It is two weeks this very day that I landed down in Glasgow. Only two weeks. Although Africa seems much further away than that, I am delighted to know it has only been two weeks, during which I have managed to find my footing once again. I have stumbled, and often, over the rocks of resistance and recoil but instead of feeling that I have failed to turn into a paragon of eternal virtue, I now know I haven’t given myself enough time to adjust. I can be kind to myself, patient with myself, encouraging and compassionate. Instead of failing in a ridiculous and impossible climb to Perfection, I am doing pretty damn well.
The space and the light, the warmth and the freedom, the sights and the smells of Africa are, well, still in Africa. Here, in my little island home, things are very different. Space is a smaller concept for a start. Warmth is man-made, smells are not fresh and exciting unless I kick start my thingy that burns bergamot or lemon grass. The layout of the day is one of many little tasks, all of which require me to be their master. In my list of ‘failures’, despite brave plans compiled at 40,000 feet I count Not Reading My Self-Help Book for an hour in the morning. I also add Not Writing Down My Gratitude List, and another, Not Eating Good Fresh Food. Ok, well none of those are tragedic and all can lose their ‘Not’.
On waking, when first in the land of light and heat, space, freedom, sights and smells, I discovered my unwelcome thoughts had travelled with me. It took at least three weeks to finally scoot them out the door. It is always my time for dishevelment and discombobulation, the moment of waking, and the dreads and the nonsensically assembled images of disaster come unbidden, come hard and fast, filling my brain and rising my heart rate well into the red. I found a way, however, to dispel them in a flash, a word, a silly word, but a word that worked for me. Halibuts. I know, there is no such word. You have one halibut, you have 2 halibut, you can even have 300 halibut, and there is no ‘s’ required for a plural. However, the word not only makes me smile, but it does the job. I would check my head after speaking out this word, amazed to find that instead of a horror movie, there was absolutely nothing in my mind but space. It was and is all about noticing my thoughts and taking action rather than allowing them power over me.
As time went on, I didn’t need Halibuts at all. I do here, however. It isn’t enough to re-programme a brain once. It is something I must attend to whenever I feel my skin crawl with fear and dread, but the practice means I have the right tools to hand just when I need them. Now I can say my thank yous from a clear mind, with a steadily beating heart and a smile on my lips. Halibuts indeed……..
In just two weeks I have achieved more than I thought I had. I know, and let this one be heard by all carers, that I needed that break away and that I left it too long. I thought I could do it all myself, should do it all myself, ought to love doing it all myself, but that is dangerous thinking. I get that I am fortunate enough to have a son and daughter-in-law who welcomed me with open arms and charged me nothing for 3 whole months. Not everyone has that good fortune. I also know that it took me all of that time to find new footing, better tools, clearer thinking, a change of heart. It took me that long to find hope and to begin a dream again. Although I have no idea of the point of either, they sure are good companions, and far more friendly than the ones I have let go, like friends who are no longer good for me.
Regular breaks are the key, however short they may be. For some it might be a trip to town, a visit to family, a day out at sea, but whatever it is the key is in the word Regular. I found it hard at first to allow myself two nights in an island hotel. I felt guilty and selfish, but that was empty tool box thinking. It doesn’t help that the one being cared for will often feed that guilt, look sad, become more needy and so on, but be warned this will happen at some point. It isn’t easy to say I’m Going Away without feeling guilty and selfish. After all, wouldn’t this person want to go away too? Well, yes, they probably would but by the time you have done all the planning, stacked the car with mobility scooters and walking aids, sorted the house, the dog, the bookings and the ferry tickets, you may well want to jump overboard.
In the life of a carer, there is no easy road. No map, no guidelines. Although there is, in my case, a load of wonderful outside help, it is the inside of it all that will consume unless I take excellent care of Me. I must learn to love myself, however weird that may sound, to love myself enough to know that, without me, this whole fortress would crumble. That does not mean I have to hold up the walls. It means I have a primary duty of care to my own health and well-being, and even if I don’t know how to achieve that at times of exasperation and overwhelmness, I can, at least, take each little step as it comes. I can select my tools. I can give myself time to read, to walk, to listen to music, to escape and to feel deliciously naughty about it. False Guilt, Duty, Judgement, Expectation…..
To you all I say one word. Halibuts.