As I was weeding a flowerbed one recent weekend, I saw my next door neighbors pull into their driveway. After hearing the car door slam, I heard Judy call out my name as she made her way across her front yard.
Held hostage by our various hectic schedules, Judy and I hadn't talked to each other recently. We tended to wave at each other as we drove to our respective events. So it was good to catch up over a leisurely visit on the swing that hangs from my oak tree.
Judy shared the latest about her teenager's summer plans, her upcoming office move, as well as her efforts to reallocate some of her professional duties. Then I asked how her parents were doing. Her mother, who has dementia, is now in a nearby nursing home. Her father remains at his home, which is located in a nearby city.
Judy sighed and shared the challenges that her parents are facing. As Judy spoke, I could visibly see the challenges of caregiving weighing on her shoulders. How do you balance an active family life, a high-powered professional career, and caregiving? Finding that equilibrium is important, but it differs from person to person.
And somewhere in that allocation needs to be "me" time. "So, Judy, how are you going to find time for yourself?" I queried. She paused for a second and then told me of her plan to get into a regular workout schedule this summer. "Is there something I can do to help you?" I asked. "You can ask me the next time we see each other how my exercise routine is going," Judy replied.
A couple of weeks passed before our next conversation. Again, Judy and her husband were pulling into their driveway and it was my turn to start the conversation. Meeting on the front lawn, I asked Judy about her exercise routine. She looked off to the side as she reported that exercise didn't yet have a regular spot in her schedule. I promised Judy that next time I saw her, I‘d ask again. I also told her that if she ever wanted to walk around the block, I was available.
I can relate to Judy's quandary. I was fortunate in that when Mom was diagnosed, I was starting a graduate assistant position. The professor allowed me the flexibility to work from home due to Mom's condition. Yet despite not having a high-powered position, I could feel myself aging under the stress of adding caregiving duties to my other commitments by the end of that academic year. And that's when I started making a commitment to "me" time through joining a gym and recruiting a friend who liked to exercise.
So as we reach the half-way point of 2008, I encourage everyone to give a caregiver a mid-year present - encouragement to take care of themselves through exercise. In the summer, it's easier to get outdoors to exercise - whether through walking, biking, swimming, or gardening. Exercise is one present that will go along way in mitigating the stress that caregivers face. Being outside enjoying summer's fresh air and sunshine also may be the incentive for caregivers to make exercise a regular part of their schedules. And quite possibly, an exercise routine started in the summer may last into the fall, and through the winter. That would be important "me" time from which any caregiver can benefit
Published On: June 29, 2008