Take Your Time, Caregivers
Picture it. 1990-something. The humid Tennessee classroom buzzes as a metal box pretends to cool and agitate the sticky air. A 9th grade English class commences as students take their seats arranged by grade. White-haired Coach D. rolls in a big, square tv strapped to a cart. He pops a VHS tape into the dusty VCR, and you quickly get caught up in the old black and white episode of The Twilight Zone.
An occasional tracking line bounces vertically through the screen as you watch Burgess Meredith fumble with his glasses. Something sinks into your brain at that moment that you will pull this up for reference and insight and meaning for possibly the rest of your life. You may not have had a "Coach D," per se, but you get it.
You have just this kind of thing filed away that you still refer to... Because we all do.
Enough time, at last
This crisp recollection hit me today, as it tends to do now and then. If you aren't familiar with the Twilight Zone episode I'm referring to, its title was "Time Enough at Last." As a 9th grader, I'm sure I sort of had all the time in the world, but my brain held onto this for a reason. I would need it later.
As I recall, Burgess Meredith played a nerd of a guy. Bookish. He always had his nose in a book, and never felt he had enough time to read everything he wanted to read. His literary habit interfered with his job and his relationship, but he loved it. He always wished there was more time for his beloved hobby. I won't ruin it for you in case you are on the edge of your seat now, but he did wind up with more time.
Unfortunately, time wasn't all he needed. It wasn't the answer. It wasn't enough.
Time management and caregiving
I know from experience that caregivers really feel the crunch of time. There is too much work and too few hours. Days blur into one another as they pass. Laundry cycles run into feeding schedules and feeding schedules run into managing medicine. Paying bills and scheduling appointments get stuck to the mass of insurance red tape as it rolls downhill. Tantrums drag on forever, and peaceful naps are tragically short. Good moments seem to lessen as bad one's compound.
All of the minutes of the day get spent, and it's time to wash, rinse, and repeat after a few restless hours of the night. If only there were more hours in the day, right?
Caring about yourself is a priority
What would you do with them? Work more? Handle another hour or two worth of extra monitoring or cleaning or handling... All the things?
I think what we mean when we say we would like more time is that we would like more leisure time than we currently have. We would like all of our work to be done with time to spare. We would like time free from responsibility. That's hard within our twenty-four-hour parameters. It's especially hard for caregivers, but it's not impossible.
This is coming from a person who is notoriously horrible at time management. I've heard before that if you care about something, you will make time for it. Shouldn't you be caring about yourself just a little bit? I'm not saying you'll have hours to kick back with your feet up, but there is time to be carved out even if it's short.
I had a college course a couple of years back. "Succeeding in College" was the name of the course, I think. The sole purpose of the course was to make us better students in one way or another.
It was heavily concentrated on time management. We had to document a twenty-four-hour time period in our lives. It was a seriously eye-opening activity.
We clock in and out for work. We log hours to get paid. Our smartwatches track our sleep. When are we ever asked to account for what's left? Do it. You'll be surprised.
I have consciously made time in my own days over the better part of the last year to take walks a few times a week. Even if they are short, I feel better mentally and physically once I've taken them. I laughingly call it my "therapy." I'm only half-joking.
Claim your time
So, even if you can only get a thirty-minute span to read or walk or take a long bath or watch The Twilight Zone once the people you care for are in bed, take it. Take fifteen minutes. Take ten. Carve it out. Claim it. Use it.
Examine how you spend your hours and budget a sliver or two just for you. Self-care is not time wasted. It is time invested. You just might be able to balance all of your heavy responsibilities while getting just a small step closer to your "Time Enough at Last." Tell us about your experience in the comments below, or share your story with the community.
What stage of Alzheimer's are you or your loved one in?