isn't working. It's that simple. When I get stuck in the "if only" dialogue in my head, I have to force myself to get comfortable with what is uncomfortable. Human beings like to be comfortable and our brain is really good at tricking us into staying comfortable -- even if the comfort causes us pain. Whatever it is that we are accustomed to is the place that our brain (or ego) feels the best. Change is disruptive, but it's disruptive for a reason. We are meant to evolve and grow and when we become complacent our ego is very happy – even if you aren't.
I also hear people talking about their dilemma. There is a big difference between having a dilemma and making a decision. Dilemmas are an excuse to fret, but decisions force us to decide to do something differently. Decisions force us out of our comfort zone, and we all like to be comfortable. But what if making a decision to do one thing differently actually changed the way you felt about your role as a caregiver? What if stepping out of "the box" was the first step towards getting a handle on your personal situation? What if making a decision actually made a difference?
I'd like you to try something today. Make a list of all the things that are causing problems for you. Be very specific as you list them. Just write. After you make your list, use another sheet of paper and put them in order from the most troubling to the least troubling. I'm pretty sure you will see a trend. Perhaps it's that you haven't set any boundaries. Maybe you have no help and you are trying to do everything alone. Maybe you're a "fixer" and you can't fix what is wrong. There will be a trend. Once you've made the list, take a break…give yourself credit…and go about your day. Tomorrow come back to the list and DECIDE to make one change. It doesn't have to be big. It just has to be something. When I first became a caregiver, I thought I had to give up my life to care for this person. I didn't, but that's what I thought. My decision was to ask for help. I was terrified to admit that I couldn't do this alone. But I asked and I got the help I needed and I felt a new sense of freedom, which had eluded me for months. The result of this was that I got my life back and consequently, I was a better caregiver!
So for today, just make a decision to do something differently.