Take a break – ideas for snatching five or ten minutes for yourself
Although I have written this as a carer of someone with dementia some of the ideas will work no matter who you care for.
One of the most irritating things for a carer is when some helpful soul tells you to look after yourself and make sure you make some time for you. How are you supposed to do this when you spend all your time, sometimes seven days a week, caring for someone else!
I know from personal experience what it is like to live with someone with dementia who follows you around all day, to the point you can’t even go to the loo without them rattling the door handle. But I also know that it is important for us carers to find ways of taking a break, even if this is only 5 minutes while you grab a quick cup of tea on the doorstep.
Here are some ideas, some of which I have used myself, to try to create a few minutes to recharge your batteries. The cup of tea on the doorstep works. Even if my husband was sitting at the table with a drink, I could stand with the door open and breathe in some fresh air. If the weather was nice we could both sit on the bench in the garden and whist he was sitting beside me I could close my eyes for a few minutes and just feel the warmth of the sun on my face and concentrate on breathing and listening to the birds. There really is nothing like a bit of warm sunshine to lift your spirits.
Having a bar of chocolate in the fridge to look forward to is also a treat - sometimes I would just break off a few squares, enough to give me a quick boost.
I was lucky in that my husband would sleep in a bit in the morning and I was able to get up a bit earlier. I could take him a cup of tea in bed, which gave me time to have my breakfast and think about what I needed to do for the day. A note pad is a good idea to jot things down so you don’t forget.
The same at the end of the day. If you can get the person you care for into bed you might be able to have a last drink in peace before you come to bed. I found that although we tended to go to bed at the same time, I could sit up for a while and either read a chapter of a book or do a few sudoko puzzles. I also kept a notepad by the bed and wrote things I needed to do or remember down.
If there were times in the day when he had a nap, although it was hard, I sometimes resisted the temptation to get on with some urgent chore and just sit down and either close my eyes for a few minutes or have a book to read. Anything you find relaxing that you can pick up - book/puzzle book or knitting; something you find relaxing to hand to lose yourself in for a while.
There are things you can do when preparing meals to save you time. If you cook for yourselves, cook enough for two or three meals and freeze for another day. Prepare enough veg for a few days and put in the fridge.
Are there still things that your cared for person likes to do? Although my husband wouldn’t get something out to do himself, if I got his paints out and a colouring book, he would sit and paint, sometimes for up to an hour. I did often have to stay sitting with him, but I could read the paper or put some music on to listen to.
Are there TV or radio programmes that would keep them interested for a time? Even if you have to sit with them you can do something you enjoy.
There are many activities you can download onto your phone or laptop, from jigsaw puzzles and word searches to more complicated games. Have a look or ask family and friends for recommendations. Some can be played in a few minutes - just long enough to drink a cup of tea or coffee.
As carers, it is tempting to throw on a pair of joggers or comfy trousers and a jumper every day, without much thought for your appearance. But I think it is important to make an effort to look nice. Apart from anything else, we all feel much better if we think we look good. If you wear make up then I think it is important to put it on. When you see yourself in the mirror it is better to see yourself looking good than like someone that has slept in what they are wearing.
Ask for help. We are all really bad at this, either because we think it is a sign of failure and we should be able to cope or we don’t think anyone can look after our cared-for person in the way we do. It does take a lot to ask and it is easy to make excuses for other people. We may have family members whom we don’t want to bother because they have a family or busy job. But that doesn’t mean they can’t find at least a few hours a week to do something for you. I know of one carer who said she could get through the week as long as she knew she could have an hour to have an uninterrupted soak in the bath.
Sometimes it is easy for family to let you manage and assume that if you need help you will ask, or quite commonly they are just letting you get on with it when they could do more to help. If you are the only sister often it is somehow seen as your responsibility and your brother(s) are happy to let you.
Ask for a family conference and explain that you need some help with care. If they haven’t got the time then maybe they would pay for someone to sit for a few hours to allow you to go out or do you have neighbours or friends locally you know well. They may be happy to come and sit for an hour or two while you get your hair cut or go for a walk. Are there old work colleagues or friends of your loved one who would come and chat for an hour?
The important things to remember is that we are all human; just because we are caring for someone we aren’t given super powers. We can only ever do our best and that is good enough. Some days we may be able to cope better than others but that is just how it is and we have to try and be kind to ourselves.
Being kind to ourselves is very important and trying to look after ourselves is important too. If you don’t look after yourself, you will find it harder to cope and your own health will suffer. If you are finding you can’t cope it is time to consider some respite. Family is your first option but failing that you need to chat to your GP or other support worker about the options available to you.