Unplug and Reboot: How to Cope With Caregiver Burnout
I have worked in the computer lab of an elementary school for most of my 20 years in education. So, I have been witness to every tech problem from the old "blue screen of death" to roaring PC fans to wild viruses that populate my screens with weird and inappropriate pop-ups. That's super fun with 2nd graders.
Most of the time, though, I'm met with minor, everyday issues. Most problems can be fixed with the old reboot. If that doesn't work, leaving the device unplugged for a while can work. As a third resort, I always try unseating and reseating the memory cards. That trifecta will normally get things back up and running for a while. Somedays, though, I'm met with a constant barrage of, "Ms. Amy, it's glitchin'!"
So, lately, I've wondered what the human equivalent of these actions are. What tactics are in our arsenals when we stall out? What do we do when we have entirely too many windows open and the tasks keep compounding? How can we deal with being overwhelmed? What can we do when we're overworked and the to-do list keeps growing? How can we unplug, reboot, and get our heads back on straight as caregivers?
A reboot to clear out the junk
Sometimes, a reboot can clear out some old junk and give a fresh start. Then, the system can reset and go back to functioning as intended. I don't like to glitch. It feels like I'm not performing as well as I could, and it feels like a full-on system failure. In those times, I have to remember that even real machines only have so much capacity for work, and they need to start over occasionally.
For me, the powering down and back up cycle could be a bit overwhelming, emotionally. A good cry could be cathartic, and it just had to happen now and then. Once I let some emotions out, sometimes I felt reset and could return to duties.
Rebooting allows a machine to update and process changes and restart fresh. Starting over as humans is okay too.
Slowing down and unplugging
When Daddy left my circuits frying, sometimes I had to just chug on until I found an appropriate time to break. When I was able and he was taken care of, I had to walk away for a minute. I had to stop. I had to slow down, unplug, and leave things turned off for a few seconds before trying again. In my computer world, that would have translated into letting the task sit on my desk for a while, or turning to another machine to handle things.
In the caregiving world, that could mean taking help from family members, finding respite, and giving yourself a chance to breathe and be still. Overworking an already bogged down system does not help.
The good, the bad, and the glitches
For my last quick-fix resort, reseating memory was always the way to go. Now, we can't clear out the memory of having mashed potatoes flung at you across the table 5 minutes ago. I promise you won't forget all the hard days.
I can say for sure that there will be good memories moving forward. There will be little glimmers of green lights where amber warning lights had been blinking through the smoke of smoldering wires before. And, honestly, you are going to want to remember them all - the smooth days and the days full of malware.
Trying to keep your short-term memory focused on your purpose and all the functions you do carry out every single day can help. Don't forget all the good things you manage to mark off your to-do list even when the day is peppered with glitches.
A major system victory
Daddy also worked for the school system. He was a mechanic and spent his days diagnosing machine problems. As best as he could, he patched things up and kept moving forward both in his work and his life. He didn't like it any better than we did when his memory began to fail. We couldn't reseat or replace it. We did, though, try to focus on the bright spots when we could. We did have occasions where his output was appropriate and the little green lights shone as indicators that he was still living, breathing, and in there.
He brought my first computer home when I was a kid. It was archaic, and I didn't know what I was doing. I flipped through DOS manuals and figured out how to make the games work. It wasn't very useful beyond that, but we could try to keep lemmings from scurrying over the cliffs at least.
Daddy's system became one we weren't familiar with operating, but we read what we could, did what we could, and tried our best to keep the metaphorical lemmings safe. So, this is from me to you. Sometimes, just dodging the cliff is a major system victory, and there will be little 8-bit style pieces of music cheering you on. Make sure you listen for them.
Oh, and watch for the green lights.
Which, if any, of the following most often trigger agitation in your loved one living with Alzheimer's disease?