Are you your own worst critic? I know I am. I hold myself to standards much higher than I hold anyone else to.

Even when no one else notices my mistakes, I do. And it overwhelms me with shame and guilt.

The thing is, I’m more likely to make mistakes when I’m overwhelmed with feeling bad about past mistakes! I’m too busy obsessing over what I did wrong and what I should have done to pay attention to what I’m actually doing. It’s a cycle and it sucks.

Telling myself I shouldn’t be upset or that I should get over it doesn’t work. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’m trying to give myself a few minutes (or a few days) to just sit with it. Yup, I made a mistake. I let myself wallow and feel shitty for an amount of time that seems appropriate to how big the disappointment is. And then when time’s up, I’m usually ready to move on. Fighting my emotions doesn’t work, but giving in allows me to get past them.

During this time I think about what I did, why I did it, what I could have done instead, the actual outcome, and all the potential outcomes. Sometimes this makes me feel a lot better, because I realize there were no good outcomes or there was no way I could have known what I needed to know to make a better choice. I think about just how many decisions I make in a day and how most of the time I do alright.

Especially in the world of caregiving, when you think about it, you realize there were no good answers — every choice is the wrong choice. There’s only one of me and there are limits to what I can physically (or financially!) do. It’s easier to forgive myself when I realize that it’s not me, it’s the situation.

One of the things that I feel the most guilty about is when I lose my cool and snap at someone or do something rude. Sometimes it’s to my husband, sometimes it’s a random cashier. It eats me up for days or weeks, because I hate being that person! It makes me feel like I’ve become rotten to the core from all the stress and then I feel bad about my life.

I’m slowly getting better at learning to keep my cool. Maybe some people develop endless patience and achieve a state of zen despite all the chaos, but I sure haven’t. The thing I have learned is what I need to do for myself so I don’t turn into an asshole.

So many things aren’t real emergencies. In a real emergency adrenaline kicks in and I’m not tired or cranky or distracted, I’m 110% doing what needs to be done. If I’m feeling tired, cranky, and distracted, it’s not an emergency. It can wait two minutes. It’s been incredibly difficult to train the people in my life to chill out about things, because they’d gotten used to being waited on immediately, but after a rocky adjustment period they started to embrace it. I suspect they realized that if I come over immediately I’m annoyed, but if they wait a few minutes I’m happier.

If I can’t find time to shower, go for a walk, drink a cup of coffee, or read a magazine article something is seriously wrong. No one can live like that long term. That’s a situation that’s guaranteed to make you lose your mind. It’s no wonder I was losing mine — and turning into someone who was bitter and constantly at the end of her rope.

For some people the answer is to find joy in suffering. For me, it’s about setting realistic boundaries. If I don’t shower I feel subhuman and that has a negative impact on everything I do. If I don’t get enough exercise I start to get angsty. If I’m doing nothing but menial tasks for other people, I get bitter. It’s worth it to me to find ways to get my basic needs met so I’m not staying up all night thinking about what a terrible person I am for being short with a bank teller after not getting any sleep for three days.

It’s cheesy, but one of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten has been that when I’m not sure what to do, I should step outside myself for a minute. I explain the situation to myself as if it was happening to a friend and then I give the advice I’d tell someone else if they were in my shoes. It’s an easy way to get a little perspective. And sometimes the perspective is that the situation we’re in as caregivers is impossible and can’t stay as it. Change is the only option.