When I was fully immersed in my first caregiving journey, one of the things that used to drive me to distraction was when people (who, by the way, had never cared for anyone) told me to relax and "just do my best."

And then, when I would share my frustrations with doctors or some other professional, I heard the same thing, "Just do your best."

I used to wonder what exactly that meant.

Were we even on the same page in terms of what my "best" might be?

Because there were plenty of days when my best was pretty lousy, and other days when my best was amazing!

Have you had the same experience? And if so, does it frustrate you?

I always felt like I wasn't being heard: almost like I was invisible. And, truthfully, it didn't make me feel any better.

I believe that friends, family, experts and even professionals who tell you to do your best really do mean well, but I think they also have no idea the impact their words have on you.

"Just do your best" is generally a way of letting you off the hook. But, what if we simply changed the words to something with more clarity, more purpose and more substance? What if we defined what "just do your best" means?

For me, the phrase has a lot of different meanings.

Just do your best might mean…

  • Being a warrior for your loved one and showing up like a super hero. Those are great days!
  • Or, it might mean that you are so spent and exhausted from being the super hero that you've got nothing left to give the next day. But you still show up and do something, while also taking some time to take care of you.
  • On other days, it might mean that you feel so frustrated with your loved one that you want to lash out, but you don't, having made the decision to take the high road.
  • Maybe it means that you actually take a day off from doing anything. (This is where having a support team in place really makes a difference.)
  • Then there are the days when you are totally spent and you have nothing left, but something happens and your adrenaline kicks in. Suddenly, you become the most amazing, strong, compassionate caregiver the world has ever seen. On these days, you go beyond anything that you ever dreamed possible. Those are the days that you should definitely celebrate.

Only you can define your "best"

No one can fully describe what "just do your best" means, because it's different for every person.

If you are the type of caregiver who has given your life to your loved one, then your best is going to be based upon how much you can accomplish, day in and day out.

You will have set the bar extremely high for yourself. It's emotionally and physically exhausting to maintain this level of excellence and perfection for very long, although individuals certainly do try.

But, what happens when you live like this for months, or even years, is that you burn out and then you find out that "just do your best" has taken on a whole new meaning.

I began my caregiving journey with all the gusto I could muster, so I can fully relate to the reality that doing my best was an ever-changing thing.

In the beginning, I entered caregiving like a first responder on steroids! I was going to fix everything (including dementia and a stroke). I would wake up in the morning and go all day, until I fell into bed at exhausted, yet unable to sleep. (Learn how to overcome the caregiver "fix it" mentality)

Does this sound familiar?

Eventually I ran out of energy. My adrenal system was shot. I was beyond exhausted. My temperament had changed. I wasn't happy. In fact, I was pretty depressed, but I didn't let anyone know that.

I pushed help away, because I thought I had to do this alone. My husband felt abandoned and truthfully, he was. My life was out of control.

And then, I fell down the rabbit hole.

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It's ugly in the rabbit hole. It's dark and scary but it's also the place where I had to get real about what I was doing to myself and everyone else around me.

Over time, slowly but surely, I made changes to my life. I changed how I showed up every day; and also, to how I did caregiving.

Just "doing my best" had taken on a whole new meaning because I learned that my self-care had to be part of the equation.

I share this story with you because I believe that it's so important when you are a caregiver to pay close attention to how you are feeling every day. Listen to what your emotions are telling you and honor them.

If you are having an "off day," then maybe your best is just taking it easy and deciding not to do as much as you think you might have to. Maybe it's putting some things on hold and only doing the bare minimum.

And you know what? That's okay.

I think doing your best is reminding yourself that YOU MATTER; that your life matters as much as your care recipient's. Other days you might wake up and feel like you can take on the world.

It's a delicate dance that we caregivers do. Honoring your role in the journey, though, is as important, if not more so, than the actual act of caregiving.

"Just do your best" is figuring what your best can be on any given day and being okay if your best isn't always perfect.

You are a special person because you said yes to giving care to another. But doing your "best" also means saying YES to you.