I learned five important caregiver lessons from a recent respite weekend. I went on a yoga retreat because the info was sent to me by Lynn Burgess who teaches a yoga class at our local Parkinson’s Place. I knew I needed a break but didn’t have time or energy to plan anything by myself. Larry’s son was coming to visit anyway so generously scheduled his trip so I could go. They had fun together.
What did I learn?
- Fatigue Blindness: You don’t see or feel how completely worn down you are until you have a break from it. I slept 30 hours in 3 days. It took me a whole day to realize I didn’t have to jump to help if I heard a noise. So if we have an opportunity for a break, we need take it even if we aren’t desperate. Just like people need a real vacation from the responsibilities of work (including from emails, etc.) we need a vacation from caregiving responsibilities.
- Emotion in the Body: I found that the physical movement in the yoga classes released emotions I had stored in my body, not just my heart and mind. I had a leadership and coaching mentor who always talked about the muscles and cells of the body storing emotion and stress but I’d forgotten about it. Though I originally figured I’d only attend a few of the yoga classes and spend the rest of my time doing nothing, I found the yoga an important part of letting go. Talking, thinking, writing, sleeping isn’t enough. We need to move.
- Ease and Action at Once: The yoga instructors kept reminding us to pay attention and relax parts of our bodies that weren’t needed in a particular pose. For example, if you are doing a twist at the waist do you need to tense your shoulders, or your mouth? I felt it as metaphor for being able to hold the pain of this disease (and other challenges we encounter) as well as feel the joy in other parts of life, or a day. And to not waste energy I don’t need to be using (like when I resist what I cannot change).
- Opening up Space: In class we were continually reminded to open up space in our bodies – to move the ribs away from the hips, for instance. We could move more easily into the yoga poses if our bodies were open. It reminded me how we hunch over to protect ourselves from physical pain and we hunch psychologically to protect ourselves from emotional pain. Then we get stuck and rigid in that hunch. We might be able to move more fluidly through our days and manage the emotions and challenges of caregiving if we could open up and allow more space in our minds and hearts.
- Breathing into Discomfort: I was often surprised at how noticing my breath and breathing deeply would dissipate the discomfort of a particular stretch or twist. The tight muscles would just soften. We hold so much tension as caregivers – the tension of being ready to jump when we are needed, the tension of holding our grief in check, the tension of managing our desire for our old life, etc. Maybe noticing shallow breathing, taking deeper breaths, breathing into the tension and discomforts of the daily tasks will make them easier.
I wasn’t sure about going, leaving Larry, but I’m so glad I did! I’m grateful for the perspectives, the opening from being in a different place, and doing something different to renew and restore my head, heart and body. I hope I remember my five important caregiver lessons now that I’m back in the real world.