This past month has been a truly busy and life-altering time with my mom getting ill. The doctor appointments, prescriptions, grocery store runs, late night wake-ups and coordination of all her services, had me spiraling like the “SooperDooperLooper.” Yes, for those of you who know what this is (an old-school rollercoaster at Hershey Park), you can confirm the feeling of winding through the tracks at warp speed, flipping upside down with little warning and dropping down hills at a rate that makes your stomach wish you didn’t have that Hershey candy bar.
What I’ve come to know, by experience only, is that caregiving is cyclical and mimics a rollercoaster. There are days that are expected, like the climb up the rickety tracks, but then before you can even prepare for it, the doors of chaos are opened with sudden flips and nauseating turns. When the caregiver goes through that door, typically, no one goes with her/him. Everyone around the caregiver maintain the same expectations with little to no understanding of the mental strength that is required.
With this last episode with my mom, there were times I felt that a huge black hole had opened up and was trying to swallow me. With all the responsibilities of trying to work, maintain a marriage, pay bills, make sure there is food in the refrigerator, taking care of myself seemed unrealistic. There were times I did not know whether to laugh out loud hysterically or just curl up like a baby and cry…in public.
There are some theories around the stages of caregiving that can be found here: http://bridgessc.org/caregiving/stages-of-caregiving/. However, I would argue that there is no preparing for a caregiver rollercoaster. There are many stages and we move from stage to stage with no set time limits. We can plan and plan for an aging or special needs loved one, but because our systems are fragile and our society has become so individualized, the lack of support tears our plans apart and caregivers are left to strategize a new plan instantly, on the spot. It wasn’t until I recently met with my Nutrition Coach at Lifetime Fitness that I was able to sharpen my vision, stand straight up and bring myself back to a sense of levelness. She walked me through my primary values, my challenges and my blessings, allowing me to regain the stability I needed at that moment.
Here are my lessons after this last rollercoaster ride:
- Acceptance: I am a caregiver and this is not going to be easy. A lot of individuals cannot and will not relate to my situation, leaving this to a solo ride. In moments of sanity, take deep breaths and recover, as we do in physical training and remember the blessings.
- Strengths: I have them and I certainly pulled on them. I had forgotten them momentarily, but they did not leave me and in fact, resurfaced with some supports. Caregivers have strengths that cannot be compared to any other. Whether you are caring for your loved one with Alzheimer’s, or for a child with Down Syndrome, you have a specialized skill set and are a fortress of strength that cannot be imitated or duplicated. You can only obtain this through experience!
- Supports: My support during this ride was not a typical person in my life that I lean on. That support, in a moment of time, was my coach. I went to her for a nutritional session and walked away with my feet balanced and my vision crisp. I will never underestimate the opportunity for support. It is there all around me and I appreciate it in all forms.
- Special: I am not alone in this journey and know many amazing caregivers who bring so much love and care to this journey. When I examine the world and the selfish acts of others, caregivers are special. They go against the grain and become exactly what the world needs, awakened human beings, sacrificing their lives one for another.
What has your rollercoaster been like? What were your strengths that pulled you through and the unexpected supports that arose out of your ride?
“Life is like a roller coaster with is ups and downs. What matters is whether you are keeping your eyes open or closed during the ride and who is next to you.”
– Ana Ortega