Both my husband and I have British heritage, and we love lamb chops. Although the price of lamb has increased markedly, we were willing to pay it. So I went to the butcher shop and bought four thick chops. When I returned home, I put them in the freezer for another day.
Two weeks later, when I went to get the chops, they were gone. I looked on the top shelf, where I store fish, but didn’t see the chops. I looked on the second shelf, where I store meat, but didn’t see the chops. I looked on the third shelf, where I store vegetables, and the bottom shelf, where I store bread products. No lamb chops.
I began to doubt my memory. Did the clerk bag the chops with the rest of my order? Had I thrown them out accidentally? Was I going crazy? This is my 20th year as a family caregiver and, over the years, I learned family caregivers can forget things and lose things. You may have misplaced the car keys, for example, and wondered why this happened. Well, I think there are four key reasons.
We have so much to do. My task list keeps getting longer. In just over a month, my disabled husband was hospitalized three times, once for pneumonia, once for asthma, and once for acute asthma. Doctors prescribed medications and nebulizer treatments for him. I added these responsibilities to my task list. My list was already long, and it’s even longer now.
We’re constantly prioritizing. A lot is going in our minds, and we need to determine which tasks need to be done first. This juggling process is ongoing. You may have been so concerned about a loved one you called 911, a scary experience. While caregivers are prioritizing, we’re providing care, fixing meals, cleaning house, doing laundry, shopping for groceries, and planning ahead.
We’re short of sleep. Psychiatrist Jarrett Richardson, MD, in a Mayo Clinic website article, “Underlying Causes of Sleepless Nights are Often Treatable,” says caring for a family member can cause a reduction in sleep. Have you ever been so tired you couldn’t drift off into dreamland? Before I go to bed, I slow down, calm my mind, and set worries aside. Personal health problems—a terrible cold, aching back, or arthritic hips—can impede sleep as well.
We live with stress. Caregiving is a stressful role. A chronically ill loved one may get worse. A loved one may have become so ill you called 911, a scary, expensive experience. While insurance plans cover some bills, we have co-payments, and pay hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars out of pocket. To reduce stress, Gail Sheehy, author of Passages in Caregiving, asks caregivers to breathe calmly for at least 10 minutes.
Losing things and forgetting things are signs of caregiver overload. We can help ourselves by slowing down, consolidating tasks, getting reliable help, and improving self-care. I’ve taken these steps, but couldn’t live with the mystery of the missing lamb chops. Finally, I emptied the freezer item-by-item, and shelf-by-shelf. I found the lamb chops, and we’re having them for dinner tonight.