It has been a long absence on my part and I apologise. I know that there have been visitors to the healthy carer site and I am sorry that there has been nothing new to read. Although I have been thinking a lot about the impact for carers of everything that is happening, I’m afraid I haven’t felt able to commit anything to my blog.
The various clips on TV and articles in the newspapers make my heart go out to those who cannot visit loved ones, those who yearn for their family to visit and those who are isolated at home caring for someone without the help of the agencies who would normally support them. How can anyone fail to be affected by Mary Fowler’s plea for visiting rules to be eased. At 104 years old her description of feeling as though she is in prison is heart-breaking. Indeed, what can I write which would make even the tiniest contribution during these incredibly difficult times?
All the tips and strategies I usually offer and which have been covered in previous blogs become incredibly challenging when our focus is on something as all-consuming as this pandemic. Even in what we might remember as “normal” times, carers have told me that paying attention to their own health and wellbeing while caring for someone can seem selfish and indulgent. In these strange times, finding the focus and motivation to overcome that sense of something being not right about looking after yourself, is so difficult.
Many people without the responsibilities and challenges that carers experience, have written about their lack of drive during lockdown and their inability to focus on anything for any length of time. I have also come across some writing about their loss of a sense of hope for the future. How much more difficult it is as a carer? When life is so restricted, and the restrictions are likely to continue for a considerable time, trying to change the way we do things or attempting to make a difference is challenging for everyone. Being a carer may mean that getting through each day can become another all-consuming focus, along with the pandemic.
I felt along with many others a huge sense of hope in the summer, after the end of the lockdown which began at the end of March. A hope that life might return to some kind of normal, but our hopes have been dashed. We now realise that without a vaccine or effective treatment for the virus, we are likely to be under restrictions for months. Even worse, we may think things have improved and start to return to our former lives only to be restricted again as the virus takes over yet again.
So, it is crucial for carers to find a way to sustain themselves. However, the old adage, you can’t pour from an empty cup may not be the whole truth. While a car grinds to a halt without fuel, this principle just doesn’t always seem to hold up when it is applied to human beings. Lots of carers prove that it is possible to run for a surprisingly long time on a seemingly empty tank. However, I fear the damage that is being done. This damage may be physical or emotional and mental. Physical damage does often stop us in our tracks – we may become physically ill, we might hurt our backs or simply become absolutely exhausted. In contrast, damage to our emotional and mental wellbeing can be more insidious. We might not listen to what we know in our hearts because we believe we must be strong and we fear what will happen if we don’t keep going. So we just find ways to carry on and deny what we are experiencing. Perhaps not sleeping, perhaps regretting aspects of our caring behaviours, or just sinking lower into a state of despair and lack of hope.
What can I offer which is realistic? Well, it might not be possible to take a large chunk of time to yourself but it might be reasonable to take several small periods of time each day to focus on something which recharges your batteries or even feeds your soul. That might be to read while having a coffee, it might be to sit in the garden (with a warm fleece on and a rug!) just feeling the fresh air, listening to the birds, smelling the garden, it might be to listen to some music. Spending 5 minutes a few times a day might just re-energise you a little. Planning the breaks ahead of time if you can might bring other benefits of adding some structure to your day.
Another important thing to do can be to acknowledge and accept how we feel and find a way to talk about it. That talking might be with friends or family or if there is concern about worrying them, there are confidential helplines. Sometimes when thoughts remain in our heads, they have a huge power over us. Just getting those thoughts out of our heads can take away their power and result in things feeling more manageable. Writing can also be a great alternative to talking since it can have much the same effect by getting things out of your head. No need to show what you write to anyone. The simple act of writing may be enough.
In the short term it may be tempting to keep a “lid” on what is in our heads for fear that things will become worse. Only you can decide, but my experience is that very often it is a huge relief and brings benefits to ease that lid off gently.
Stay safe and take care of yourselves as well as your loved ones.