I woke up this morning burning with a determination to kick some butt. (I currently have three teenagers, so it may not have been my butt that I wanted to kick, wink-wink.) I set off to tackle my regular morning tasks and then felt the urge to get my exercise out of the way and off my ever-present to-do list. Good music and the feeling I could do anything fueled me to turn the music up louder and ride the bike longer. The question "How was I exercising?" popped into my head. I hated, maybe even hate, exercise.
It takes up time.
It requires a shower immediately after.
It is work.
With exercise endorphins ricocheting across my brain, I began hallucinating and envisioned myself standing with arms raised in a workout tee-shirt that read: I CAN DO EVERYTHING! as I led the publicity campaign for the Exerciser Underachievers Club of America that I was simultaneously creating mid-ride. Noticing I was delusional; I snapped into reality realizing the exercise tee-shirt would need to read I DID EVERYTHING!
By no means a braggart, this tee-shirt would appear as a highly unusual wardrobe choice to those who know me. No matter. I needed to understand what allowed me to now be an "exercise person" and the answer was clear. I was a former caregiver, and I felt there was nothing that I now couldn't do. I knew I did everything I could do at the time. But appreciating how my time caregiving informs how I structure my (calmer) life now, I had to realize that I DID EVERYTHING. This is not to say there will not be intense times of caregiving ahead but for now most things in my life seem so simple compared to that hectic time of my life. Getting on a bike was somehow now a "nothing" for me to do. I had never stretched myself (and my emotional muscles) further than when caregiving. Surely my leg and heart muscles could handle a bike ride.
I believe the simplicity that I feel post-caregiving comes from the removal of life and death decisions. When caregiving, even the seemingly insignificant choice of putting a throw rug on the floor can mean the difference between a broken hip (or worse) to the person for whom we care. There are cocktails of medications that get mixed by different doctors and new side effects to catch. There comes a time when acknowledging that driving is no longer an option for our loved one - which is a life and death matter for themselves and others. The list goes on and on.
I write this post today to let you know that if you are currently caregiving, you are building up stamina for handling extremes. You are climbing a mountain shrouded in clouds, and are unable see the peak. Seeing the peak would allow you to know how much further you have to continue to climb. (And this is why I urge all caregivers to exercise daily to keep their strength up to best handle this "journey without an end date" that caregiving is.) Only upon reaching the end of your hike are you able to look down and see just how high you've climbed. Had I been able to see how high the top of my caregiving mountain was, I would have been frozen in fear and never been able to take the first step.
Each event, hospital visit, bout of the flu, and new medication mishap enabled me to handle the next issue that would inevitably appear. Like beginning to exercise, when the first mile feels like ten, until slowly through practice, ten miles is your new daily routine. It's a slow build up when you begin to care for someone. As their needs increase so does your ability to meet those needs.
The strength, both emotional and physical that I gained from caregiving now enables me to bike half-marathons each day (okay, okay, nearly each day). I am stunned each time that I do this. Just as I am stunned in looking back at the heights I climbed when I scaled Caregiver's Mountain.
Whichever part of Caregiver's Mountain you are on, know that I am cheering for you, and I'd love a postcard from your peak. If I could do it, so can you!