Okay, first thing, this IS a stressful job. And you do have all those feelings, and it is normal. The real question is what do you do with those feelings, because they can eat you alive!
The first thing I had to do was change my paradigms. I had to quit REACTING and start making decisions and being PROACTIVE. That means that I am no longer the bad little girl that feels guilty when I don't keep my mommy happy. Yes, I still get frustrated, but it is a very different level of frustration.
One of the most useful things I learned the very first week I was at Spark. One of the team members of a different team reminded me that my mother is NO LONGER IN CHARGE, even if she still thinks she is. When you step into the caregiving role, you need the authority to actually take the reins. That means you will be making decisions as to what you can do, and when you can do it.
They won't like this. They've been in charge for the last lots of years. They like it that way. We know that, because when we step back into the caregiving role, we immediately feel like bad little children again. And we really resent the loss of power. A lot! So we understand what they are going through. But it doesn't change the facts. We can't both be in charge.
This means that no matter how much they try to lay a guilt trip on you, how much they accuse you of never helping them (even as you are doing so!), no matter how much they don't recognize your help--you just let it fall on off of you, and do what you can. They used to call President Reagan the 'teflon president', because the bad stuff that the opposition would hurl at him, he would simply let it slide off of him, it wouldn't stick. We need to do that.
They can accuse, wheedle, whine, complain, etc. But it only really hurts us if we accept it into our beings. I know this is hard, but you have to learn to just not give in to it. It is so much easier if you can separate them from their bad behavior. We love them, we don't always love what they do.
They are becoming like children. Big children used to getting their own way. Only now, there's a new nanny in the house, and this nanny does what is good for them, not everything they want. And they whine and fuss. But the good nanny does not give in. The good nanny does do some fun things for them, for sure. BUT, she also has schedules, and keeps them, regardless of the wishes of the children. BECAUSE THE CHILDREN ARE NOT IN CHARGE!!! The nanny does not feel guilty when the children whine. She knows they are being cared for, whether they like it or not.
YOU are the new nanny. And they won't like it. So what? It would be lovely if they made a big fuss over your help, and appreciated it. But for most of us, that's about as likely as the children thanking us for serving stewed spinach! It may be good for them, and you may have worked hard to prepare it, but they aren't amused.
You have to toughen your skin, and not take this job personally. Especially for dementia patients, because they truly don't know you've helped them, even when you're in the middle of doing it!
So set your schedule, and do what you can, and let the rest flow off of you like water on a duck's back. It may get wet when it jumps in the puddle, but when it gets out, the water just rolls off them. That needs to be us. It only hurts if you let it.
Now, to be honest, it is still frustrating, but it isn't the same level of gut wrenching feel like you're living in a hell-hole kind of frustration. It's the kind you can walk away from and forget.
My son and I just smile at each other when mom gets weird on us. Tells us to go away forever, tells us how awful we are. Tells us to shut up and be quiet. Sends us to bed in the middle of the day. It used to hurt me terribly. "I'm giving up my life as I knew it to do this, and this is the thanks I get?" And I'd rumble and grumble and get knots in my stomach.
Now, my son and I just look at each other and smile. What's the difference? I decided that mom was not in charge, and while I do take her feelings into account, and will sometimes do as she asks as a favor, it is because I CHOSE the action, not because I slank away as a bad girl. Which is what I did in the beginning, and resented it like crazy!
The other really huge thing, was to find something that was the old 'me'. The pre-caregiver 'me'. And hang onto it. Otherwise, you end up giving more and more of yourself until there is nothing left. No matter how much you give, they will always want a little more. So you can't base your giving on their wants, but on your ability to give. You can only do so much. Accept it. Change the 'stinkin' thinkin'" that says you have to do everything they want they way they want it when they want it. It'll wear you out.
The other huge thing in my life was realizing that while they were drawing on my strength, I needed to draw on strength as well, something bigger and stronger than me.
I think of Psalm 55. This is the psalm that tells of the pain of being betrayed by one close to you. That is part of this pain, that the one that should be praising us for helping, is instead heaping insult upon us.
1 Listen to my prayer, O God,
do not ignore my plea;
2 hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
3 at the voice of the enemy,
at the stares of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering upon me
and revile me in their anger.
4 My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death assail me.
5 Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
6 I said, "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest-
7 I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
. . .8 I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm." . . .
12 If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were raising himself against me,
I could hide from him.
13 But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
as we walked with the throng at the house of God. . . . 16 But I call to God, and the LORD saves me.
17 Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice.
18 He ransoms me unharmed
from the battle waged against me,
even though many oppose me. . . .
20 My companion attacks his friends;
he violates his covenant. . .
22 Cast your cares on the LORD
and he will sustain you. . .
Notice that the person that wrote this knew about how hard this is. And he calls out often for help. This isn't a new problem! But there is help, and peace. The situation didn't change for me, I CHANGED INSTEAD. And it has been an incredible blessing. To be in the same place, with the same old problems and a bunch of new ones, and have it not hurt! Woo hoo!
You can do this! There is peace in this job, despite the turmoil swirling around you. I have learned so much, I have grown so much. I would not have changed this experience. I have a long, long way to go, but I've come a long way as well.
I have peace. You can have it as well. But it means you have to quit looking for acceptance, and accolades, and a pat on the back for this job. You will be blessed, but it will come from elsewhere. You may need to search diligently for help. You may have to stand up for yourself. You may have to change how you do things. You may have to just shut your ears and hum, and ignore the tirade. Or walk away and come back later.
This is a Humpty Dumpty moment. You cannot put your parents back together again. You can't make the family life go back in time, and make it functional and supportive and sweet. They are declining, they are dying before our eyes, and they're mad as hell about it! And we are frustrated, and sad, and hurt by it.
And all we can really do is get out the super glue, and hold things together as well as we can, for as long as we can, knowing it won't last forever. In the meantime, take a little time to have a life of your own, even if it only turns out to be for 5 minutes at a time. Do something for yourself each day. You deserve it.
No more martyr complex. No more. You won't survive that way, and you won't get any extra respect that way, either. You've got to be strong to be the caregiver, and that means you have to do what you can to renew and refresh yourself.
Imagine an experienced lifeguard. He gives advice from his chair. He may get down and help someone on the beach that needs assistance. He goes back to his chair. If he spends all of his time out in the water, just swimming around dealing with little unimportant details, he will wear out, and will not be strong enough to actually help in an emergency. He has to use his time and strength and attention wisely.
YOU are the lifeguard. You must use your time and strength wisely. Like a long distance runner, that paces themselves, so they can stay in the race to the end. You cannot be sprinting around here and there and everywhere, wearing yourself out, and still win the race. Pace yourself. Rest when you need to. You do NOT get extra points for wearing yourself out! This does NOT make you a good daughter or son.
I liked the one example I heard this week. We have to pay taxes. We send in the necessary forms. We do not also send in copies of our checkbook register to prove we are good citizens! You are caring for your parents, good for you! Wearing yourself out doing it does not make you a better child or a better caregiver!
Have fun, learn to laugh again (took me years to do this!) Let the insults slide off. They aren't worth keeping! Look for good things, and think about them instead. Try to redirect them when they get difficult. If one method doesn't work, try something totally different. Love and hug them, let the rest of the aging junk be forgotten. It isn't worth holding on to.
And come here and download what you need to, to get it out of your life so you can get reoriented!
"You can make clothes from the wool of your sheep. . .the goats will provide milk for you and your family" (Proverbs 27: 26, 27)
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