When the Caregiver Hits Rock Bottom

Almost every morning, I wake up at 5am to get ready for work. I pack a lunch for my daughter and hope to get ready and not wake anyone else up. It’s already somehow a rough day—so early that there’s no hint of the sun rising. The cold tile in my kitchen bite my feet and makes me even grumpier.

My husband, Keegan, has suffered from AxSpa for over 10 years now. More like 15 years if we look at when his symptoms started. I always look to him as admirable in his strength and persistence through adversity. But lately, with nearly every day feeling rougher and harder, I see that for over 10 years, I’ve also been enduring and persisting and surviving. And lately, the candle has been burning from both ends.

I think I’ve hit rock bottom. It’s a somewhat familiar place: a place filled with anxiety and insomnia. A place filled with exhaustion and an intense desire to give up. Being not only the caregiver of someone with AxSpa, but also a mom of 2 young kids and breadwinner for the family takes a toll. I’m really, really good at putting the needs of others before mine. If there were a profession for that skill, I’d be the best.

First thing when I hit rock bottom: Keep perspective of what matters

But, as Anna in Frozen 2 sings, some days I just have to do “the next right thing.” That is, don’t look too far ahead. It’s easy to put more on my plate without ever considering if it should go on my plate. In these moments, I have to force myself to sit down at the beginning of my day and list 1 or 2 things that absolutely matter. Sometimes, that’s going to work and feeding my kids. Sometimes, it’s a bit more ambitious like also doing the dishes.

I always put 1 additional item on my list: 1 thing I want to do purely for myself. It could be choosing to listen to Taylor Swift on the way into work or getting a relaxing bath or having a really good cry. If I don’t leave room for myself once a day, then it’s impossible to move up from rock bottom.

Set realistic expectations (AKA the thing I’m terrible at)

As a highly-ambitious, goal-driven person, setting realistic expectations seems silly. How will I ever overachieve and get a trophy? Well, getting up from rock bottom requires baby steps. And those baby steps have to be realistic for where I am in my day-to-day.

I remember once wanting to throw my daughter a huge birthday for when she turned 5. But, I just made it out of an exhausting point in my job and I couldn’t seem to find the energy. My inner voice was shouting, “You’re a terrible mom!” My planning energy was drained, and we ended up at a local park with homemade cupcakes, wonderful friends, and spent such a nice time together.

That moment helped me see that it isn’t about going over the top all the time, but rather, only when it matters. Nowadays, I essentially project plan my life so I can be upfront with my own expectations. My idealistic view of life comes in handy from time to time, but it needs to take a backseat when I’m needing to go from surviving to thriving.

I see you, other caregivers

This article isn’t a cry for sympathy or a competition of “who suffers more.” I just hope to be open and vulnerable so that other caregivers know that they aren’t so alone. Our struggles are much different, and sometimes, whether it be days or months or years, we aren’t in the best place to take care of ourselves.

And this is my last piece of advice: We as caregivers cannot go on only thinking of others for too long. Or else, we will neglect our needs and then we’re unable to take care of others. It’s a truth I still struggle to wrap my mind around, but life continues to teach me this lesson.

So what are some ways that help you get out of rock bottom?

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