4 Things You Can Do to Make Caregiving Less Tedious

I once had a therapist tell me that I had “the most disordered thinking” of anyone he had ever seen. In light of this diagnosis, I probably deserve a gold medal for getting out of bed most mornings.

My secret to staying semi-sane is to keep really, really busy and to surround myself with lots of people. For someone like me, being bored is deadly.

And, I am going to admit something that I think maybe none of us would say out loud. I find that taking care of other people, whether they are 2 or 102, can often be really boring. I mean, reaalllllyyy TEDIOUS.

I am, for example, not particularly tolerant of caregiving situations that require me to demonstrate a lot of physical strength while being screamed at, and then to have to repeat the whole thing over and over again. I am pretty sure that wrestling a tantruming 2 year old into a car seat looks very similar to some of the exercises they do at Army ranger training.

For the most advanced exercises, I think ranger candidates should have to successfully coax a 160 pound 85 year old with severe dementia back to bed at night.

Tedium comes not from doing an activity that requires little thought. After all, a walk in the woods is rarely tedious. I think boredom happens when you spend a lot of time doing tasks that require very little mental activity AND those tasks are physically exhausting, repetitive and, in and of themselves, uninspiring.

Because what happens in this situation is that your mind starts roaming, and then it rarely comes up with anything nice to say. One of the more insidious things that can happen is that your mind will actually point out how tedious your situation is and then observe that you’re a terrible person for feeling this way.

Just to be clear, it’s not that caregiving isn’t sacred. It absolutely is. It’s one of the great paradoxes of modern female life: caring for others is utterly magical and inspiring and the source of great existential angst — all at the same time. In other words, it’s sacred BECAUSE IT’S HARD; not in spite of it.

Perhaps one of the silver linings to having an overactive mind in our modern world is that I now have a lot of strategies for dealing with tedium and boredom.

Treat Boredom like a Spiritual Exercise

Somewhere I saw someone make a brilliant suggestion – whatever you are doing, put the word “meditation” after it. Like, if you’re waiting in the ER for endless hours, it could be the “waiting in the ER meditation.”

If you’ve ever been to a monastery, you’ll notice that a lot of people are doing a lot of menial tasks. And, there’s a reason. This is how they practice having a peaceful mind – being present with just what they’re doing, allowing thoughts to come and go without getting attached to them. It’s mindfulness training in motion and it’s hard.

So, I guess the good news here is that you’re in a sort of spiritual boot camp when you are caregiving. But, as with everything, the key is not to put too much pressure on yourself. Maybe start by taking a short online meditation instruction. For example, I really like Tara Brach’s guided meditations.

Then, just try it a little tiny bit at a time. Remember that part of meditation is to just recognize what’s happening and be with it.

Entertain Yourself

Ask yourself, if a great fiction writer were to parachute down into your situation, how might he or she frame it into a wonderful and entertaining story?

One time I was driving my grandmother from her home in Mississippi to the mountains in North Carolina for a family vacation. She had mild dementia and, she sat in the front seat reading – I kid you not – EVERY SINGLE road sign on the two day trip.

This may seem kinda funny now but, back then, it got old very fast. Add to this that my grandfather was instructing my driving from the back seat – where he sat with a huge bag of potato chips to replace the cigars he had given up.

I was left with two choices – I could seethe with irritation the whole time or I could do something to entertain myself. So, I came up with a few funny stories in my head. I think one was about how I was being kidnapped by two insane killers and was being forced to drive them to safety.

This sounds a little crazy but I think sanity is overrated. I’m just happy when I can loosen up my frame of mind.

Listen to Music

This requires very little explanation. It’s a no-brainer. If you aren’t doing it, you should start carrying an inexpensive speaker around with you. Explore new types of music. Sing, dance.

I have a playlist that I call, “mood” because it lifts my mood.

A similar but equally effective strategy is to exercise a lot, if you can. But I’m not going to make this a separate category because you already know this….. and I don’t want to add one more thing to your to do list that’ll make you feel guilty.

Speaking of which…

DO NOT FEEL GUILTY!

You knew I was going to say this because I always say it. It’s the strategy for everything to do with caregiving.

There is no more insidious trick of the mind than to convince yourself that you should feel bad for feeling bad. For example, your mind will tell you that you should feel grateful for having time with your mom or dad. Gratitude is, of course, a beautiful thing to practice. But do not, do not should yourself about feeling grateful when you really just feel frustrated.

My other grandmother lived with us for a while when she was very old. I remember my mom running around the kitchen trying to deal with dinner for a busy family, after a long day of teaching while my grandmother would be sort of teetering on the edge of the kitchen, looking on, nursing her vodka whatever. And, it drove my mom CRAZY. Not that she’d ever let on – because she is a saint. I found this out much later – but I can see now how hard it must have been to tolerate with any patience– this presence of someone there but not there. It was tedious and, of course, I think it made her feel bad to find it kind of irritating.

But I say, “so what.” So you feel tedium and irritation. You are human. It IS tedious and irritating to take care of other people. It just is.

But, here’s the good news. The tedium and irritation are as sacred as the gratitude and moments of inspiration. Most importantly, they don’t mean that you don’t love your parents. All of the feelings are important and have their place. Even the hard ones… especially the hard ones because, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, “this is the crack where the light gets through.”