There is absolutely nothing funny about caring for an aging, chronically ill, or disabled person. However, from my own experience, I know that caregiving is entirely too difficult to take seriously all of the time. Finding humor in difficult situations can be a very useful tool in coping with the emotional stress of caring for a loved one who is no longer capable of taking care of him/herself.
A few years ago, I spoke at a conference for people who were caring for family members living with Parkinson’s or Huntington’s disease. In the morning, I spoke about caregiver anger and what I call the “3 F’s of Flipping Out”––frustration, fear, and fatigue. I stressed the importance of getting enough rest, because there is very little distance between sleep deprivation and caregiver burnout.
At lunch, I sat with a group of women who were all talking about the challenges of finding respite care for their husbands. Claudia, the woman sitting next to me said, “I’ve got it all figured out. I’m going to rob a bank. I’m going to get my husband in the car, and we’re going to drive to the bank. We’re going to part in front. Then I’m going to get him behind the wheel so he’ll look like the get-away driver. He’ll be my accomplice. Then I’m going walk in with an unloaded gun, and I’m going to point it at the teller and say, ‘This is a stick-up.’
If she gives me any money, I’m going to take it out the car and sit in the passenger’s seat and wait for the police to come. Now here’s the beautiful thing about that––they’ll arrest both of us. They’ll take him to the men’s prison. And then they’ll have to feed him. They’ll have to do his laundry. They’ll have to manage his medications, and they’ll have to deal with his Depends. They’ll take me to the women’s prison. I’ll be in a cell all by myself. I’ll be able to check books out of the library. I can read during the day. I’ll be able to sleep at night, and it won’t cost us a dime!”
By the time Claudia finished sharing her wacky plan, all of us were howling with laughter. Claudia allowed me to share her story and turn it into an animated short.
I always share this video when I speak at caregiving conferences, and it never fails to generate raucous laughter and applause. Anyone who has ever cared for a loved one over an extended period of time can identify with Claudia’s desire to relinquish her responsibility and get a little rest.
When I ask, “How many of you think Claudia’s plan sounds like a good idea?” and almost everyone in the audience raises a hand, I know a many of them have also fantasized about doing something desperate in order to get a little rest and relief.
Humor is no substitute for sleep, and it can’t cure an illness, but it can help relieve stressful situations. One of the things that makes caregiving so incredibly difficult is the fact that most caregivers have a tendency to put the needs of their care receiver ahead of their own.
If you can accept the fact that self-care is not selfish, and if you are willing to make your own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs a priority, it could help you avoid doing something in a moment of fatigue and frustration that would cause harm to you or your care receiver.
Here are 5 self-care tips that might help lighten your load:
Set aside some time each day for yourself: Having something to look forward to will help ease your emotional stress.
1. Get out in nature: Let the sights, sounds, and smells of the outdoors lift your spirits.
2. Stay connected socially: Participating in respite care programs and visiting with friends and family can help avoid depression and illness brought on by isolation.
3. Find a safe release for negative emotions: Accept the fact that you will not always feel and act as loving and kind as you would like. When you are experiencing extreme stress, get active.
4. Exercise, breathe deeply, write a rant, listen to music, call a friend, or scream into a pillow. Letting off a little steam can be a very good thing.
5. Develop your spiritual nature: You may find comfort in faith. You may find it in music, meditation or nature. If there is something that ignites your spirit, explore it, and let your soul soar.
Nothing will ever make the job of caring for a loved one easy, but making self-care a priority will help smooth out a few of the rough edges of caregiving and help you see a little humor even in the most challenging circumstances.