If you are a caregiver to anybody- an infant, a child, a spouse, a parent- you have probably felt inadequate and incompetent at times. Perhaps you have fallen victim to the misconception that caregivers should always be good at caregiving, and moreover, carry out each task with an affirming smile and knowing wink. No one is more disappointed in your shortcomings than you.
There are times when you might have the strength of Zeus and the patience of Job. And there are times when you might snap like an alligator and want to run for the hills. We all have our shiny moments of victory and, more often, the dull luster of mediocrity. Caregivers, this is normal. And it is enough.
When I visit my patients with dementia in their homes, I am usually met by a caregiver who describes challenges that are basically universal to all who care for people with dementing diseases. And regardless of the “challenge of the week”, they want to know that they are doing everything right. The insecurity eats at them as much as the unknown.
Caregiver, here is your coping metaphor:
You are at a carnival. It is loud and crowded and overstimulating. A man is yelling at you, teasing you, daring you to step forward and swing the hammer. You try to ignore him, but you feel shamed by the onlookers in the crowd who think you lack the strength and fortitude to meet the challenge. You reluctantly step forward, grab the hammer from the stubble-faced carny, and swing the mallet back over your shoulder. You inhale a breath so deep your eyes bulge out. The crowd holds its collective gasp. You unleash a powerful, commanding blow to the lever. The puck shoot up the tower and slams into the bell with a mighty CLANG!
The doubters erupt with applause. The carny kicks the dirt with his steel-toed boot. You gently lay the hammer down, toss a stuffed octopus over your shoulder, and strut into the parting crowd.
Congratulations Caregiver, you are a High Striker. You have the strength to step up and nail the target with intensity and purpose whenever the need arises.
But notice, the puck doesn’t stay near the bell. It falls back to earth where it lives in a state of inertia. That is its normal, resting state. The role of the High Striker is to get the puck to the bell when needed, and to conserve his or her energy between challenges.
If you manage to ring the bell a handful of times during the day, you are doing enough. Save your energy for the interactions that matter. Do a few things really well, and allow yourself to rest your caregiving muscles with mediocre performances. Sometimes just getting through the day is the equivalent of ringing the bell.
Don’t be so hard on yourself, High Striker. You are doing a great job.