I have a very convenient calendar/diary thingy on my mobile phone that gets filled up, sometimes months in advance. Being a full-time carer means that I record my husband’s commitments as well as my own, as often he needs me as his enabler. I have college & study commitments, medical appointments, various meetings, discussion groups, charity work and countless other scheduled activities, some more ephemeral than others, all listed in my calendar for the weeks and months to come.
If you ask me if I’m available at any particular time, I have to consult my diary. Without it, I simply do not know. I would be lost if suddenly my phone and the calendar application parted company – for this reason many events get transferred both to my husband’s phone and to our paper calendar on a regular basis. It wouldn’t be so difficult if I had a regular schedule or predicted, predictable appointments throughout my week. But aside from a few regular appointments, each week is totally and utterly different.
I often wonder if I should attempt to find a part time job that would fit with my claim for Carer’s Allowance – assuming anything was available in the area near our village that I had the skills and abilities to do, with an employer who would actually take me on – but as a wise friend once said, “if you want to do any more with your time, you’ll need to either figure out how to add more hours to each day, or work out how to go without sleeping.” It’s true that my days and weeks fill up inexorably, to the extent that I regularly do more with my time than I used to when I held a full-time job.
I find it difficult to say ‘no’ sometimes, especially to things that I am passionate about. I see something drowning and want to dive in and help – but even though I often have the time to throw the metaphorical lifebelt, I often cannot back up my lifesaving efforts with the time, energy or concentration to ensure that I can successfully bring the drowner back to dry land.
I remember a former line manager once telling me, “you have to learn how to prioritise or else you’ll miss the important things.” I like to think that as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned how to distinguish ‘vitally important’ from ‘merely interesting’. Thus the garden gets neglected if there is cooking to be done, exercise gets neglected if there are meetings to attend, and everything gets neglected if a medical need arises.
The garden – my passion, my overflow valve and my retreat space – does, I have to admit, sit firmly in the ‘merely interesting’ box. Our landlord doesn’t really mind what the garden looks like as long as there are no complaints from the neighbours, so if the dandelions and docks end up as tall as delphiniums and daffodils, they probably wouldn’t say very much. Medical needs are always vitally important, especially having an autoimmune disorder myself and caring for my husband who has a catalogue of diagnoses of various illnesses and long term conditions. Cooking, housework, meetings, shopping, charity work, exercise and most other things sit on a grey scale somewhere in between the two ends of the spectrum.
Sometimes, needing to prioritise means that even if something is in my diary, there will be an early morning phone call full of apologies and very quick alterations to the planned events of the day. Knowing I need to prioritise and knowing the number of things I have planned or promised to do already are the only things that enable me to say ‘no’ as it is. If it were otherwise my arms would be full of the same metaphorical lifebelts that I would fling in all directions to drowning people who asked something of me, but which would do nothing to prevent their drowning apart from provide a brief, false, hope that I could work miracles.
I’m not a miracle worker and never have been. I only have 24 hours in the day, 24 hours scheduled and filled so neatly on my phone’s calendar. I still need 8 hours of sleep a night, I need to prepare and eat good food, I need time to switch off and relax, I need time to spend with my husband and with my stepsons. I cannot do everything and, despite various dreams and ideas I really do fill all my time fairly completely already. I prioritise the things I do and if I say ‘no’ to something, it is usually for a good reason. If I’m not available I will say so – never on a whim but because I genuinely have insufficient time to do what is being asked of me.
I don’t know what the future will hold, no one does. I don’t know whether the ‘merely interesting’ of today will become the ‘vitally important’ of tomorrow. I don’t know what I’ll give up and what I’ll take on. What I do know is that I have to take one day at a time. ‘Let me put it in my diary’, is probably more of an aspiration than a promise, but as commitments go it’s probably the best I can offer.