Your absence has gone through me
Like a thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its colour.
Fear is one of our most primal instincts. It’s hardwired into us through years of being hammered and drilled into us through suffering. We recoil at a harsh sound, wince at a sight, startle at a touch. Now that we’ve outgrown hunting and gathering, now that we stand tall on two feet, now that we segregate ourselves by surnames and societies, we have different priorities. We’re scared of going bankrupt, of rationing food, of sparking war. We’re still afraid of suffering and death, but now in a complex way. Now that the stakes are higher, we have more to lose. But we keep toiling.
“Resilience isn’t about snapping back to where you were,” says Lucy Kalanithi, physician and a speaker at TED Talk. Her husband was diagnosed with lung cancer and believed things would eventually be okay. This didn’t mean they would find a miraculous cure to his condition, a bolt of thunder out of nowhere. It didn’t mean they’d set unreal expectations for developments of the condition. It didn’t mean they’d ignore the fear and pain that is imminent. It meant, instead, that they would define what success looked like to them.
As a caregiver, accepting that life emerges from the womb of suffering is the largest leap you can make to expand your life from what it is now. Distinguishing between the things beyond your control and things within your control is the crux of understanding this journey. In alignment with this mindset, here are some measures you can take to find true satisfaction in life.
- Consult doctors and physicians about family choices. Make a choice between knowing how long the patient has to live or choose to not know such details. Understand that you have the right to debate certain treatment and weigh your options and don’t have to agree to procedures without being fully sure of them. Understand the implications of choosing quality of life over longevity, and then make your decision. Gaining more knowledge and basing medical decisions on that reduces overall anxiety, allows you to plan financially and create routines for a period of time.
- List ten things you accomplished today, and ten things you need to accomplish tomorrow. A terrifying decision you’ve been conflicted about becomes easier to approach once you take measurable steps towards it. Daily reflection aids counsellors, therapists and teachers to alleviate their elevated stress levels. Besides, reviewing your daily reflections allows you to see a trend in your behaviour, recognise caregiver anxiety, and brainstorm ways to dissipate it. It also helps in orienting yourself on what your trajectory is in terms of your career or private life, as well as the trajectory of your loved one’s progress.
- Reserve some time for activities with your care-receiver. Take an hour or two out of your time over the weekends to sing to your loved one, play music, go for a walk if possible, or indulge them in eating what they wish to. Better still, learn something new together, if possible. Learning new motor skills strengthens cognitive muscles and increases your brain power. If the patient cannot learn a skill because of memory problems, sit beside them and show them what you’re learning anyway. Treasuring times where you’re able to spend positive time with them and bond with them, even by being in their presence directly impacts the rate of recuperation of ill patients. If your work poses a problem, consult your HR department about having time off for your caregiving responsibilities. Erasing your fear of not spending enough time with them, not doing enough for them is another obstacle which can be easily dissolved.
- Study yourself. Reflect on what your motivations in life are, whether you’re driven by the call of religion, the assurance work provides, or the refreshment that creativity offers you. Each caregiver, based on their personalities and values, relies on different strategies of coping and maintaining wellbeing, which is a big component of ensuring quality of life. Understand that the methods of upkeeping health that others use may not work for you. Find a healthy coping mechanism that does good for you.
- Remember that pain is transient. Humans almost always return to a baseline level of satisfaction in life, no matter what they encounter. In the study of psychology, it is known as the hedonic treadmill. If you’re going through a difficult month, take it one day at a time. If you’re going through a difficult day, take it one hour at a time. All pain originates from fear and understanding your fears is one way to take the reigns on Imagine yourself to be a passenger on an aeroplane, and the events of your life to be clouds. You enter them, and doing so causes turbulence, and haziness, and fear. You cannot see what lies ahead. But when the last cloud passes, clear blue rolls outward in all directions, and you are able to see again. In the same way, remind yourself that everything passes.
The course of your life rests in your hands. It is not impossible to be a caregiver and be the happiest you can be – according to what happiness means for you. Even if the thread of pain is stitched into everything you do, threads can create colourful embroidery. Standing knee-deep in the dirt of turmoil could help you uncover the diamond of happiness.
About The Author
Angelina Robertson is a student at Oberoi International School. She takes a keen interest in the fields of psychology and journalism, and wishes to pursue a career in said veins. She also firmly believes in dismantling prejudices people have against seeking therapy especially in the region of India, where mental wellbeing is often ignored.