Caregiving for a parent or spouse is a recipe for stress. But the last thing you need if you're in that role is another piece of advice on caring for yourself. No matter how well intentioned, that suggestion can sound like an assignment. Or an order. Unless it's from someone who knows your pain.
Two days ago I heard about the "Five Minute Plan" created by a caregiver named Sammy. Jane Barton, who speaks to caregivers and senior care professionals nationwide, told Sammy's story. One day after a speech, Sammy came up to Jane. Sammy was the picture of vibrancy, with bright red hair and a knockout smile.
"I enjoyed your talk, and I learned many things," Sammy said. "Would you mind if I gave you some feedback?"
"I'd love it. Tell me about your story first."
For years Sammy had cared for her husband who had Huntington's Disease. Her three children were all at risk for the debilitating disease. Recently Sammy's mother had suffered a stroke, giving Sammy one more person to care for. To pay for the family's needed health insurance, Sammy worked full time. Her plate was as full as it could be.
"How do you manage all that?" Jane asked.
"Fine. But it's because I have the Five Minute Plan."
The Plan goes like this: At 8:00 am Sammy locks herself in the bathroom. Pulling out her I-Pod and earphones, she listens to inspirational music. She loses herself in the beauty of the sounds and the words. For five minutes, she doesn't think about doctor visits, or bills, or medications. She's free. At 8:05, she faces the day renewed. "I know I can tackle what I need to do, as long as I have my five minutes."
Jane remembers standing in awe of this woman. She only had one suggestion: "As good as you feel after five minutes, do you think you could stretch it to ten minutes?"
Sammy broke into a smile. "I don't see why not. I've always been an overachiever."
If you care for an aging parent or spouse, do you have any specific ways you keep your sanity?