Have you checked your electric meter lately? I thought not…too many other things for a caregiver to do. Mine is hidden in an obscure spot at the back of the house, out of sight and out of mind. I turn on the computer, television or toaster, and never give it a thought. With the flip of a switch or press of a button I am in business. Electrical energy is always there when you need it; too bad human energy is not like electricity.
My friend, who knows how caregiving has drained me, recently said, “Your meter is always running.” Her message: concern about my Mother is constantly sapping my energy. Like turning on the radio, I sometimes consciously flick on the worry switch, focus on what is happening to Mother and fret about where her dementia will take us. Sometimes I know I am worrying and see its negative consequences.
But there is a second type of worry weighing on my heart, even when I don’t recognize it. This invisible anxiety, like that hidden electric meter, is out of sight and out of mind. Concern about my Mother is now a constant backdrop in my life. Waking up at 3:30AM, disturbed by a half-forgotten dream, I move to the guest room, hoping to reclaim a few more hours of rest before the alarm. The meter is running. Calling my friend at 4:30 Tuesday afternoon, I sob about the hospice nurse’s dire report on Mom. The meter is running. Telling friends and family about Mother’s advancing dementia, I talk about her in almost every conversation. The meter is running.
My friend’s comment figuratively walked me around back, to see my ever-running energy meter. She helped me recognize that both unconscious anxiety and conscious worry are consuming my life-force, minute-by-minute, just as surely as if I had plugged in an old refrigerator in the basement, flipped the switch, walked upstairs and shut the door. I may not be standing there looking at it, but that energy-guzzling old fridge is running, and I am being charged for every kilowatt hour! Though out of sight, the energy-drain it is no longer out of mind. Now I see that I must pay for the unconscious, as well as my conscious concerns. The bill for both always comes due. How can I budget my energies to have enough to care for Mom until the end? I will:
- Acknowledge the steady drain of constant concern
- Look and listen for signs that “my meter is always running”: insomnia, appetite changes, irritability, and depression, to name a few
- Ask close family and friends to help me recognize these signs
- Practice all the self-care techniques that work well for me: walking, getting a massage, napping, praying, meditating, talking with friends, writing, cooking, limiting work and volunteer commitments, asking for help.
I know what to do to conserve and replenish my energy. Now, I just need to do it, because the meter will continue to run as long as my Mom continues to live.
How about you? Like me, are you a daughter caring for your parents? Is your meter always running? Consider some of these questions to help you recognize and respond to conscious or unconscious worry:
- What are some concerns that invisibly, but incessantly consume your energy?
- What signs indicate that your meter is running?
- What price do you pay for letting worry silently siphoned-off your energy?
- What are some steps you could take to diminish or let-go of your conscious worries?
- What are some steps you could take to conserve or replenish your energy?
Jane Meier Hamilton MSN, RN, a nurse for 35 years and family caregiver for 20 years, founded Partners on the Path www.partnersonthepath.org to help professional and family caregivers preserve their health, well-being and capacity to care. Read her book, Journey of a Lifetime: The Caregiver’s Guide to Self-Care (Infinity 2010) to learn sensible, effective ways to cope with your caregiver stress.