I know, I know, you don’t have any time.
You’ll get a hobby when you don’t have to take care of someone else.
How can I even suggest that you put brain cells towards the idea of doing something that doesn’t feel like the right kind of productivity?
BECAUSE YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO!! For your sake and your Care Recipient’s sake.
At the moment, this might feel like just one more thing on your endless to-do list. And one that has pretty much zero priority. Time to bump it up on the list. Get it as close to the number one slot as you can put it without feeling like your brain will explode.
Here are some things that DO NOT count towards checking “hobby” off the list:
Laundry. Cooking sustenance meals. (You want to get all fancy with the food or add a new cooking or baking skill?? That might count, but only if it makes your heart sing and your mind focus on something other than Caregiving). Laundry. Calling the doctor. Organizing your schedule. Laundry. Driving anyone in your household to and from, well, anything. And laundry. Did I mention that laundry absolutely does NOT count as a hobby? Ok, good.
For some of you, there may be incredible hobbies in your past that you have simply put on the back burner for so long that you’ve completely written them off. Now’s the time to dig in that craft closet, figure out which box in the shed you tossed those carving tools into, dust off that sewing machine or rediscover the joy you once felt flipping through that DIY book.
For others of you, it may be time to call in a few favors. Have friends or family spend time with your loved one so you can take a class (or COVID-19-ly watch copious amounts of YouTube videos completely uninterrupted…do not get distracted by those kittens!). Or, maybe you can seek out that friend who promised to show you how to crochet/knit/sew/carve/sculpt/paint/draw ages ago. Invite that talented friend over for lunch and talk about how you can go from completely uninformed to novice and beyond under their knowledgeable tutelage.
Because your brain desperately needs the chemical hit you get when you accomplish something. Want to know the science behind that? Google “chemical hit in the brain for accomplishments” – you can do that after you finish reading my non-scientific but science-backed explanation.
As Caregivers, we spend a lot of our time in repetition without really ever getting anywhere with it. You do the laundry today…you’ll be doing it again tomorrow. Even if you wash every scrap of fabric in your house that someone might use or wear, you will be doing it again very very very soon. You made breakfast…and lunch…and supper (or dinner for some of you…but that’s a personal preference discussion for another day). Guess what??? You’ll do it again tomorrow. Personal care for your loved one. Looking after the rest of your family. Cleaning your house. Washing the car. Running errands. These are tasks that are generally repeated without a true feeling of accomplishment. Now don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware that there are days when the fact that you managed to prepare a meal, even a frozen pizza, in the midst of everything else going on IS an accomplishment – one that needs to be celebrated. Taking a shower can feel that way sometimes too. But, you get what I’m saying, right?
You need to accomplish something. Start to finish. Concept to product. Something that won’t have to be repeated. If you want to, that’s great and that’s how hobbies go. The whole point is to find something enjoyable and challenge yourself. You finish a project and can’t wait to dive into the next one. But the beauty is, you don’t have to. Because you…have…FINISHED something! You really have to check out the science on this, because that feeling of accomplishment isn’t just a little ego boost, it is good for your brain.
Have you ever painted a room? ALL that prep work. Moving the furniture, taping off the trim and the ceiling, cleaning the walls, patching the holes…exhausting. But, you get kind of sucked into the process. Turns out frozen dinners do feed your family and that load of laundry can be done tomorrow. You do the caring that you have to do, but your heart is in that painting project. You stay up to late and get back to it early in the morning…or just finish early in the morning because you forgot to go to bed. Finally you’re pulling down paint tape and moving the furniture back into place. You’ve got that exhausted buzzing in your head and you’re not sure you will ever be able to lift your hand above your shoulder again, but WOW! Amazing, right? Your body is crazy tired but your brain is so happy. You did it! You won’t have to paint that room again for ages (or ever, if we’re being honest about it).
The good news is that you don’t have to take on a full-room painting project. Something smaller will do just fine.
When I reached that point in Caregiving when I felt the most drained and burned out, there really weren’t words to describe it. Some of you know it though. I got stuck for quite a while – completely focused on everyone else, but not in a good way. I lost myself, my motivation and my happiness. Here’s the cold, hard truth: Caregivers are much better at what they do when they step away for a while. It doesn’t have to be a long time, but long enough to focus inward for just a little while. If the thought of being involved in an activity that doesn’t involve someone else’s bodily functions or medical needs or even their whims feels almost foreign, then you’re way overdue for a break.
Eventually I started pulling out of my funk and made a list of random things that I wished I knew how do to. As I went through the list, I realized that some of those things might not be too hard to either figure out or get some instruction in. I highly recommend the whole “getting instruction” thing. Even if you don’t really need it to learn a new skill, getting out of the house or finding a reason to socialize is worth bonus points for your brain. The first thing on my list that I was ready to try was knitting. I found a Groupon and took a class. I was only gone for about four evenings – once a week for a month – and only about two hours each time. It was blissful! Not because I was all that great, but because there were conversations with people I didn’t have to take care of, yarn to squish and a challenge that let me block out everything else from my brain for a little while. And as cliche as it sounds, everybody got scarves that next Christmas. Stained glass was on the list too. Did you know you can take classes in stained glass??? Yep! Super fun and you go home with an accomplishment in hand and a happy little chemical hit in your brain. Hot glass was on the list and is definitely one of my favorites. My occasional escapes to “play in the fire” were off the charts amazing! There’s something about lighting a torch and melting glass rods into beads or pendants or blobs of things (because they usually didn’t turn out the way I pictured in my head) that was incredibly satisfying. I took a crochet class. I learned how to use a plasma cutter….and now I want one. Will all of these things be hobbies I do forever? Maybe. Maybe not. Doesn’t matter. I took the time to get away and do a little something for myself. I spread all of these things out over several years and found out I really enjoy trying new things, even if I won’t be good at them. Each time when I came back to my family, I was better. I was a better mom, a better wife, a better Caregiver. Even laundry wasn’t as bad because my brain could be thinking about a new pattern I wanted to try or crazily imagining myself as an artist in my “retirement years”. I think far-fetched daydreams count as a hobby sometimes too…as long as that laundry keeps getting done.
Moral of this very long blog post? Find something fun and creative to do, something that isn’t a crucial life skill but rather a happiness builder. Resurrect an old hobby or dive into a new one. You don’t have to spend a lot of money and you don’t have to abandon your Caregiving post forever, just an hour or so here and there. Take a little time to challenge your skills (and your patience), put your hands to work in a creative way and get those happy brain chemicals flowing. You will be a better Caregiver for it…and a happier human being.