“It’s not that you don’t have the time to take care of yourself. It’s that you feel guilty about taking the time for yourself.”

 

Do you think if you just had more time you would do all the things you know you need to do for yourself? Like go to that doctor’s appointment, eat healthier foods, go take that yoga class, and all the other things that are always on your to-do list but never make it off the bottom. 

 

Most caregivers I know hate hearing the phrase, “remember to take care of yourself!!” 

Yeah, we know, “we can’t take care of others if we don’t take care of ourselves” [insert eye roll here] 

We smile politely through gritted teeth and think, “Sure, thanks, but when am I supposed to do that?! I have no time!”

Its a common misconception that our lack of time is what keeps us from taking care of ourselves. I mean, of course, technically speaking, looking at our day-to-day schedules, it does not yield “me time” very often. So we blame the circumstances, the schedule, the to-do list. 

 

We throw up our hands and ask, “What are we supposed to do? We have to take care of all of these things and that leaves us with NO TIME!”

 

But what if we are wrong? What if there is time for ourselves, but we keep giving it away to everyone else?

 

What if the reason we keep giving it away to others is because we feel guilty about using our time? And yes, it is our time. 

 

We make choices every day how we spend our time. Sure, we may not LOVE the job we have, but we like paying our bills, so we choose to work. We cannot STAND yardwork, but we do like having a nice looking yard, so we choose to mow the grass. And, regardless of our caregiving circumstances, in some way, we are making a choice. We have chosen this role, or are choosing to stay in this role (more on this in another post later), but it is a choice. 

 

And yes, there are things about our lives that seem like responsibilities that are not within our control and so we do those things out of our choice to live within the laws of our community, society, and culture and avoid the negative consequences of not choosing to uphold them. 

 

But I am not here to fix the world. And honestly, I can’t fix your to-do list. But I can tell you this:

How you approach your time each day is up to you. 

 

Yes, you will have things on your list that you don’t want to do, but if you look at them as a choice, the world will open up…your time will open up. 

 

You won’t be struggling to get through all the things to (never) get to the bottom of your to-do list to find your “me” time.  It’s all “YOU” time. 

 

Once you reframe your approach to time, you will begin to feel less guilty about how you are using it. 

 

You might also start looking at some of the things on your to-do list as negotiable.

 

Here’s how that might look in a caregiving scenario. I will use an actual one from my caregiving experience to show you.

 

I used to go to my mom’s house every evening around dinnertime to help her get ready for bed. I then would tell her that if she needed anything, just call or text and I would come back over. (I only lived 5 minutes away, so it didn’t take me very long to get there…so what was the big deal, right?) Well, as I did this for more and more weeks, and months, and slipping into years long…I was feeling more and more disconnected from my husband and kids. They basically stopped expecting me to be home for dinner or around much at all in the evenings, because as my mom got more and more limited and increasingly lonely, she “needed” more things each night. While of course there were the emergency nights that involved calling the EMTs, most nights were a quick text message asking me to “come turn on the fan” or “come turn off the fan” or “I dropped something on the floor” or “I need a different blanket.” I started considering my time, AND her needs and decided that while I wasn’t going to have a firm rule, “I’m never coming over at night,” I did begin to set the expectation that I would come if I could, but I would not be able to make trips every night. In that small way, I took back MY time so that I could use it they way I felt I needed and wanted to for my own well-being. 

 

“But didn’t you feel guilty?” you’re probably wondering.

 

Well, yes, I did at first. After all, she couldn’t turn off the fan or pick the thing up off the floor or change her blanket. But, I had to be able to say that when I was there, I did what I could, she was safe and, if not, she could call me or the EMTs and they would call me. We got better at making sure the right blankets were accessible to her and that she had ways to control the temperature and the lighting. And while that didn’t solve her loneliness, I also had to let go of that guilt as well.

I love my mom and caregiving for her is a blessing, but I cannot be responsible for all of the parts of her. I cannot fix her loneliness. I cannot sacrifice my own emotional wellbeing in an effort to save hers. Some problems are not ours to fix. We can be givers of love and care and connection, but we cannot make someone else feel loved, cared for, or connected. That is internal, and some might say eternal work. 

 

There’s another saying that is floating around the caregiver groups lately and, I think it’s partially because we know, in some way, that this is true. 

 

“You cannot light yourself on fire to keep other people warm.” 

 

We know this. Deep in our bones. We know that by giving all of our time away to “keep others warm” is really just wearing us out, burning us down. And, if we are really honest, we still feel guilty, because we aren’t able to keep others warm all the time. 

 

So, if we are doing all the things, giving all of our time away, and still feeling guilty because we aren’t doing enough, why not try something different?

 

What if we said, “It’s all my time, I will choose how to use it today. I will give my time to myself and to others. I will receive the same care from myself that I seek to offer others. I will take the time I need. I will give the rest. I am doing enough. I am enough.” 

 

The best way to overcome guilt is to release yourself to the idea that you are enough. And keep doing it until you believe it. 

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