Time away provides a vital boost for a caregiver

[This article first appeared on ksl.com on March 27, 2014.]

When voices rise to an uncomfortable level at home, when demands on my time feel like walls closing in on me, when the dog seems more of a chore than a source of relaxation, when emotions get stuck on the lowest side of the spectrum for a prolonged time, I drive away.

On one such day, though, I found myself making a left turn on red, to the chagrin of everyone at the intersection. Surprised at my uncharacteristic move, I realized getting away for a few days was vital to my sanity.

Soon afterward, the scenery moved from commercial buildings to residential neighborhoods to desert land. Sagebrush punctuated fields as though someone had unrolled bolt after bolt of camouflage-patterned fabric for miles on end, and I could almost smell the peace this muted landscape brought me.

The engine roared, leaving behind slow-moving vehicles, rushing to the 80-mile speed limit stretch of the highway that would take me somewhere far — and fast. I turned on the radio, since only music can muffle the relentless mind chatter that always accompanies exhaustion for me. Skipping through popular songs, I let classical works soothe and keep me alert. Gradually, compassion returned and my thoughts shifted back to my family.

Genetics have dealt an interesting hand to those close to me. Brain chemistry gone awry presents a challenge to family relationships, which a lot of people still don’t understand, few self-help or parenting how-to books can fully explain and no medication can adequately fix for long. Love is the glue that binds us together, keeping us a unit despite all odds. Yet love needs respite.

Family members might provide the respite a caregiver needs from time to time, unless they live thousands of miles away, which ours do. Hospitals might provide it too, when crises are too difficult to handle and we need emergency reprieves, albeit at high cost. Police officers ensure security and contribute physical strength when reason cannot be heard.

Highly functioning mentally ill persons and their families often suffer silently. Those around them may judge adolescent behavior as proof of dysfunction in the family, parental incompetence, lack of values, weirdness or ... the list goes on.

Caregivers, when in touch with their own needs, may need to be treated for depression themselves. Some of their friends think they “don’t know how good they have it,” yet these friends do not wake up almost every morning in a domestic battlefield while meds take their time to get through the bloodstream, do not have to contend with arguments around the clock, do not live through daily cycles of mood changes, do not have to wonder what will set off the next verbal explosion.

I long ago decided where to hide from it all, and on this particular challenging day I knew I could get there just as the night descended. Driving, landscape and music — the perfect blend the big pharmaceutical companies haven’t yet figured out how to squeeze into a pill — provided relief.

As my mind finally quieted down, the words of Dr. R. A. Barkley, quoted in the book “ADHD: Living Without Brakes” by Martin L. Kutscher, framed the weekend ahead: “Dr. Barkley (2000) urges his readers to forgive themselves nightly for their inability to be perfect. Each night, review how you’ve done that day and how you could do it better. Then, remember that each of us is only human, and forgive yourself for these past imperfections. Keeping an understanding, forgiving, and positive attitude applies not only to the child, but to yourself as well.”

The car slid into the parking lot of the safe place where I chose to stay. The imaginary battery icon on my body — previously hollow — was already beginning to show a charge. I was blessed to be able to enjoy solitude for a couple of days despite the added burden on my loving husband.

And, as is always the case, I am blessed for my trials and not someone else’s. I am blessed for all my senses and good health. I am blessed to know we will all enjoy perfect health one day. I am blessed because Heavenly Father cares for me.

I spent most of my time away in a quiet hotel room, reading, knitting, watching movies. Mealtimes provided an excuse to venture out, feel the sunshine on my skin, listen to others talk and know I didn't have to. I yearned for the days when my husband and I had more time to ourselves.

When I returned home I could no longer remember why I left. The household had not changed, but my heart could once again temper the effects of the uproar around me with feelings of love, compassion and calm understanding. The worn-down relationship with my companion regained the "just-married" sparkle. Two days away provided enough fuel for a few months. For a lifetime of patience, though, I still need to rely on constant prayer, scripture study and a humble heart.

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