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DOES PERFECTION GET IN THE WAY?
by Cindy Laverty
As a family caregiver, there are questions that enter your thought process that you wish would just go away. As a caregiver coach, I am repeatedly hearing similar questions or scenarios that have a common thread running through them. And the question is, “How am I going to continue doing this?” I remember the day I asked myself this same question. I know I said yes to being a caregiver, but God help me, I didn’t know how I was going to continue to do it. It was that question that made me reevaluate everything in my life. What I discovered was surprising to me.
I received this email the other day and I want to share it with you. “I have been caring for my mother for about four years now and in the beginning I was managing just fine, but as her condition has gotten worse, I feel like I’m unable to be a good caregiver for her. I make mistakes and she gets angry with me. I used to be better at this. In fact I prided myself on being an almost perfect caregiver and I was proud of that. My mother and I have always been close and I really wanted to be her sole caregiver, but her dementia has gotten worse and there are more demands on me now and I feel like I’m not doing a good job. I’m ashamed that I am letting her down even though I am trying so hard. I feel like my life is just spinning out of control. I have no idea what to do and I’m feeling overwhelmed by everything.” Can you relate?
When I read this email, there were a few words that jumped off the page at me: “almost perfect caregiver,” “sole caregiver,” and “I’m ashamed.” These feelings are real for many of the 67 million caregivers in the United States and they are extremely detrimental to your soul. It’s important to not set yourself up to be the sole caregiver because when your loved one’s condition changes and the demands on you increase, you have set yourself up to fail. You must have a support system in place. NO ONE CAN or SHOULD DO CAREGIVING ALONE! Professionals don’t do it 24/7, 365 days a year. What makes you think that you can? But what strikes me as a perfect recipe for disaster is the need to be perfect…to be a perfect caregiver…to be a perfect anything.
What would happen if you abandoned the need to be a perfect caregiver? Think about that for a minute. What would really happen? Would your world fall apart? Would Armageddon happen? Or…would you have more time to do something for you? Would you be less stressed? Would you find a way to engage in life’s simple joys with your loved one? Would you go outside and take a walk? What would you do if you gave up perfection? What would you do if you didn’t feel the need to do everything and do it perfectly? It’s a big question and one that most caregivers don’t think about.
I remember when I made the decision to let go of my need to do everything perfectly. What a revelation that was for me. Being a “perfectionist” is a nifty little excuse not to do something; to not make a change; to not fully embrace life because you might not show up perfectly. But the truth is that no one does anything with perfection. There is always room for improvement. The day I embraced this, my entire life changed.
Something happens when you become a caregiver. Suddenly you decide to be the “Fixer in Chief,” or the “Go-to Person,” or maybe you feel that you need to be both. Either way, it’s a bad combination. And the moment you make that decision, you are headed in the wrong direction, because immediately you have abandoned yourself.
Caregivers say to me all the time that they constantly worry about what would happen to their loved one if something happened to them? And one of the biggest worries is that someone would come in and do things differently and it wouldn’t be perfect! Does this sound like frantic thinking? It is. It’s exactly what it is and it’s a story that you tell yourself that keeps you stuck in a place of misery. And what do you do then? You worry some more…worry about what if? What if it’s not perfect? And then you are caught in a whirlwind of worry, but it’s worry without action. Worry begets worry and all you end up with then is more worry! And then you worry about not being perfect! You have to break the cycle of needing to be perfect. You must take action and do something differently.
Begin with these 5 tips:
1. Begin by making a decision to STOP being the sole caregiver.
2. Set up a support team – people who will help you when you need it.
3. Never assume that people know you need help. Make a list of 5 people who you trust to help you out and then be specific about what you would like those people to do and ASK! Trust that your friends and family want to help you, but maybe they don’t know how.
4. Decide that it’s okay if everything isn’t done perfectly. Seriously, what is going to happen if things aren’t done perfectly? The truth is that they weren’t perfect to begin with. Show up each day and be the best you can be and then cut yourself some slack so you, too, can LIVE!
5. Make a point of finding something to be grateful for each and every day. Stockpile the things you’re grateful for and read them on the bad days. Your gratitude will save you. You can’t be grateful and worried at the same time.
Perfection and worry are perfect partners. They nurture each other and they destroy happiness. Be open to the journey of caregiving. Be grateful for the opportunity to be the ultimate gift in a loved one’s life. Set your need to be perfect on its way and see if you don’t just feel better.
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