Look Forward To Something or Else . . .
The favorite pastime in America isn’t basketball, football, or baseball. The favorite pastime in America is looking forward. Everyone looks ahead to something or someone. A vacation. A graduation. A holiday. A three-day weekend. An end to 12-hour workdays. The end of winter. The beginning of spring. The premiere of your favorite television show. The start of a new job. And so on, and so on, and so on.
The only people in America who don’t look ahead are people like you and me who care or have cared for someone who isn’t getting better. It’s not that caregivers like you and me don’t want to look ahead. We just don’t think we can. We believe looking ahead is reserved for people who take the present for granted. People who have no reason to question that tomorrow will be the same as today.
So it’s not surprise that when most people look forward, they gaze months and even years into the future whereas you and me, our hopes dare not travel beyond the moment. We don’t allow ourselves to look ahead because we mistakenly believe that doing so will only depress us.
But we are wrong. We must create something to look forward to in order to help us maintain our caregiving duties. As caregivers, we will experience burnout. It’s an occupational hazard of our love for another human being. Experiencing burnout is not a matter of if, simply a matter of when. But we can reduce the intensity of caregiver burnout if we allow ourselves the luxury of looking forward. I’m not talking about looking forward in the way other people look forward to vacations or travels around the world. No, our looking forward has to be different even though it serves a similar purpose—helping us through the rough patches of the every day when our bodies are exhausted, our hearts are heavy, and our will is seemingly depleted.
In order to reduce the intensity of caregiver burnout, here are five rules of looking forward every caregiver should keep in mind:
(1) Looking forward should extend no more than 24 hours into the future. As caregivers, we know so much about the fragility of life that to look forward to anything beyond 24 hours would be too much for us to believe.
(2) You should not go more than 24 hours without looking forward to something or someone. More than most, we need motivation to endure the 24-hour a day cycle of caregiving. We need to mark our time, not simply by the passing of a calendar day but by the enjoyment of a tangible goal or reward.
(3) Look forward to the small stuff. This may be the most difficult rule to follow. We’ve been trained our entire lives to believe that we should only look forward to big things: weddings, birthdays, holidays, family reunions, etc. Cross those thoughts out of your mind. As a caregiver, you have to constantly remind yourself that the small stuff is worthy of looking forward to, like watching the sunset, or taking a long shower, or going for a run, or calling a friend, or watching your favorite television show, or getting a hair cut, etc.
(4) Mark your small stuff in your calendar. Now. Yes, I mean physically type it in your phone or mark it in your daily calendar. Be as specific as you can. Ambiguity is your enemy. Mark your small stuff in your calendar with the very same details you would when marking anything else in your calendar: the amount of time necessary to fulfill your small-stuff task, where, with whom, etc. If you don’t mark it in your calendar, it won’t exist.
(5) Make it sacred. Stop treating your own needs as if they are optional yet treating others’ needs as necessary. Our needs are as real as others. I know, this is much easier said than done. As caregivers, the small-stuff that we look forward to must be treated as sacred or we will deny ourselves the opportunity to experience these often overlooked but essential moments of joy.
A friendly reminder to us all, if we deny ourselves the opportunity to indulge in the small stuff we look forward to, then we will be less able to give of ourselves to the very person we care for. Yes, I know we all know this, but I also know that few of us truly take this to heart. Your small stuff is sacred. Don’t minimize it when talking to others or when talking to yourself.