Difficult days as a carer

I have had plenty of these! Like any parent/carer, these days do not discriminate just because I didn’t have the time or resources to deal with it.

The thing about carers having bad days is that this could easily compound for a child with trauma in care. If you are caring for a child who has had bad experiences due to conflict, this could easily be a trigger. Which, surprise, will further impact on your already difficult day. Yes, it’s a cycle and one best seen and short circuited early.

We also have to be ‘vicarious trauma’ aware as this can also exacerbate our day to day experience if we are not mindful of it and don’t have plans in place.  

Are you currently having a difficult day/period?

I just want to acknowledge you right now if you are having a bad day/s. I am sorry your struggling and I wish for you that you find some personal respite/peace soon.

You are probably best served in this minute by finding a close friend who you can share this with and who will listen with compassion. The familiar proverb ‘ a problem shared is a problem halved ‘ has definitely helped me when I am really struggling.

And if you happen to already have a nice network of support around you, reach out and see if someone can care for your child/ren so you can take some time for yourself and be in your feelings safely.

If you or friends are quite worried, please do reach out for therapeutic support. my wish for you is that you find some moments of peace and joy in your day today.

For everyone else:

If you are a carer and are not in the midst of a difficult day/period, I think it is really important that we each consider what we are going to do when things aren’t going well. Because the one truth in all of this is that things don’t always go well. If we don’t accept this upfront then we will be continuously disappointed and in reaction ourselves.  

I have seen many instances in my work where carers don’t share they are struggling until the only option they can see in front of them is to stop caring. This is heartbreaking because catching problems earlier make them much easier to deal with.

I myself was absolutely reluctant to share my difficult season (which was protracted) and there were a few reasons for this:

  1. I didn’t want to be seen as not coping and therefore put CC’s placement with us at risk.
  2. I tend to fix things for myself and kept believing I could sort it out (it was just a bad day etc).
  3. I was busy enough judging myself without having anyone else judge me.

We all have our own reasons why we are reluctant to share… if you are a carer it is useful to reflect on what is behind your resistance.

Taking action

I am not sure about you, but for me, there are a few distinct milestones when I have observed by ‘time for me’ fading into the background. A friend and I were reflecting on how we are creating time for ourselves in our lives right now. We have listened to the podcasts that remind us we making choices around what we prioritise. We both broke our days down by the hour to establish where we could make different choices. Once we had finished getting everyone out of the house in the morning, completing a full work day, picking up children and all things related to their needs in the afternoon/evening, we identified 1 hour. And that hour is at the end of the day which not surprisingly is when we just agreed plonking down on the lounge for one hour of Netflix felt reasonable.

So I am acutely aware of how busy our lives can be. I am very pleased that the sun is coming up earlier as now I wake earlier and have some time for me.

I wrote this post for you but also for myself. I am taking steps to reclaim time for me in a healthy way. I hope the approach below is of use to you and helps you to reduce the likelihood of difficult days and have the tools to deal with them when they do occur.

Step 1 – Getting on the front foot

The first thing I can identify is the need to build in daily rituals that are just for you. If your life is very full, I encourage you to start small. Even if you do have more spare time, still start small until you have integrated the change into your day to day routine. The questions below are to help you define your time for self:

  • Can you find 5-30 minutes each day to take care of you?
  • What would this look like? Would this be in the morning, during the day or evening? What time works best for you?
  • Could you start today and if not, why not? Start to challenge your own self-talk that may be getting in the way of taking time for yourself.
  • What would you be doing with this time? Write or create a mental list of the things you want to consider then fine tune down to one thing to start with.

This may be:

  • A short walk/run
  • Reading a book
  • Going for a bike ride
  • Meeting a friend for coffee
  • Phoning a friend
  • Baking (for fun)
  • Writing in your journal
  • Getting a massage/facial/pedicure
  • Picking up an old hobby (or new one)
  • Meditation/yoga

Start small and commit to this. If you miss one day, re-commit the next day. Remind yourself at the end of the each day that you did provide yourself with time to connect to yourself today. You did nurture others but you also nurtured yourself.

Step 2 – Making a plan for the difficult days

The best way to deal with these days is to already have your ‘how am I going to handle the bad days?’ plan then of course you have to have the ability to remember your plan, dust it off, read it and follow it 😊. To avoid creating a plan and shelving it, I really recommend you make it simple.

Whatever this may be for you, make sure the person you are serving is you.

The questions below are to help you identify how to deal with your next difficult day.

If I notice I am starting to struggle, what are three things I can do for myself? This may come from your ‘step 1’ list or be completely different.     
If I notice I am starting to struggle, what are three thoughts I can remind myself?  
  If I am struggling to shift out of the struggle, who can I ask to help?  

Some examples of useful thinking prompts:

  • This will pass so I wont get too caught up in it.
  • If I get stressed my children will pick up on this.
  • How can I short circuit my stress?
  • How can I re-frame my thoughts to settle down?

Once you have a plan, write it into your phone or perhaps a note.

The next time you have a difficult day, try to follow this. Once your feeling better, check in with yourself – did you follow any or the plan? What worked well? What didn’t? what will I adjust in preparation for my next difficult day?

Like I said earlier, if you are finding the difficult days are becoming too often – please do seek help. Do talk to your agency and see what support they can offer.

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