Caregivers are the experts at not sweating the small stuff. We have no choice. Start sweating and you would morph into a walking swimming pool. As we continue the journey I am often surprised at what gets thrown into the small stuff bin. Most people would be sweating buckets at what we cavalierly designate as small stuff.
A diagnosis of dementia brings instant despair. Thoughts are of death and the horrors of caring for a loved one you can only envision in the final throes of the terrible disease. Contemplate possibly living for eight to twenty plus years with the spectre of death hanging over you and nothing, absolutely nothing is small stuff.
Having been handed life sentences for two, we gird our loins to tackle the issues as they come.
Among the first was the constant repetition of questions that drove me nuts. Same question, over and over. I would vary the answer just to keep my sanity. Now: “What time is it?” “It’s eight o’clock.” One, two: “What time is it?” “It’s eight o’clock.” If it continues long enough I may get to:”It’s nine o’clock.” No problem: small stuff.
The hearing aids somehow get stored in the freezer. Hah! The bread knife is in the washing machine: small stuff. If my Bert ‘helps’ by washing the dishes and I have to go on a treasure hunt to find where he has put them away? So what? I give him a big smile and loud thank you. He is happy, while I hope I am able to find everything before bedtime.
A ray of sunshine comes through the window and I see a film of dust on the coffee table. I choose to see the sunshine. I will get to the dust later. I have to cancel my hairdresser’s appointment because my Bert’s appointment is taking longer than anticipated, no problem, I will wear a hat. My Bert exhibits an inappropriate sense of humour or lack of rectitude in announcing loudly in church or a restaurant: “I have to go pee.” I used to be embarrassed. No longer: small stuff.
The little irritants that used to be stressful are just that, little. So he puts on his t-shirt backwards, shaves off his eyebrows, wears two different coloured shoes (I did not catch it in time) to his ‘club’: Small stuff.
In great anxiety I consult our counsellor. I am distressed as my Bert now has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)! Want to be bored out of your gourd? Watch my Bert make his breakfast open-faced Gouda cheese sandwich. For the rest of the world, and formerly for my Bert, bread, cheese, put one on top the other and voila – open faced cheese sandwich. Now my Bert has to cover the entire surface of the bread, just so. I have watched as he carefully rearranges the cheese pieces until the bread is completely invisible. The cheese must not be too uneven which will result in complete dismantling and new reconfiguration of the same piece of bread and cheese pieces. I have seen him look at the composition and not being satisfied take another slice of cheese to even out the masterpiece. The construction must then be divided into four equal parts. The precision with which that is done is awe inspiring. The greatest architect would be tested to get it any more precise. The yogurt, juice, banana, tea, are another post! I reported all this and tearfully asked:
“What can I do about this OCD?”
“Nothing. This may be just his way to have some control in his ever increasingly uncontrollable world” was the answer. So, I did nothing. Now I will even point out a small space without cheese which my Bert will immediately fix. Hah! Small stuff.
I asked one of my Lifeliners what constituted small stuff to her and she answered: “Everything.” We all laughed but related well. We wished everything was small stuff. Of course, it is not. We have learnt to de-clutter our caregiver lives by paying attention only to the essentials. I determine the very important issues by asking: Is this a case of emergency? If the answer is no then it is just small stuff. It’s self care or rather, self-preservation.
The Meander: As the journey continues you do recognize what is important and gain confidence in identifying those issues, new behaviours and changes that need immediate attention, help and/or professional intervention. My greatest accomplishment each day is to see my Bert happy, teasing, being himself, inadvertently cracking a joke and ‘helping’ me. All the rest is just small stuff.