As carers, we all know "the call".
The first call is "the one when life pivots on its head, and nothing will ever be the same again". Chloe and I chat about 'the call' and its legacy - something many of us haven't even noticed.
How do you feel, every time your phone rings?
"I received the first ‘the call’ on 11th October 2015. I was in my student halls and I was expecting a call to hear how my brother's football went. When my mum called, her tone immediately told me something was wrong. I could never have imagined her next words. “Chlo, something happened. Lewis has had an accident and he has hit his head. We are in the ambulance now, it’s serious.” My heart fell into my stomach. I got on the first train home."
The call might not have been an actual phone call. It might have been a meeting in a side room at a hospital.
"I felt like I was free falling, when they took us to that windowless room, to tell us about our baby's disability. In hindsight the emotions were so big, I batted them away to protect myself. I emotionally shut down."
However the life changing news was delivered, we can all very clearly remember the emotional and physical sensation that those words delivered.
But what has been the legacy of that first call? Have we noticed its impact?
"Ever since the first call, I have not been able to miss a call since. I never let my phone run out of battery, I always keep it on me, and I have special ringtones for the important people - mum, dad, brother, sister. No matter the time or place, I always pick up the phone. I am always waiting for the call. Living on standby."
It turns out that 'first call' can have quite some legacy!
"Every call becomes 'the call'"
Just raising our awareness is a great start. Notice;
How do we feel when you see certain phone numbers on our caller display?
Are our feelings or expectations of the call, always/mostly/sometimes or rarely correct?
Just by pausing and thinking about this, I realised I was making myself anxious 100% of the time, when in fact these days, 95% of the calls were just admin calls!
"Every time I see my daughter's school, social worker, respite home, doctor's number come up on my mobile, I enter a state of apprehension. I assume the worst. But when I stop and think, I have to admit that something like 95% of the calls are admin! I put myself into a state of panic for nothing!"
Of course, sometimes the subsequent calls are also 'the call'. Things don't always run smoothly, the road isn't straight or flat!
So the question is, how can we help ourselves?
"I have received a ‘the call’ several times since then. I’ve learned how to manage the news better. The main thing that has helped me has been routine. Knowing what I need to do helps to feel a sense of control. I had developed little things to help me like a code word for my friends, a printed copy of the train schedule between Uni and home, emergency cash in a jar, a go bag by the door. Being prepared helped me to feel less stressed about when the next call would come."
Processing 'the call'
The glorious adrenaline kicks in when we get one of 'the calls'. It's our 'fight or flight' hormone. It powers us through some incredibly challenging times. We were already on our knees with tiredness, wondering how we'll get through to bedtime, and then 'wham' - 'the call' comes in! We become superhuman. Adrenaline is our saviour.
For a while.
Adrenaline is meant to get you past an immediate danger. That's why it's called 'an adrenaline rush'. Running on adrenaline for a prolonged period is terrible for us! After the adrenaline runs out, we keep going on cortisol, the stress hormone. This is bad news for our health! Running on our stress hormones for too long, can lead to carer burnout and many chronic health conditions.
For many of us, a simple phone call has become a potential 'stress inducer' - from a learned life experience (in this case - the very first 'the call'). Our body now has a learned response, to trigger adrenaline and cortisol when the phone rings (or certain people call).
Techniques for managing 'the call'
1. Have a sense check
How often do we receive 'the call'? How often are they admin, updates, check-ins? It can help to get a sense of perspective.
2. How many of the 'negative calls' we receive, needed to be made?
Did the school or care home need to share that negative piece of information with us? Was there a useful purpose? Could they balance it with phone calls about 'the good stuff'. Sometimes organisations themselves don't have an awareness of the power in the way they chose to communicate. Don't be afraid to politely point that out.
3. Creating our own emergency or 'What If' plan
We've talked before about creating this, in case we're suddenly unable to care for the person we support. But this is flipping it on its head. This is the emergency plan, needed if the person we care for deteriorates or has an accident. Who will pick up our other kids, who will take the dog, who will drive you to the hospital, who will let family know, who will let services know, which services need to know, what do we need, what does the person we care for need? It's a mixture of phone numbers, pre-arranged contingency help, and practical 'stuff', like Chloe's jar of cash, train timetable and 'go' bag, mentioned above.
Take a deep, slow belly breath in through your nose, before you answer the phone. And keep your breathing slow and regular while you take the phone call. If it is something to worry about, then managing your breathing will help to reduce anxiety. You'll be able to think more clearly and do what needs to be done. And if it's not something to worry about, then hopefully you will have avoided or reduced any fear, panic or anxiety the phone call may have triggered.
5. Acknowledge and deal with your emotions
This is a biggie. In a bid to protect ourselves, we can 'bury' 'avoid' 'play down' and 'ignore' our emotions. Sometimes they're just simply too big to allow them in. They're terrifying. But. Emotions serve a purpose. They tell us when things aren't right or we need to be scared. They protect us. If we simply ignore them - they won't go away! But they might well grow, to get our attention! Have we all actually dealt with the emotions from that very first call? It all starts with acknowledging them. Labelling them. Feeling them. You might want a box of tissues and a few hours by yourself. You might feel very fragile after you have let them wash over you. But. Doing this, will allow you to process them and begin to move forwards.
According to psychological research (by David Barlow, Steven Hayes and others);
"one of the main causes of many psychological problems is the habit of emotional avoidance."
If you're still looking at a way to manage those big emotions, or would like some help in creating your emergency plan, remember you can book a free individual support call with our carers coach Suzanne.