This is my 23rd year in the caregiving trenches. Because I’ve cared for three generations of family members, I know the drill: medication management, making medical appointments, going to appointments, doing laundry daily, finding clothes that fit, activities coordinator, grocery shopping, and cooking healthy meals. 

In the last few weeks, I’ve felt like I’m running around a gerbil wheel. It’s upsetting. No matter how fast I run or how long I run, I don’t seem to make any progress. I feel like I’m behind constantly. Why is this happening to an experienced caregiver like me? 

To be honest, I think I’m approaching burnout. I haven’t been my usual patient self lately. My husband is paraplegic and says “okay” constantly—his signal to come to his side immediately. I hear “okay” dozens of times a day. “I’m not pressuring you,” he declares, but it feels like pressure. 

Health problems influence my feelings. In 2018 I had surgery for uterine cancer. In 2019 I had open heart surgery and a pig valve was installed in my heart. Last week I broke a bone in the arch of my left foot. Hobbling around with a boot on my foot slows me down and makes me clumsy. 

Clearly, I needed to take some proactive steps and get off the gerbil wheel. What steps did I take?  

I had a frank talk with my husband. At the end of our discussion, he described his “okay” comments as reminders of what comes next—an astute observation. John is more forgetful these days and, now that I know why he says “okay,” I’m more patient. The word doesn’t upset me like it used to.

I ask John to wait. Instead of rushing to his side immediately, I tell him I’ll be there in a few minutes, and explain what I’m doing. “I’m loading the dishwasher.” “I want to finish folding the laundry.” “I’m getting your medications ready.” He understands this and is willing to wait unless there’s an emergency.

We modified the daily schedule. Since it takes an hour to get John ready for bed and takes me longer to do tasks, we start the bedtime routine earlier, around 8:45 p.m. Being in bed by 10 p.m. is my goal and I usually make it. Since John wants me to get a good night’s sleep, he is extremely cooperative.

I take better care of myself. For me, writing is self-care and I love it. During my 39 years as a freelancer, this is the first time I have three books in production at once, and I’m excited. At 84 years of age, I’m still creative, still productive, and still meeting deadlines. This is reassuring, satisfying, and energizing. 

I still try new things. One of my recent books is illustrated with doodle art. Though I have a graduate degree in art education, I’d never heard of this art form and did some research. Doodle art is a recent form based on the natural human desire to doodle. The doodle art in my book was so intriguing, I bought a sketch pad and black ink pens to try doodle art.

I’m kinder to myself. If I need a nap, I take one. If I need to put my feet up, I lie on the couch and read. Laundry cam be postponed to the next day. Small as these changes are, when they are added together, the changes are significant. These changes make me a better caregiver. I proved that I have the power to stop running in circles. You can too.