When respite calls, we should listen.
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines respite this way: an interval of rest or relief. As caregivers, we know how challenging it can be to find the time to rest or have relief from our responsibilities.
How does one know when they need respite? Seems like a silly question, like don’t you know when you’ve had enough? That you need a break? Maybe. Some do, and some do not listen well to their inner voices. Or maybe some realize they need time away but have no way of making it happen.
If our cups are empty, our energy depleted, we need to find a way to fix that or we may break before our care recipient does not need us anymore. In the long run, we will not truly be the caregiver our loved one needs us to be if we fall apart.
You can’t pour from an empty cup. Put your oxygen mask on first. Clichés that ring true. Nothing equals nothing. If we have no oomph, we will struggle to provide care in a loving way. We may lose patience. We may lose a sense of well-being.
When respite calls to us what will it say? I know what it says to me. To me, it says you’re getting short-tempered, or bored, or tire more easily or my spirit has weakened. It says to me you are in a rut and if you don’t get yourself out of it depression will find you. What will it say to you?
AgingCare.com states: Rough statistics show that 30% of caregivers die before those they are caring for. Some studies show deaths higher. Illness that doesn’t lead to death is rampant, as well – depression and auto-immune diseases are high on the list.
Moments of respite can go a long way in helping us not just survive but thrive as a caregiver. On the daily, I find moments of quiet. It’s not the same kind of moments each day. It’s whatever fits into the flow of the day. It might be a cup of coffee by myself, or a walk or listening to music. I’ve learned to love those tiny pieces of time I can put aside for my mental health.
Over an extended time, bits of respite though good, are often not enough. Sometimes we may need to be away from all caregiving responsibilities. We might need a few days of 24/7 relief. If this is you, try and find it. At least once a year I figure out how to make this happen. It isn’t easy. It takes a lot of careful planning. When I am in the middle of planning, I wonder if it’s all worth it. It is. It is totally worth it. After a few days of just thinking about what I want to do, not worrying about wheelchair accessibility, meal planning, showering and dressing someone else, I feel refreshed.
Even if you can only get away for a few hours it’s worth it. The trick is letting go of wearing the caregiver hat when you walk out the door and that is not easy. For what it’s worth my two cents on letting go is to think about letting go a few hours before your time out of the house begins then you will be ready for “me time”. It takes practice to get good at preparing for time for yourself.
In “Living Your Yoga”, Judith Hanson Lasater provides some guidance for us. She says: do what is truly possible with unwavering commitment to giving yourself to the moment.
We owe it to those we care for, and to ourselves, to live our best lives possible. To avoid being one of the thirty percent that die prematurely due to the stress of this caregiver life we need to learn how to breathe deeply, fill our cup, and listen to our inner voice that is craving respite. We need to be as good to ourselves as is humanly possible.