We all tell ourselves stories. Whether we are aware of this or not, each of us creates a narrative about our own lives. And these stories we tell ourselves matter. They really matter. Our stories can have massive impact on how we perceive ourselves and the world. This is certainly true for caregivers.
When we become aware of the fact that we have written our own story, we gain the power to edit, or completely rewrite. Here’s an example: When both of my parents were diagnosed with terminal illnesses on the same day, and I had to figure out what the diagnoses meant, figure out where my parents were going to live, and where they were going to die, when I was managing a task list with 196 items on it, I wrote a story that was full of, “Woe is me,” “Why me?” and “Poor me.” It was about how the youngest daughter had to do everything. It was about how unfair it was that I was handling more than my sisters were. It was a story about victimhood and it turned into the tune I was singing, all day, every day.
I could physically feel the power this story had over me. I could feel anger and resentment coursing through my body and I knew if I didn’t start singing a new tune, my story would make me sick. So I decided I had to write a new story.
I knew I couldn’t just write a story that said everything is fine and I don’t mind being the main caregiver in the family; our stories have to be true to have impact. So I went searching for another angle, another side to my story. And I found it. Yes, I was doing the majority of the caregiving for my two parents but that was because I was able to. The other side of my victimhood story was a story of strength. I was lucky enough to have the competence, the organizational skills, and the energy to do what needed to be done. I started singing a new tune – a song of gratitude.“I am strong enough to shoulder all of this responsibility,” and “I am lucky to be of great service to my family.” I had found my B-side.
Let me explain what a B-side is for the under 40-crowd. Back in the day, we listened to music on vinyl records. Large vinyl records held entire albums. Small records, called 45s, featured one hit song plus another song on the B-side. The B-side was the back side of the 45 record and the song on it wasn’t considered hit material. But actually, lots of B-sides did become hits. U2’s The Sweetest Thing – a B-side. I Saw Her Standing There by the Beatles – a B-side, Queens’ We Will Rock You also a B-side.
In caregiving, as in life, there is always a B-side and like many classic rock tunes, it is often better than the A-side if you just give it a chance. The B-side, however, isn’t necessarily the opposite of the A-side. Imagine if that was the case in music? Do you think We Are the Losers would have gotten any play time? The B-side is another perspective – a true perspective – that just needs some exposure.
As I’ve written before, if our stories include stress, they probably also include strength. If they include chaos, they most likely include resilience. If they involve loneliness, then they probably include fortitude. If fear is a factor, I”ll bet bravery is too. We can’t will ourselves to believe the opposite of our reality.
But we can train ourselves to find a different perspective and rewrite our stories.
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