It’s hard to decide where to start (Episode 28)

In this episode, Kay Coughlin talks about why the overwhelming experience of being a caregiver can keep you stuck, unable to make changes to situations, relationships, beliefs and emotions. The good news is that you don’t have to change everything all at once. You can choose just one starting point. Kay reminds us we all have permission to be stuck – it’s a totally normal human condition – and helps caregivers figure out how to pick a starting point. 

Transcript is below.


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Transcript: It’s hard to decide where to start (Episode 28)

Hey there. I’m your host Kay Coughlin and you’re listening to From One Caregiver to Another. This is episode 28. Every one of us has permission to start somewhere working on changing things we don’t like about our lives, even those of us who are family caregivers. Yes, I know we are told that we just don’t have a lot of choices as caregivers, but I’m here to tell you that’s just not true. I know that our lives as caregivers can seem way too complicated, but we still have permission to start changing our lives. I call these our starting points. But I think the most overwhelming part of all of this is just figuring out where to start and how to start.

Not because we can’t make a list of the ways we’d like our lives to change. Oh, I think most of us can make that list. But the root of the problem is usually that we think there is some reason we can’t have that list. So we don’t even make the list because we don’t believe it’s possible to live the lives we really want. So I’d like to talk today about some of the more common places we family caregivers tend to get stuck so that we can’t even see our starting points. This list is not exhaustive by any means, but I really hope you can recognize yourself or your life somewhere in here as you hear me talk. I want you to know you’re not alone.

These sticking points affect a lot of the 53 million people in the US who identify as family caregivers. Just a reminder that I’m not going to refer to the person you care for as your loved one. I’m going to use the term care receiver. Now, this is not to diminish their relationship to you, but instead it’s to remind all of us that as family caregivers, we have equal importance in the relationship and in all of the dynamics that go into that relationship. We matter too. All right. So here’s my list of the sticking points, the sticking places that I hear from caregivers and a lot of these have happened in my life too.

Number one, I’m just too overwhelmed with all of the details and schedules. Number two, my care receiver refuses to change. Three, my care receiver is too demanding or has unreasonable expectations. Four, I feel guilty for wanting or needing my own life. Five, I know I need to set boundaries, but I can’t seem to get it to work. Six, my partner or spouse doesn’t understand. They are jealous of the time I spend with my care receiver. Seven, I don’t like to tell people I’m a caregiver because I don’t like being a caregiver and I’m afraid to admit it or say it out loud. Eight, I don’t want to sacrifice everything like everybody says I should. Nine, I’m exhausted all of the time.

10, I can’t get any help. 11, I can’t plan anything big in case my care receiver needs me. 12, I have an overbearing family member who is always butting into my caregiving decisions and who causes trouble enough that it’s a constant worry for me. 13, my brother or sister is undermining my decisions. 14, my brother or sister is taking a resource I need, like money. 15, I should want to be a better caregiver because my care receiver is a family member. 16, I’m the only one who can provide the right quality of care for my care receiver. 17, I worry all the time because my care receiver lives alone and it’s not safe for them anymore. 18, I feel guilty because my care receiver lives in a facility and I can’t or I don’t want to change that.

So any one of these sticking points can feel like it’s too much to deal with or change, let alone how massive the problem seems if you identify with more than one of these. There’s an important reason this happens. We are not taught how to understand and decode problems like these in a way that helps us change in the ways we want. What we are taught to do is find tactical solutions, like if you are overwhelmed with scheduling, you can just get a better calendar app. Or if you need to set boundaries, here’s another book you can read. Or if you need to get some rest, here’s a bath time routine that will help you relax before bed.

But the problem with most of these tactics, while they are well-intentioned, okay, I am not saying that people give us this advice because they don’t care about us. But the problem is that most of these are short term solutions. Look, that might be enough for you. If a calendar app is going to solve your scheduling problems, then oh my goodness, please do it. If truly all you need to get a good night’s sleep is wear earplugs, then by all means, get those earplugs and wear them. But for most of us on a deeper level, if those tactical solutions could solve our problems, we would have already done them. We would have it already figured out.

These sticking places are so common because we have been taught to judge ourselves for our problems and to be really harsh with ourselves about it. There is so much painful judgment in just being in these sticking places that of course we’ll try anything tactical if it means we don’t have to admit to their real pain, which is that we have learned to be nasty to ourselves for our supposedly shortcomings. This is why I am always going on and on with my clients about being non-judgmental. If we want to learn to allow ourselves to have these problems, because we’re just human and we have these human brains and so we have thoughts and emotions.

If we truly want to change, we have to learn to do it from a place of nonjudgmental self-compassion. If we want to build new habits and patterns that will last, we can only do that if we become willing to admit the pain and feel the ugly stuff that’s keeping us stuck. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot of fun and it sounds hard, but the good news here is that you can do it, but you don’t have to do it all at once. You don’t have to name the pain and admit it and learn to be compassionate with yourself and make the changes all at one time. No, no, no. We do this best if we take it one small step at a time. This is what I mean by having a starting point.

If you can identify just one place where you’re really stuck, that’s a good starting point for you. Just look at that one thing and put the rest of it aside for a while. What’s really amazing here is that once you begin to focus on just one starting point on being compassionate with yourself on that one thing, the rest of the things that are bothering you will get a lot easier to deal with over time too. In other words, you can start anywhere, pick any starting point. Heck, you can even pick the one that seems easiest for you. If we’re going to go so far as to stop judging ourselves, let’s let ourselves start with trying to understand and work on easier things too.

So today I’m not going to tell you to make a list of the places where you’re stuck. I mean, you can if you want to. But I’d like to suggest something even easier. Just allow yourself to think this thought. I’m stuck on something and it’s totally okay and it’s happening because I’m human. When you can learn to think that thought, maybe the thing that you’re stuck on, it’s just a starting point for you. So let me give you that thought one more time.

Try thinking this thought, I’m stuck on something and it’s totally okay because it just means I’m human. So the truth is that even family caregivers are human with human feelings and wants and needs and opinions. It’s true. Whatever your thoughts and feelings look like today, you’re okay. You don’t have to start with the hardest things and you don’t even have to start today if you don’t want to. Just try thinking a thought that it’s okay to be human and it’s okay to be stuck.

Thank you so much for being here with me today. You can learn more about me and about this work at That’s There, you can also sign up for my newsletter, which is called From One Caregiver to Another. Please follow me on Instagram. There’s a link for that in the show notes. If you want almost daily doses of straight talk for family caregivers who are tired of feeling trapped by the traditional definition of being a so-called good caregiver.

If you liked this episode, please consider leaving a review which will help other caregivers find their way here too. Definitely tell a caregiver friend who also needs a boost in their confidence to design and live their best life, which just happens to include their caregiving responsibilities, but does not have to be centered solely on those duties. I can’t wait to be here with you again in the next episode.

your guide

Kay Coughlin, CEO and Chief Facilitator of Facilitator on Fire, has a dream to create a world that is generously inclusive of all adult generations. The best place to connect with Kay is on Instagram.

Caregiver Coaching” is for family caregivers who are ready to overcome the emotional grind of caregiving. 

Facilitator on Fire’s “Building Trust Across Generations” seminar helps leaders and managers build amazing teams that are attractive to people of all ages. Kay’s keynote address, “Top Myths of Leading Generations,” helps businesses see the hard costs of miscommunication between generations.