There’s always a choice

In my last blog I wrote a little about making choices and perhaps thinking that at times there is no choice. It might be that the alternative to the way you are managing things is too awful to contemplate. It might go against what you believe is best for you and for the person you care for. As I have written before, it might be easier and quicker to do what you have always done. Or it might be really difficult to think through an alternative way.

Whatever the reasoning, there is always a choice and surprisingly, there are nearly always benefits to making the choice yourself, even if you choose to make no change. It is the choosing which can bring benefits. Choosing means taking responsibility and taking responsibility means taking some control. If you are in control then others are not and that can be a great feeling. Some carers that I have worked with have described their life as feeling more free when they learn to choose what to do and how to do it.

It’s important to be clear that taking some control is not the same as being controlling, although they are linked. Being controlling is needing to be in control even if it is not the best thing. Taking some control is different.  

So how can you learn to make choices when life is rushing by and you are familiar with the way things are? Well the first step is to be aware of what is going through your mind and what emotions you are experiencing. Carers have described to me how they feel resentful, irritated, even angry. Also worried, anxious and fearful. It’s OK to feel any or all of these things. If you can manage to notice your thoughts too, you might notice yourself wondering about doing something different. You might be thinking what if I did things a different way.

I will tell you another story. A lady I worked with cared for her husband with dementia. She loved him dearly and wanted to do everything right for him and never left him alone or with anyone else. When I met her, she was angry with herself for starting to feel resentful and irritated with him. She told me that there were several people offering to sit with her husband to let her go out with her friends but she said to me “I don’t have any choice, I promised I would take care of him.” Through speaking about the situation and what she was feeling and thinking she discovered that she kept saying to herself “What if I allowed our friend to be here once a week?”  And then she kept telling herself that she couldn’t possibly. But speaking about things helped her to realise that going out with her friends occasionally did not mean she was no longer taking care of her husband. 

The story has a happy ending. Once she started listening to the “what if” voice in her head, she was able to work out what she needed to do to make her feel assured that her husband would be safe while she was out. It worked for her. However, I have worked with other carers in a similar situation who made the decision not to go out. For one carer that I remember their decision was based on the risk they thought their husband wold be exposed to. For another they felt that the consequences of going out would undo any benefits. The fact that they had considered an alternative improved how they felt, because they had consciously made a decision.

You may not relate to this story but you might recognise where you could make some choices. You may care for a child or a sibling and have forgotten how to slow things down and consider making a choice. Paying attention to what you want and need is OK – you probably spend much of your time paying attention to what everyone else wants and needs. Not just the person you care for but perhaps the wider family who might all have different views on what ought to happen!

I haven’t looked today at choices about how we behave and what we say but they can be important too. Perhaps a little more difficult. I will look at that in a future blog.   

Trapped by how we like to do things!

In my last post a couple of weeks ago, I touched on how we like to do things as being something that might get in the way of taking care of ourselves. Some of the feedback I have received suggests that I may have struck a chord so I thought I would follow that up today.

One of the biggest challenges can be to trust that someone else will do things the same way we like them done. That might be looking after things in the house to give us a break, or it might be looking after the person we care for. Either way we can sometimes fear that if things are not done in the way we are used to doing them, then we bring some risk into our lives and make things less manageable.

The risk could be just small and inconvenient – they might put things away in a different place and I won’t be able to find them quickly and easily. If we are running on empty then our tolerance for these “small” things going wrong can be really diminished. Some days not being able to find something is just a nuisance. On another day it can feel like the end of the world! And our ability to cope with that “end of the world” feeling is also reduced if we are running close to empty. The emotions leak out and all of a sudden, we are feeling guilty about something we have said or done in haste!

The risk could be more significant. They won’t be able to support (either physically or emotionally) the person I care for in the same way that I do. So, what will I come home to? It can feel quicker and easier to do things, everything, ourselves. That feeling of it being quicker and easier, can even influence how we relate to the person we care for. We might be reluctant to allow them to do things for themselves or even to make their own decisions.

I hope you won’t mind me sharing some of my own experiences about taking care of my mum. I would often be rushing and it seemed easier and quicker to make decisions for her – what she should wear or even what she should eat. Asking her to decide what she would like to wear or what she would like to eat often resulted in a lengthy discussion which I felt I didn’t have time for. Why might we imagine that the things that are important to us now – being independent, making our own choices and decisions – should suddenly no longer be important just because of some loss of ability? I had to keep remembering that the need for dignity, independence, feeling valued had not disappeared just because my mum was in her 90s and needed help.

Sometimes stopping and looking, as if an observer, at our day we might realise that we spend a lot of our time rushing from one task to another, maybe not even speaking to the one we care for in any depth. What is the message we inadvertently convey if we don’t sit down, maybe don’t even take off our jacket yet do the washing up, empty the bins and do the ironing?

Time, or lack of it, has come up again as I write today. However, in my working life and my personal life I have frequently been reminded that we all have time to do the things we think are important and the things we value. I have also worked with many clients, carers and managers in organisations, who make the time to do things which I might think are not worth spending time on. Conversely, things that I make time for, they would see as wasteful. So, making choices about what we do is a very personal thing. Unfortunately, it can be easy to forget that we are actually making choices all the time. How many times have you said “I don’t have any choice”? Maybe there was a choice but the alternatives didn’t seem feasible or practical.  So, our choices can trap us in patterns and these patterns can result in problems in the longer term. 

I plan to post something new around every 2 weeks and next time I will continue today’s theme by writing a bit about trying to keep things in our lives manageable and the choices that might lead us to make.