I have written about the importance of caring for the carer, because if they go down with ill health brought on by stress the demented cared-for person is utterly stuffed.
However, there are some cases in which the carer is never going to get a break, such as if the cared for and carer are sharing a house as husband and wife, child and parent or any other inescapable relationship.
If actual physical time away is impossible then mental time out is what is required. The nature of caring often makes this impossible; worry is all pervasive. It’s first on your mind when you open your eyes in the morning and last thing on your mind at night, when the worry prevents sleep.
When I went to Al-Anon family groups, initially back in 2011, I found plenty of literature for families of addicts advising that mediation would help, but the tone of the advice was akin to: meditate on that! Where: think about – would have substituted quite nicely.
I was looking for help and finding none when fortuitously through my letterbox came a leaflet from the local Buddhist group offering classes in meditation. I went for a while until I had learned what meditation is and how to do it. Meditation is not a prompt to worry about things you cannot fix, rather it is a way to switch off the thinking altogether, it’s a holiday for your head.
It does not have to be taught by any particular religion and can be of benefit to all belief systems including those who have none.
I was taught how to switch off the worrying before I became my mother’s keeper and used this learned skill to help me when I had a few moments off from caring about her. Sometimes the instruction to just concentrate on my breathing didn’t work. The worry was overwhelming, as was the urgency of needing to respond to numerous crises.
I cannot remember how or where I found this meditation that worked for me and is so easy even a beginner can do it. I have looked all over the Internet to find it elsewhere but cannot, so I pass it on, and feel sure it will help anyone who needs time off in their thinking, or a way to stop their mind going fruitlessly round and round the same topic.
I have called it the Frank Sinatra method because Jesus said ‘do’, Buddha said ‘be’ but Frank Sinatra sang ‘do be do be do dah dah dah dah dah, do be do be do, da da da da da* and really it is that easy. Easy listening easy doing.
First find a place to be alone without distraction for a few minutes. Switch everything off. I did it in my garden shed. Out of doors in the good weather is wonderful. But if push comes to shove, do it in the bathroom with the door locked.
All you need is somewhere to sit, alone. A comfy chair, a garden chair, the floor, just sit down alone and upright, but if you are really poorly, it can be done lying down.
Now, having got comfortable and made sure you will not be interrupted, take a few breaths in and out, perhaps counting to six on the in breath and six on the outbreath, because the other name for this is
The meditation of six things.
It is based on four of your senses. Begin with sight. Name and describe in detail six things you can see. The level of detail is: I can see the wall in front of me, it is green, there are wobbly bits in the painting where the white wall joins it, there is a radiator fastened to it which has twenty one pipes in two rows, joined at the top middle and base. The wall below the radiator has a narrow varnished wooden skirting board………….
And so on, you get the idea. You may find it easier, when you begin, to do the description out loud. Just describe what you see. Do it non- judgementally, so there is no need to add the bit of paint you missed and start worrying about when you should paint again. Just describe as fully as you can and when there is no more to say about the first thing move on to the second thing and describe that. I find it helpful to keep count on my fingers.
When you have described six things you can see, move on to six things you can hear. Use similar detail, not just: I can hear a bus. But: I can hear a bus changing gear, there is quite a high note to the engine as it makes its way up the hill, the noise has changed as it reaches the bus stop………
Then when you have six things you can hear under your finger move on to six things you can smell. This is quite tricky. I admit to occasionally adding my deodorant to the list, usually at the end, though if you haven’t emptied the bin recently, you may have more smells to describe, in detail.
Last of the four senses, and probably the most difficult, is feeling. I usually find the edge of the chair and the way it is digging into the back of my legs, first, the roughness of my clothing somewhere in the middle and the way my hair is tickling exactly my temple just above my ear and before it gets to the end of my eyebrow…………
You get the idea. When you get to the end if the description has been adequate, you will have switched off the worry. On very difficult days, if the worry comes back immediately, go back to the beginning but describe six different things from the first six that you can see, then six different things you can hear, six different things you can smell and six different things you can feel.
Readers are so bright (you are, you know, I can tell by the comments) I will not trouble you with an explanation of why that other sense, taste, is not included, though if you ever get jammed in a revolving door with someone who has added this sense, just sing Frank to them as you wait for the fire brigade.
That is it: Do be do be do for four senses and six things counted off on your increasingly relaxed fingers.
It doesn’t cure the underlying problem, it doesn’t cure the sick person you are caring for but it gives you a holiday from worry in your head. It calms your frantic brain. You will find at the end of it that your shoulders have dropped, all your tense muscles will have relaxed and that you can return to your caring role in a better frame of mind to be more effective. Or, depending on the time of day that you do it, that you can let the worries go and get a good night’s sleep.
*it turned out so right, for Strangers in the Night. (Just in case you couldn’t remember and I’ve inadvertently given you something else to worry about.)