Why is it So Hard to Come Back From a Break? (Episode 84)

The planning it takes to go on a break can be intense and stressful, especially for people with family caregiver responsibilities. If doing all the prep just to get out the door makes you want to skip the whole idea of taking a break, but you know you’re desperate for one anyway, this episode is for you.

As always, you can expect real talk with no judgment, no guilt and no pressure!

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Transcript of episode is below.

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Do you need to find a way to get some rest and take control of your own life again? You can, even if you believe that you can't possibly take care of yourself when the people around you need you so much!

Transcript: Why is it So Hard to Come Back From a Break? (Episode 84) 

Hi there. I’m your host, Kay Coughlin, and you are listening to From One Caregiver to Another. I am a life coach for family caregivers and sandwich family caregivers like me, who want to get some rest and feel less alone. I taught myself how to navigate all of my responsibilities and get into the mindset I need so that I can set boundaries, have self-compassion and prioritize myself. So that my needs get met, too. And that’s what I help my clients do. And if we can do it, I know it’s possible for you too.

This is episode 84.

This is on my mind today, this topic about why it’s hard to come back from a break, because I just got back from a break. I had a very short retreat away just by myself. It was just two nights. It was very needed.

I’m recording this at the beginning of August and this is always a month for me that’s just full of people changing things up. Because naturally we have to, you know, school starts, formal sports practices start back up. Uh, this year, my older son is about to move out into his first apartment. So that’s going on.

So summer has, or August actually, has always been a time when I start to feel out of sorts. And like I just have too many people around me and too many things going on. So anyway, I needed to get away for a retreat.

I spent a little bit of time doing some reflecting and planning about my business, thinking through some things that have gone on over the past year or so. And there are some things that I have been wanting to do, and these things just aren’t going to happen for a lot of good business reasons. So while I did get some rest on my retreat, I’m also feeling a little bit disappointed. I, I just had to come to the realization that some things aren’t going to happen and that’s okay.

I’m just letting myself feel that disappointment. That’s really big for me, you guys, that I can say, “oh yeah, I’m disappointed about this. And that sucks, but I’m willing to feel the disappointment.”

So I’m setting this up for you because I think I’m probably not in the best frame of mind today, or maybe I’m not in my typical frame of mind when I would normally record a podcast episode. I’m really still getting back into the swing of things here at my desk and also here in my house. And of course my desk is in the basement of my house.

Also, today itself has already been a doozy. My mom’s plumbing in her little granny flat, which is right next door to our house, her plumbing suddenly stopped draining. The plumbing is working everywhere else. So we don’t know what’s going on there. So, of course I had to call an emergency plumber and we’re going to get that taken care of.

And then my dog had her annual checkup scheduled, which was not a problem, but we got there and because I was all in this, I don’t know this dizzy mindset because of the plumbing. It turned out I had forgotten my wallet and I forgot to get the dog’s heartworm pills.

And now I’m trying to honor my own schedule, my reduced schedule that I set up for the week by squeezing in recording this podcast episode. Yes, I do know that I could have chosen to just record this another time, but I thought I would try and get it done now, in this window of time I had originally given myself. Even though I am feeling a little bit scattered right now.

When it comes to my retreat, though, I’m also still feeling a little bit resentful. Because there were a few things that did not get done around the house while I was gone. Because I talk a lot about boundaries, I do often tell people that when you feel resentful, it could mean that you need a boundary, but in this case, it wasn’t about boundaries. It really just means that people weren’t doing their jobs while I was gone. And so I’ve had to have some conversations about being responsible and what it means to take care of one another in this family.

So, I’ve got all of that going on in the background of my mind and I’m feeling a little bit flustered. Well, of course, because of the plumbing and the dog, but also because what I’ve been thinking about, really thinking about is, I’m flustered from the transition that it took to get to my retreat. And then the transition that it took to come back from it in order to go away for just two days. Okay so it was, well, it was three days and two nights.

I did have to spend these little bits of time over a couple of weeks, orchestrating everything. For me, this looked like my own packing. It was making packing lists and then packing my stuff up, of course, but it was also rearranging some of my family’s schedule, the things I would normally take care of that somebody else was going to have to do while I was gone. Making some arrangements to get transportation for my mom, again, that I would normally do, that someone else could do while I was gone.

And also, because I do own my own business and I take care of my own calendar, this meant rescheduling my own work to clear my calendar so that I would have three days to be away by myself. That’s what I had to do in the transition before I went.

And then when I got back, I had to do the transition work of resetting everything back to the way it was before. Some of this was unpacking, but it was also some debriefing with my family to hear what went on while I was gone. And rescheduling my own week, this week, so that I could work a short week.

I do try and take a short retreat at some point later in the summer, every year, I think last year it was at the end of July. Well, this is the first week of August, so it was probably about the same time of the summer last year. And I do it because I am fed up with everybody, at this point in the summer, I just get to the point where I am not functioning all that. Well, I can’t remember if I felt exactly this way last year. I could go look back at my thought downloads that I did last year at this time, if I really wanted to, and I could see what I was feeling and probably find whatever words I was using for it last.

But this is so familiar to me that I’m pretty sure it’s been happening for many years.

What’s different is when I was on retreat this time I gave myself enough head space, yeah, that’s what I did. I gave myself enough space in my brain so that I could start articulating what it is that’s hard about taking a break when you’re a family caregiver.

Now this is something that I hear come up a lot with family caregivers, is that it’s very hard to take a break because there’s so much you have to do before you go. And there’s so much that you have to do when you get back. And I’m starting to think of this in terms of transitions, how can we do these transitions so that we don’t dread them every time it comes up.

This is also particularly important to me right now, because I am going to be taking a six week break from producing the podcast soon. So I’m going to need to get ready for that break. And I’m going to need to be able to transition to come back from that break.

During that six week time frame, I’m also going to be taking a week long break. My husband and I are going to go away for a week. That’ll be a transition to get there and it’ll be a transition to get back. And I’m thinking about it right now. And I’m, I am feeling dread in my stomach about that one week vacation. Not because I don’t want to take it. I’m desperate to go. I really want to go.

But I do know that the transition to get into it and the transition when I get back is going to be quite a lot of work for me. And some of it’s quite hard, actually. Getting everybody ready to handle all the details that they’re going to need to be prepared for while we are gone. But mostly it’s because I’m going to be gone. That’s just a lot of work.

That is the reality of going away, of taking a break and then needing to slide back into life and work when we return.

I suspect that at least half of this feeling of dread about going away and coming back is in our minds. It’s about what we are thinking and believing. I know that’s the case for me. Yes, there are some real circumstances that I need to know about and work around. And that’s the reality and those are physical things that go on and that’s fine. I can’t change that. But I can take a look at what’s going on in my own brain. And cause myself less suffering over all of this.

Right now, I can tell that I have a thought that this shouldn’t be so hard and that I must be doing something wrong because I feel the dread about these transitions and it feels so difficult to me. And now that I can see this thought that I’m having, I also know it’s not a thought that’s serving me very well, because it just means that I’m arguing with the reality of what’s going on.

What if I could just take the pressure off of myself and know that this transition, the getting ready to go, and then when I come back the reentry, well, that might just be rockier than I like. It might be harder than I like. And maybe that’s just normal for me.

We just don’t give ourselves transition time. I don’t think that we’re taught to give ourselves transition time. I think that what we’re taught to do is keep functioning just like normal up until the minute that plane leaves, or the minute that we pack up our suitcase. And that when we get back, the instant we’re back, that things just pick up right where we left them and we rush rush, rush, and we don’t give ourselves transitions.

Now I do think we’ve been taught that, but I can also tell you that I don’t like these transition times. I don’t like doing the extra work and the preparation that it takes, I want to be done with it. I want to be done and be through it.

So, I don’t build it into my schedule, which is silly because I must have this magical thought. No, I do have this magical thought that “if I don’t schedule it in, it won’t be needed. I’m just going to somehow be able to gloss it over. No transition time needed for me!”

One of the reasons I know that these kind of one-off transitions, like what it takes for me to go away for two days, are so much more difficult and that not all transitions are difficult is because I used to travel for work quite a lot. Uh, at this point, It’s not quite 10 years ago. It’s been a while ago, but I, I traveled a lot and I would be gone for a week. And because I did the transition all the time, I probably traveled twice a month, it was no big deal. Everybody knew the rhythm. Packing was no big deal. Rescheduling things was no big deal. Everybody was in it with me and it was familiar and we all had our routines and that’s just not the way it is anymore.

And I would venture to say that for a lot of family caregivers, that’s the situation we find ourselves in, where it’s unusual for us to take breaks, or maybe they just look different every time we take these breaks, whether it’s two days or a week. And so we have to recreate the wheel every time we do it.

What if all of this could just be okay, what if it’s not that we’re scrambling to get ready to go and then scrambling to catch up when we get back? What if the mindset of trying to catch up with things isn’t helpful at all?

Look, there are things that probably didn’t get done while I was gone, and I don’t know about them yet. That’s probably going to happen to you too. I’m starting to think that for me, it could be so much more helpful to think that I had a transition before I left. And then I hit the pause button. And then when I came back, I hit the play button and there was this re-entry transition to get back into things.

In fact, I’m telling you right now that in the future, I’m going to look at this as part of the transition instead of scrambling and catching up. Transitioning, hitting pause, transitioning back in and then pushing play. Just to try to remind myself that this is a normal rhythm for me, there’s nothing wrong. Nothing has gone wrong here.

I will tell you that yesterday, this had me in such a tizzy that I talked to my coach. So that’s probably the number one tip for all of us when we find ourselves in situations like this. Just really uncomfortable, and maybe places where we get stuck, is to get some help with it.

Do not try to figure it out alone. I had friends I could have called. There were a number of ways I could have gotten help. I happened to have a meeting already scheduled with my coach. So that was great.

While I was talking to her, what I realized is that because this time of year feels so rough for me anyway, I need to make sure that I get deliberate quiet time every day, where I just schedule it in and I’m not going to be watching TV. I’m not going to be sitting around trying to coordinate anything for myself or anybody else. Maybe I’ll go to my garden. Maybe I’ll read a book. Maybe I’ll take the dog for a walk.

That’s what I did last night. My dog and I both really enjoyed it. It was just a really nice kind of slow evening stroll. And it was great. I don’t usually do that. So it was really nice, quiet time for me. And it helped a lot.

And what I’ve decided is that I do want to take these breaks. I want to be able to take longer breaks, even though I know that I’m going to have to go through these transitions to go there. And then again, when I come back.

Part of the reason that I can say I can make a decision like that is that another thing I decided a long time ago is that I am willing to feel uncomfortable. I am willing to notice what’s going on, recognize it, admit it and go through it. If it means I can do the things I want to do, I am totally willing to feel uncomfortable emotions and have hard conversations. Sometimes those hard conversations I need to have are with myself, like this one I’ve been having for a couple of days.

And I decided that I’m willing to keep trying to become more self-aware so that my discomfort at whatever is going on isn’t, it’s just not in charge of my life so much of the time. That’s what I want for myself.

So if you are looking at taking a break or rearranging your life in any way, making any changes to anything, and one of the reasons that you’re dreading it is because it’s going to mean through a transition either at the beginning of it, or maybe at the end of it? If you are dreading that transition at all, like I have been, that’s okay. It’s just okay. You’re human. Take some time and notice that. What does it feel like in your body and ask yourself, is that what you want? Do you want that discomfort to be in charge of your decisions? Or do you want to try something else instead?

I just want for all of us, you and me, to remember that it’s okay for transitions to be hard. It’s okay to feel whatever you feel about those transitions. I mean, I’ve been feeling grumpy and resentful and mentally worn out and a little anxious. Okay, there’s nothing that’s gone wrong here. I’m human. You are human.

There have been times over the last couple of days where I felt like I had taken two steps forward, then I got back from my break and I had taken three steps back where somebody else had taken three steps back. That’s not usually actually the truth. But there’s nothing wrong with feeling that way.

There’s nothing wrong with me. And there’s nothing wrong with you if at some point you’ve thought, oh, I thought I made all of this progress and now there’s been all this backsliding. That’s just part of the human condition. That’s how this life works.

If you’ve been a listener of this podcast for any time at all, now then you’ve heard me say that we deserve breaks. Every human deserves breaks, and that includes family caregivers. So if going through these transition periods is the thing that we need to do to make those breaks happen, that is a normal part of the way this works. Whatever it looks like for you, however that feels for you, that’s okay.

Please don’t avoid taking the breaks just so that you can avoid the transition that happens before and after.

For myself, I’m going to try to become more aware of when I’m being hard on myself during these transitions or when I’m being hard on myself about these transitions. When I can be more aware of that, that’s going to help me ask what do I really want? How can I take better care of myself? And it’s going to help me ask for help when I need it.

And also doing that work, becoming more aware of when I’m being hard on myself means that I will be able to take more breaks because I’ll be willing to go through the transitions to make them happen.

If you liked this episode, you have to go check out my monthly membership for family caregivers who want to get some rest and feel less alone. It’s the place for emotionally-safe community, brave self-development and always self-compassion. You can find a link to it in the show notes and on my website at Facilitator On Fire dot net. And that is Facilitator On Fire dot net. If you are looking to connect with me, the best place to find me is in my free Boundaries Community. And I would love to hear from you. I can’t wait to be with you again in the next episode, From One Caregiver to Another.

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your guide

Kay Coughlin, CEO of Facilitator On Fire, is a business coach for the non-profit sector and social justice businesses. She is also well-known for being an advocate for family caregivers.

In every forum she can find, she shouts that it's OK for every human to earn a living, set and enforce boundaries around their bodies, thoughts, feelings and actions. You can join Kay's free, private online community to talk about boundaries here.

Kay also teaches about emotional labor, how to rest, and Human Giver Syndrome, and is the host of the "From One Caregiver to Another" podcast and author of "From One Caregiver to Another - Overcoming Your Emotional Grind."

Kay is well-known for her public speaking on boundaries and self-care. 

Facilitator on Fire is a subsidiary of Donor Relations Mindset LLC, which Kay founded in 2015. She lives with her husband and children in central Ohio, and is the primary caregiver for her own mother, who lives right next door. Kay can be found on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Copyright 2022. All rights reserved, Julia Kay Coughlin and Facilitator On Fire.

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