Caregiver Tips for Barely Getting By
The Caring Generation® – Episode 166 May 3, 2023. Are you barely getting by? Find tips from caregiver expert Pamela D Wilson to keep going when you can’t see how to move forward through challenging caregiving relationships to where you want your life to be.
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Sometimes, everyone feels that life is hard or impossible and that things will never get easier. But somehow, things change, and something that seemed impossible becomes within reach.
Do you ever wonder why life seems so difficult? As a caregiver for aging parents, grandparents, or a spouse who may be raising children at the same time, you may feel simply exhausted.
Learn questions to ask to find the way to get from where you are to where you want to be.
Caregiver Tips for Barely Getting By
Watch More Videos About Caregiving and Aging on Pamela’s YouTube Channel
If you are a caregiver you may dream of having five minutes to yourself without someone else around or you dream of taking a ten-hour nap. Your stress levels may be off the chart even though you just indulged in a bag of potato chips or a big piece of chocolate cake that was supposed to make you feel better but did not.
How to Identify Stress Overload
How might caregivers know when they are on stress overload that contributes to barely getting by? The first way to notice is to try to remember the old you, the calm you, the peaceful you. The “you” that you miss and wish you could be once again.
Were you super organized, and now you can’t find the pen you just laid down—somewhere? Did you forget to pay a bill even though it was on that to-do list you carry around with you? Have you gained weight, and you know this means you’re stressed?
Are you distracted to such a degree that projects you used to finish in an hour remain undone? You try to get started, and something else takes you off track.
Is your mind focused on choices that you regret or things you wish you had done? The problem with barely getting by is that we can’t live in what-if. We have to live in “what now.”
So when you feel frustrated, angry, lost, or hopeless, ask yourself, what now with the emphasis on the now? What can I do now to make myself feel better? What can I do now to change my situation? What can I do now to lift my mood?
Because all we have is now to impact our physical or mental state. Action equals movement equals motivation.
So rather than staying stuck in front of the computer, or watching television, get up and move. And when you move, say to yourself, what now? If your mind goes to that place of doubt, repeat what now.
Keep repeating “what now” until you are convinced that you can and will do something different right now. The only way to get from unhappy to happy there is to take action right now.
What is the Lesson?
The next question to ask yourself after “what now” if you’re barely getting by is “what’s the lesson?” When we look at life from a higher perspective it may be easier to identify the next steps to take.
Think of gaining perspective as you look at another person’s life and consider things this person could do to make life better or easier. How often do you look at another person’s life as genuinely amazing and wish that their life was your life?
If we’re honest, we can admit to having self-destructive behavior patterns that repeat. The result is that we make the same choice and end up in the unhappy same place. Let’s say that you are a caregiver and the person you care for makes you angry or has a behavior that repeats.
But part of the issue is that mom or dad does X, and you respond with Y. So, for example, mom or dad complains about a meal that you made, and this makes you feel angry or resentful, but you do not say anything.
You simmer, like a pot of water waiting to boil over. And you simmer, and you simmer and keep reliving the experience which only makes you angrier.
What if instead of simmering, you responded with something like, “I’m sorry you don’t like the hamburgers, maybe next time you’d like to cook or help make the meal?” You could even go as far as saying that you have decided to take a night off from caregiving and that a loved one is on their own for a meal every Wednesday night.
And, what a great opportunity this is for mom or dad to cook something they want to eat instead of relying on you all the time. So, let the person you care for know it is time to get involved rather than complaining so that you don’t have to wonder how to get by for one more day under these circumstances.
Caregivers often feel like they are barely getting by because they have taken on too much work and there’s too much to do in too little time.
What Can I Do For Me?
We’ve all been there wanting to feel helpful and feel needed. Caregivers take the world’s weight on their shoulders and eventually feel burdened, buried, and resentful.
As you look at situations where you feel you are barely getting by, ask what the lesson is. What did I do to contribute to this situation, and how must I move ahead, make different choices, and feel better about what I’m doing?
In most cases, the action to take is to ask, “what can I do for me?” I know many caregivers who constantly focus on the needs of other people. Life does not have to be limited to what you can do for someone else.
Or maybe you had a goal to care for your aging parents and succeeded wildly. But the situation did not work out the way you expected.
Now you have too much work, responsibility, and people who depend on you that this goal has become a heavy burden. So your success plan resulted in feeling like you have a ball and chain around your ankle.
You’re barely getting by because you are living for someone else, not yourself. So, ask, “what can I do for myself – right now.” I can get up and out of the house and take a drive. I can go for a walk. I can create a plan to get myself out of this situation. I can do this or that.
Possibilities Versus Limitations
Think of possibilities instead of limitations. It’s factual that caregiving situations have limitations. Caregivers can become stuck in a lack versus possibility mentality.
Your aging parent or spouse may be unable to do more for themselves because of health problems. But what can be done?
I will share a little secret. If you are not always around, you would be surprised what your loved ones will do for themselves.
Unfortunately, all those things you do—have made your parents more reliant on you and less confident about their abilities. I know this might seem silly, but it’s not.
How often have you had alone time and looked forward to all these things you wanted to do because you had your own space and no one was around? Did you binge-watch a favorite television program? Make and eat a big bowl of spaghetti or a cheesy pizza? Soak in a hot bubble bath?
There is freedom in having time alone. And just as you, the caregiver, would love to have some time for yourself, equally, the person you care for might also enjoy the same. Especially if you encourage loved ones to be more proactive and independent so they are not so reliant on you.
Some of this can feel like you are giving work back. But you may be returning a parent’s confidence and self-esteem that they can still do a little for themselves.
Discuss with loved ones that they do not have to be dependent on you for everything. I know it’s crazy, but I suggest you try this and see what happens. It may be the answer to what can I do for myself now.
The Benefits of Companionship
Also, on this topic of time alone. What about hiring a caregiver to spend some time with your parent or a spouse so that they have the company of someone other than you?
I know you’re a great person. But think of how much you enjoy seeing a friend and leaving the house. A caregiver can visit your mom or dad and become a companion they enjoy seeing.
A caregiver can take your mom or dad out of the house—assuming your parent is in relatively good physical condition. Think of this activity as giving your mom or dad the gift of someone who has not heard all their stories and who might look at them as a person they enjoy spending time with.
Finding other solutions can be a way of removing limitations placed on caregiving relationships by caregivers who think they must do everything. Consider that doing everything is not good for you physically or emotionally. Making yourself indispensable can be bad for the soul.
Of course, you already know this because you are barely getting by. But what you have not considered is that maybe your doing everything has had a negative effect on the person you care for, and this may be why having some time to yourselves can make life a little more bearable.
Ask the people you care for to do a little more for themselves so that you feel like you’re getting a piece of your life back instead of barely getting by. Now understandably, money may be limited because your parents are on a fixed income, and they had to move in with you or can’t afford a paid caregiver.
If this is the situation, then seek someone to volunteer for the job. Caregivers think I am crazy when I suggest volunteers.
You would be surprised about the number of people who want to volunteer to spend time with older people because it adds to their life and makes them feel good about helping other people. I know this because I have found volunteers for my clients who needed support and companionship when my clients did not have the money to pay.
These people exist. They are angels on earth.
So ask God or whoever you believe in to send you an angel or help. If you don’t ask, you don’t get it.
Mental Burnout Related to Just Getting By
When you continue to consider why you are barely getting by, is part of the answer that you are so burned out and exhausted that you can’t or don’t want to think of creating options to initiate meaningful change? Think, “what now” “what’s the lesson” “what can I do for myself right now.”
Start being incredibly selfish. It’s okay to say no to more requests for your time or effort. Begin setting firm boundaries.
I had a caregiver this week who is in her twenties sweep the rest of her life under the rug because she moved her mother into her home. They don’t get along.
This caregiver never has time for herself because of caregiving responsibilities. She is about to get married. This is a situation that could explode anytime.
The caregiver said there were conversations about moving mom into an assisted living community but she knew what would happen. Mom would move and then complain all the time and be miserable.
My response was, well, who needs an attitude adjustment and a little gratitude? In this case, Mom should appreciate all you have done for her. Mom should be happy for you that you are getting married.
Your mom has lived her life. You have your whole life ahead of you. Go live it and let your mom work on making her life the best she can.
If making this type of decision makes you feel guilty, check out my YouTube channel, @PamelaDWilsoncaregivingexpert, where you’ll find videos about dealing with caregiving guilt, making promises, and many other topics.
Why Isn’t Getting Your Life Back Possible?
Let’s talk about the hours caregivers commit to caring for aging parents and spouses, which translate to physical and mental exhaustion and caregivers barely getting by. Ask yourself this question, how would your life be different, or what would you do differently if you got your life back?
Now this is truly a make-a-wish kind of dream. How many of you can answer this question?
Or has it been too long since you even dreamed of having your life back that you have no answer? So here’s the question: Why can’t you get your life back, now?
When you think of living life on your own terms, do you come up with a list of limitations? If you can’t imagine it, you can’t make it happen.
We all tell stories about why we cannot do what we want. Mom, Dad, a spouse needs me. There is no money to pay for care.
Have you investigated Medicaid home and community-based services and long-term care to confirm that money is a limitation? Is there a way to get care for aging parents that you have not considered or researched? Have you exhausted all of your options?
No matter how complex your situation is, if you are barely getting by, finding a solution is up to you. Solutions exist, but only for those brave enough to be persistent to ask questions, seek answers, and ask for help.
Have you heard of the old saying where there is a will, there is a way? I know if you are barely getting by, you may be exhausted. You tell me change is impossible. It is if you think it is.
Your thoughts become your life experience. So until you are willing to change the way you think, your situation probably won’t change. Find the energy if you want to change your situation. Another question.
Do You Live in “They World”?
How often do you say “they won’t let me or they won’t like that” in conversations and sharing your story? Are you projecting your feelings on someone else?
Is it you that won’t let yourself, or you that may not think that doing that is okay? If you live in “they world, ” you may be giving too much power over your life to another person or people.
Is the person who holds power over you the person you care for, someone at work, or in another part of your life? If you want to stop barely getting by, there may be a little more discomfort you will have to experience to get to the other side.
How comfortable are you in stating your needs? Making your needs known includes having serious discussions with mom, dad, a spouse, or a grandparent about what you can and cannot continue to do.
You will continue to feel that you are barely getting by until you set a boundary. Until you recognize and stand up for your needs, you will never stretch yourself to get what you want from life and make your dreams come true.
Why should young caregivers with a long life ahead of them give up the best years of life to care for aging parents? Why should adult children who have worked all of their lives and hope to enjoy retirement become full-time caregivers for even older parents? I know many caregivers who say they wouldn’t do things differently.
Many years ago I considered moving across the country to care for a favorite aunt and an uncle. This would have been around the time I wanted to go to college. I did not make the move, but it was a strong consideration which was a good thing because I became a caregiver for my aging parents.
What Does Caregiving Really Mean?
Many family caregivers have no idea what “caregiving truly means” and how becoming a caregiver can change your life especially if you have a busy career and care for aging parents or a spouse.
Being a caregiver can toss life upside down until you get to that point where you don’t recognize who you’ve become.
You barely get by and don’t know how to dig yourself out of the quicksand you are sinking into. To stop barely getting by, you must make some mental and physical space in your life.
Take time away from caregiving. Give your body and brain time to rest, and solutions will begin coming to you.
Caregivers who keep going and going and barely get by are working against themselves because of exposure to chronic stress. Even high-performing athletes who train constantly take planned breaks.
Let’s talk about dealing with the healthcare system, insurance companies, doctors, and healthcare providers, as this can be a time suck. On occasion, I have spent 30 minutes or more on the phone attempting to return a person’s call at a doctor’s office. Each time I called and was transferred, the phone line was connected.
And each time I called back, someone else answered the line and asked me the same questions. This type of frustration, almost like re-living a bad behavior pattern, can result in a caregiver giving up trying to schedule a doctor’s appointment or treatment for a loved one.
The people on the other line don’t care. Their job is to answer the phone. Their goal is not to resolve your problem. So once again more frustrations to add to the list or reasons caregivers barely get by.
When It’s Past Time to Ask for Help
In this case, if you have a sibling or someone in your family who can help you make phone calls, schedule appointments, run errands or help in any way, asking for their help is the next thing you can do for yourself. Most caregivers don’t want or like to ask for help and end up in crises.
If you don’t as for help or information to make different decisions, you will constantly be barely getting by. Spreading caregiving responsibilities across family members as early as possible in a caregiving relationship is essential.
Because if you don’t—and many of you already know this—your siblings will rely on you to do it all and they will happily go on with their lives. Brothers or sisters become comfortable with competent you doing everything while they live their lives and take vacations.
So if this is the case, there may be a time when you must be brave enough to upset the apple cart. As we discussed earlier, this involves initiating the conversation with the person you care for that while you love them, you cannot do this alone anymore or at all.
Let parents know that you will ask your siblings first for help; if this does not work, then a care community or other options may be the next point of discussion. Of course, now it is likely and even possible that your siblings won’t take you seriously.
Family members will expect you to cave into pressure when they say, “I’m too busy, I have a job, I’m raising children.” All the while, you dream of being in the same position as they are which is busy, working, and raising children.
But instead but you’ve given up your life to care for mom or dad. So, the question for siblings is how can you help care for mom or dad because you are done.
Prepare to Live Your Life
You must be willing to walk away as the caregiver when you make that statement. You can’t remain involved and attempt to maintain control over the situation.
When siblings take over, you will feel unneeded. You must prepare for this feeling because having others take over can make a caregiver feel resentful.
It will feel like everything you did to this point no longer matters. As we discussed before, this is your make-a-wish opportunity to escape the burden of caregiving responsibilities. Take it.
Focus on the positives and the future. That question you were to ask yourself earlier in the program—how would your life be different, or what would you do differently if you got your life back? Well, that time is NOW.
And when this time arrives, if it’s not now, it will scare you. So you must be prepared.
Because, at this point, the focus will be on what you want from life and how to make it happen. Remember that saying, be careful what you ask for you might get it?
While everyone dreams of having freedom, when the moment comes, it’s important to know what to do next. So similar to barely getting by because you’ve got too many caregiving responsibilities, you can be barely getting by because you may have unstructured time on your hands. The constant planning and rushing around routine of caregiving activity has disappeared from your life.
What Will You Do Now?
Well, what will you do when freedom knocks at the door? The answer – all of those things you dreamed about.
Exiting from caregiving responsibilities is kind of like retiring. For those of you who are retired, what was it like trying to re-establish a new routine? Retiring necessitates creating new daily routines because your work friends are still working.
You have time on your hands. So you need to find new activities and make new friends instead of looking at the four walls of your home. .
So take a step back while you are in the throes of barely getting by, make an exit plan. Write out a plan for your life after caregiving. It’s not as if caregiving responsibilities won’t eventually return in your life.
If you care for aging parents and are married, one day, you may care for your spouse or yourself. So everything you learned this time around has value. This little window of time is time for you to take a break.
It’s Time For You to Get On With Life
Barely getting by as a caregiver can be an excuse not to deal with your own demons, problems, insecurities, doubts, and fears. Life can get comfortable for caregivers who put all their efforts into caring for another person to the exclusion of taking care of themselves.
Then one day, the caregiver looks back and realizes what they gave up. But it may be too late.
The caregiver may have health problems and limitations. There’s no way to go back and start a career all over again. Too much time has passed.
So now all that remains is to think about what might have been. So the choice is to get on with life or to look back at the life you wished you had created.
Every day has 24 hours. Time passes quickly. If you don’t make the best of each day by having a plan, then six months, six years down the road, you may have regrets.
Find Courage in the Face of Doubt
Many caregivers think changing their lives is impossible because of life circumstances.
If you think it’s impossible, it will be impossible for you.
Change is possible for those willing to take a hard look at limitations, discuss what can be done from a caregiving perspective, and develop a plan so that loved ones can receive care from other sources.
So I encourage you to find inner strength, hope, and courage in the face of doubt so that you can move from barely getting by to being in control of your life while maintaining relationships with aging parents and those you love.
Being a caregiver doesn’t mean you have to constantly sacrifice your needs and wants. Being a caregiver means you care enough about yourself and others to find a middle ground that works for everyone.
Looking For Help Caring for Elderly Parents? Find the Information, Including Step-by-Step Processes, in Pamela’s Online Program
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