I have the privilege of meeting many, many caregivers–and some of them have been at this for a long, long time. Some caregivers are caring for both parents, some a spouse with a chronic disease, others, an adult child who is disabled or challenged. These are the silent heroes. These are the quiet ones who have cared for others for years, even decades. How do they do it?

I’ve had many people say, “I couldn’t do what you did–care for your mom with Alzheimer’s.”

I didn’t know I could do it either. Most f the time, caregiving felt like I was the tin can tied to the back of a fast-moving car. But when I realized I might be doing this awhile, I knew I had to stop being drug behind and began to stand up and formulate a big of a plan.

As caregivers, we can’t always look ahead. We’re too overwhelmed with the here and now.

We can’t know what’s ahead either. Who would sign up for this? You do it because you love someone. You do it because you have a deep conviction that this is right and good. Many times you do it because no one else will.

But if you can take a moment from all the day-to-day responsibilities and take a look at the bigger picture (aka, your life!) Pacing yourself for the long haul is important. Caregiving is much like a marathon–it’s not that impressive to out in the lead at the beginning of the race. That’s easy. You have the energy and the enthusiasm to leap out of the gate. There’s that early exhilaration factor.

A marathon is a test of endurance. So is long-term caregiving. You get “over” trying to impress anybody. There are days you feel on your game–and many days you’d rather not talk about. You go through times of disillusionment, times of resentment, and then the good times roll back around again. You are reaffirmed. You’re needed, and you’re good at what you do. Confidence returns. You circle this mountain many times over.

Pacing Yourself Through Caregiving:

  • Get off the drama bus. At first, everything’s a big deal–every ER visit, every “near-death” event. But after awhile you learn that you can’t exert that kind of emotional energy over and over. Learn to reserve yourself a bit–because it’s that reserve tank you’re going to need.
  • Be something other than a caregiver. It’s so easy to lose your identity in a role–any role–mother, teacher, but you are so much more than what you do. Keep up something you started long ago–gardening, your membership in the DAR, renew your teacher’s certificate. Have a well-rounded opinion of yourself and realize that you bring all the aspects “you” to your caregiving role.
  • Change is the name of the game. It’s easy to get comfortable with our routine, but as monotonous as caregiving looks, it’s not. Change is inevitable, and sadly, when we’re talking about disease and the aging process, our loved one’s health is most likely going to continue to deteriorate. By realizing this, you avoid becoming so rigid that you have a hard time adapting.

Pacing yourself isn’t always easy. It’s not like you can pick your times to take it easy. Sometimes you have to dig deep and exert all you have. And yes, much of your life may feel dictated to you, but the kind of pacing I’m talking about is more about your attitude, your flexibility, your overall perspective of life–you have to decide how you handle the challenges of caregiving–and of life.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “Most people are about as happy as they makes up their minds to be.”

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Carol O'Dell

Carol D. O'Dell's gripping memoir MOTHERING MOTHER, (April 1, 2007 by Kunati Publishing) is for the "sandwich" generation and overflows with humor, grace and much needed honesty. Written with wit and sensitivity, Mothering Mother offers insight on how to not only survive but thrive the challenges of caring for others while keeping your life, heart, and dreams intact. Carol is an inspirational speaker and instructor focusing on caregiving, spirituality and adoption issues. She has been featured on numerous television, radio and magazine and podcast programs including WEDU/PBS, Artist First Radio, "Coping with Caregiving" national radio, Women's Digest and Mature Matters Publications. Her fiction and nonfiction work has appeared in numerous publications including Atlanta Magazine, Southern Revival, MARGIN, and AIM, America's Intercultural Magazine Carol appeared on the radio show "Healing the Grieving Heart" with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss "Mothering Mother: A Daughter's Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir." To hear Carol being interviewed on this show, click on the following link: www.voiceamericapd.com/health/010157/horsley031308.mp3

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