Welcome to Ask April, a no-nonsense advice column focusing on what it is you can do to correct things that need correcting. While we all know much in life is out of our control, and sometimes, our reaction is all we CAN control- we really do have a lot of personal power, thankfully. Our will is just as important as the wills of others around us, and while we need to be considerate, we also need to make sure others are equally considerate of us. It is my hope that when you write in to me, asking advice, that I can help you make a good decision that somehow improves whatever situation you’ve found yourself in. As with anything I share, I recommend people don’t automatically take my word for anything, but include my advice in with the rest of the things that help them make a decision. I wish you well. Read on.
I used to be a very organized person. I was always on top of things, and I worked. In the past few years, however, that has all fallen to pieces. It started with family members health declines, as well as deaths, all right after the purchase of our dream house, and subsequent remodeling. We’ve poured over $100,000 worth of upgrades into this house during that time. I’m constantly on the go doing things for either family, or the house, and unfortunately, my health has also declined. I’m now doing therapy and trying to get my health back. I’d like to get back to work, but I just can’t until I get everything else taken care of first. I want to organize my papers, and house, and get family healthcare taken care of. Then I can think about work. It’s just that I am severely overwhelmed and I don’t know how even begin to dig my way out of this. Suggestions?
I am so sorry about all that has happened. I cannot imagine how heartbroken it can be to grieve multiple things. Plus, you are constantly doing care for family, so their illness, as well as your own health decline, has created a new life. One that is quite different than the one you once had.
I think, at this point, the number one priority needs to be your own health, and you need to step aside as caregiver.
Yes, yes, that is easy for me to say, isn’t it? But I notice this is MULTIPLE family members you are doing for- and not just sometimes- CONSTANTLY. So my question is- why are you THE one who must do all of this to the point your own health declines and you cannot work?
This does not happen by itself, and it does not happen overnight.
I think the fact you are overwhelmed to the point y0ur own life in=s severely disrupted means you are unable to handle the job. That is hard to hear, isn’t it?
I’ll say it again.
I don’t think you can handle this, and you need to pass the job onto somebody else who can.
Now go ahead and be mad at me while you continue reading.
In the 11.5 years I did long term care, the number one issue in patient care I saw was well-intentioned family who had no idea what the hell they were doing trying to take care of family. Then they wondered why mom or dad kept declining, and then stopped eating, and never wanted to get out of bed. Some people are naturally lousy caregivers, and while it’s unintetntional, it is what it is.
You are going to have to admit that you are not a gifted caregiver. You may need to refer said multiple family members to professionals, and I understand some folks may be resistant to that idea. The reality is, they are not going to get their needs met by you, and you are standing in the way of them getting the help from the appropriate people at this point.
I can’t help but wonder if perhaps it makes you feel important to be constantly on demand from needy loved ones. I think if you had something else to do- like a job you said you’d like- that your time would be occupied and you would not be looking for the attention and pats on the back those who “do for others” illicit.
So, if you did not already hate me for calling you a shitty caretaker, hate me for accusing you of doing it for attention and approval, because that is what I see as going on here.
What really gets me, however, is how you are overwhelmed by your house and things.
How the hell home remodel or organizing paperwork keeps you from having a job is beside me. Everybody else holds down work, and does all those things and more. You must have another source of income and do not HAVE to work, otherwise, you could not pour all that money into a dreamhouse without your own income.
As far as I can see, the problem you’ve got is you can’t see how good you’ve got it. You don’t have to work, and your biggest problem is that your paperwork is askew. I think it’s fair to say you can afford to hire a professional organizer to come in and organize your affairs. If you are not comfortable with a stranger doing it, I’d say you need to ask your bill paying partner to help.
You are going to have to set a goal and set aside time- I’d suggest shutting off the tv or social media and going through papers. I am not sure what your personal tolerance levels are. Some people burn out after 10 minutes, and some people sort, and shred, and file for like ten days straight until it’s done.
Organizationally, you need to use what is called the TRAF system. Your papers fall into four categories:
T- Toss- Throw that shit out immediately. You have used it, and have no further use for it. It’s turning your space into a firetrap. Toss it.
R-Refer- This is the stuff that is somebody else’s shit to deal with. Give it to them, and move on with your life.
A-Act- This needs acted on now. Like this bill is due, or this invitation RSVP is due. Do it!!!!!
F-File- File it away ONLY if it needs kept for future reference.
I cannot stress enough that if you have allowed yourself to become buried in papers- that you obviously DO NOT NEED- because you have had it for going on years now, and you just HAVE to sort it- that your papers need to go. Some would say it is bad Fung Shui. I say it’s weighting down your energy in the home with old shit. If it was actual physical shit- excrement, I mean- you would be dead by now. It’s a waste of space. And it’s unnecessary to bother with it.
You might even be able to get by with tossing every scrap of it without even reading it- but I don’t know what is in there. You might have tax documents you forgot to file and unpaid bills and shutoff notices in there if you have been that unattentive.
As a matter of fact, it’s probably a very good idea to give your partner control of the papers.
I am seeing a need to control in your patterns, and if you had it all under control, it would be fine, but you don’t. Unless you can get in track soon organizing, and I am thinking in the next three months, it’s time to accept you are not cut out for that, and let the partner do it. Organizing, planning, and prioritizing are not your strong suits right now, and to be in control of other people’s healthcare and the bills for a household, you need these talents.
If I were you, I’d tell family you are overwhelmed being a caretaker, and you cannot do it. Help them get another helper set up, and continue your own therapy. Then, get out looking for jobs. Go through a temp agency or headhunter in your hometown, because again, you seem like somebody who benefits from having help doing that. While jobhunting, if you cannot get the paperwork under control, let your partner decide if they or a professional is going to step in and take over for you.
You are going to have to give up the reins, and while I can tell that will be very difficult mfor you, it is crucial if you want changes.
There is no shame in any of this. The bad idea is to continue in this counterproductive pattern. You will not get anything done, and you will sink into despair.
Speaking of which- while you are getting therapy, if you have not yet done so, get your doctor to screen you for depression. It is not unusual for major life changes to trigger previously unknown symptoms of clinical depression. It is also not unusual to have situational non-clinical depression when a lot goes wrong.
As an anxiety sufferer, I , personally understand the stigma attached with having an issue like this. I can also tell you what a supportive community is out there. You just have to reach out. Luckily for you, it sounds like you have a very supportive partner already and he or she will help you get this started as well.
Another thing I will point out is I do not know what your diagnosis is that you are getting therapy for . Fatigue and inability to focus are symptoms of various disorders, some as simple as a screwed up sleep schedule.
Realistically, life is a pain in the ass, sometimes, and it seems like when it rains, it pours. The goal is not to wait for the storms to pass, but to learn to dance in the rain. That’s on a bumpersticker somewhere. It’s 100% true. There may be times in our lives when things are simple and everything goes our way. Damn, that sounds REAL nice! I have faith you will get through this, but not until you take a look at the habits you have learned, and decide to UNLEARN them.
I can’t see you doing this on your own, and that is totally okay. The sooner you get started, the sooner you will see the benefits.