By BENJAMIN PRATT,
Author of Guide for Caregivers and contributing columnist
Both of our daughters were ill at the same time recently, and they live 1000 miles apart. No, they are not twins. It was just coincidence. Nothing serious really—each complained of being worn out, tired, no energy, exhausted, congested, aching.
Our older daughter described it by saying, “I just needed to drop out for a few days and have an affair with my couch.”
Neither left her couch for three days.
Both are in their 40s, leading very different lives, yet they have a few things in common—endless work and constant stress from self-demanding standards. Confession time: They got it from their parents.
Our older daughter is a successful businesswoman who devotes untold hours to charity work. Among her many time commitments are serving as a regional board member for the American Red Cross—plus fund-raising and development for a local museum and the regional symphony and for a local child care center related to her church. She is also a key creative player in the annual book festival for her city.
Our younger daughter is a 4th Grade teacher in a Texas border city. She works 7 to 7 most school days and juggles the demands of her family, with children’s sports and school functions.
I talked briefly to both of them on their lie-down weekend. I, of course, had to drop in my fatherly advice: “Your body won’t lie. Your mind will! Your mind will tell you that you are able to do one more task. But at some point, your body will just shut down and demand a rest. I think that is what is going on at this moment. If you don’t listen to your body and treat it better it will get sick.”
They politely listened, but I strongly suspect they will not follow my sage advice much more than I did myself at their age.
When I teach caregivers I often take a bottle of water and hold it out at arm’s length and ask its weight.
The replies come back: “Six ounces?” “Twelve ounces?”
Then I ask, “If I hold it like this for an hour, how much does it weigh?”
Smiles begin to appear.
Finally I ask: “If I hold it for 24 hours? A week? A month? A year? Five years?”
I pause, as they are nodding with me, and I say: “Now you know the weight of stress!”
I have a good friend whose mother died recently. Nearly seven years ago she retired from a position she loved to become the caregiver of her mother whose physical and mental capacities were diminishing rapidly. Her mother was finally placed in a nursing home where my friend visited her daily. She continued to go each day, even when her mother only rarely recognized her or expressed any appreciation for the visits. As if this was not enough stress, her husband developed serious heart problems. My friend was a caregiver on two fronts.
Not long before her mother died, my friend began having problems talking. Her voice became raspy and could barely be heard above a whisper. She has had extensive tests which reveal no physical abnormalities in her throat or larynx.
Her doctor simply said, “Have all the muscles in your neck always been so tight?”
“No,” she replied, “Only in the recent years that I have been under a lot of stress as a caregiver.” She says that the voice lessons she is now taking are helping, but it will be a long recovery.
It is well for each of us caregivers to remember that our bodies won’t lie—our minds will.
Be tender toward yourself.
Listen to your body.
PHOTOS today are not Benjamin’s daughters. Both photos were contributed for public use via Wikimedia Commons. Top photo was taken by N. Renaud of Canada; bottom photo was taken by Becky Wetherington.