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Archive for the ‘boomers’ Category

We don’t tend to talk about our love lives and caregiving in the same conversation. Why? Does sex go out the “caregiving window?” Do you stop desiring your partner when you enter into the caregiving role? Many do. It’s not that we don’t still love each other. We may recommit our hearts  and lives even more when our loved one needs us–but needing and wanting are two different animals and you don’t necessarily have to stop being a sexual creature just because you’ve aged, have a disease, or find yourself caring for someone.

I recently watched this AMAZING TED video titled, “The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship.” presented by Ms. Peres bas traveled the world studying erotic intelligence. Ms. Perel talks about the dilemma modern couples face–marrying for love (as opposed to a mere societal contract) and living a very long time together–all while supposedly enjoying security as well as hot sex.

There is no caretaking in desire. Wanting is desire. Neediness is not attractive. Ms. Perel reminds us that anything that reminds us of parenting i.e. (taking care of someone) is a turn-off, as it should be. We need our parents. We want (or desire) our mates.

What’s a caregiver to do?

Nothing saps your desire as much as exhaustion and worry, sleep deprivation, a counter lined with pills, a hospital bed in the middle of the living room, care assistants traipsing in and our of our houses, or a long stint in rehab. We think that sex has to take the back seat when someone is sick, aging, or has entered into the dying process.

But it’s part of who we are. Sex is mystical. It’s a binding agent in our relationships. It’s a way to express not only joy and playfulness, but it’s also a healing force–physically and emotionally.

I faced this issue (sort of) while caring for my mother who was living with us (hubby, kids, and me). She needed 24/7 care for Parkinson’s, heart disease and dementia. She was demanding (to say the least), fearful, as well as in need of real hands-on care. Not exactly the ingredients needed to get in the  mood. I found myself compartmentalizing who I was at any given moment. I’d slip out of caregiving mode and into mothering mode when one of my children needed me to help them study for a big test, or to take photos of them before they went on a special date. I’d slip off that role and step into being my husband’s lover as I slid the bathroom door shut, turned on some sultry music and stepped into the shower for a few minutes of “alone time.” Twenty minutes later and I’m back in the kitchen, dressed, and cutting my mother’s pills up for the week.

I had to learn how to shut down one part of me and slip on another.

What made that challenging was stepping out of the lingering emotions–resentment (can’t I just have 30 minutes to myself?) guilt (I know she needs me, but my girls need me, too), worry (I’m so afraid they’re going to put her back in the hospital–and they’re going to push for exploratory surgery and not only will that not fix anything, but there goes my life for how many weeks!)

How do you still tap into your love life even while caregiving?

Here’s a few things I learned:

  • Stop trying to be everything to everybody. It’s impossible. There will be gaping holes I can’t ever fill.
  • Decide not to always be available. Shut the door. Go to my room. Shut the door. Lock it if I have to.
  • Time for me–first. I learned to not bolt out of the bedroom in the morning. If my family made it through the night (or even part of the night, in my mom’s case), then they could go 30 more minutes without me. Having time to shower, dress, journal or stretch before I hit the caregiving concrete really helped me separate them–from me.
  • Don’t get lazy. Kiss good morning or good bye. Say thank you. Make the effort to smile. Learn to be a good conversationalist. Sit next to each other on the couch instead your own recliners. Spritz on his favorite perfume–not because you’re  going somewhere–just because he likes it.
  • Create sexy moments–and a moment may be all there is. Duck into the pantry for a steamy kiss, grab his butt while he’s in the fridge, flirt by text, tousle his hair at the breakfast table. You may not have the time or energy to do any more than that–but “that” can be really good.
  • Slip in and out of roles–as I mentioned above, turn off–and on–who you are. Do this for yourself. Learn to turn OFF caregiving. Go back, just for a few moments, just to be their daughter, or wife.
  • Be playful. Desire is loose. It thrives on spontaneity. So if you feel yourself always clenching, always on alert, stop. Do some stretches. Visualize your favorite memories–of a perfect spot on a beach, of a time when you two felt the magic. Put on some music. Smile, even if you have to take it. Recognize when you’re being too serious for your own good–and figure out how to get back to some of that joy and ease.
  • Ask for what you need. Ask him to rub your shoulders. Ask if he’d go for a five minute walk with you. Ask if he’d hold you when you’re feeling sad or vulnerable. Use your words and believe that you deserve all good things.
  • Whether you have someone in your life right now or not–make the time and space to nurture your own sensuality.  Figure out what that means to you, but bottom line is  to make time for you, make space for just you, give yourself permission to give yourself pleasure (I’ll leave that up for interpretation) whether that’s sexual in nature or involves a few minutes alone with a Dove chocolate bar while listening to Andre Bochelli serenade you in the laundry room.

How does nurturing your love life make you a better caregiver?

It fills up the well of your soul.

It gets us in touch with our physical and soul-full selves.

It infuses us for energy, joy, and even relaxation.

It reminds us we are indeed, still alive.

I hope you’ll be brave enough to enter into this conversation–with yourself first, with your partner, and I’d love it if you’d leave a comment!

It’s time we started talking about what we long for…and a warm, fun, play-filled, healing, tender or rompous (yes, I made up that word) love life is just the beginning…

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“Where was I? A caregiver friend of mine asks, standing in the middle of her life as if she has walked back into a room and forgot what she was doing in the first place. Life after (or between) caregiving can make you feel odd in your own skin. You’re not who you were, you don’t know what’s to come, what you’re good at now, or what interests you anymore.

Long term caregiving can feel as if you’ve held your breath so long you don’t know how to inhale and exhale like all the other folks on the planet.

My friend is coming up on the first anniversary of her dad’s passing. Fifteen years spent as a caregiver (primarily) and her hair is now strikingly white, she has a new husband, and for better or worse she’ll tell you she’s just not the same gal she was when she agreed to move in and care for her mom, then dad all those years ago.

Perhaps a better question is, “Where am I?”

Where was I doesn’t particularly matter. You’re however many years older. Your experiences, beliefs, and even issues have changed. And that’s okay. It has to be. It’s the nature of living–things change and so do we.

It’s not that things changed, most of us get that, it’s that aspects of our selves, our lives, were in stasis. We feel like we’ve been in cryogenic sleep and have no idea who won that last 20 World Series. Life has gone on without you. You have no idea what movies are in theatres, and whatever happened to DVD’s?

You may be thinking about going back to work, but what are you qualified to do–other than bring juice, fluff pillows, and argue with insurance companies?

Getting traction, momentum may take some time–and while you’re figuring this all out–grief sweeps in like giant waves crashing on top of you, buckling your knees, you come up sputtering with a mouthful of grit and a belly full of hurt.

Letting go of what was will eventually come. Let it. No, you’re not 35 any more, but 55 isn’t so bad. There are a few perks that come with aging, with living, with loving for so long. Letting go takes time. We don’t open our grip without some resistance.

In Finding Your Own North Star by life coach Martha Beck, she talks about being in quadrant one–when all we know dies, when our lives are reduced to rubble and we stand in the ruins, ashy, beat up, stunned, and the mantra is:

I don’t know what’s happening, and that’s okay.

It’s okay to not know what comes next.

It’s okay to have a decent hour when you’re not consumed with grief or anxiety followed by four crappy, baseball in the back of the knees–ones.

It’s okay not to have a plan.

It’s okay to bump into walls.

It’s okay to cry–not cry, scream–not scream.

That’s where you are.

And that’s okay.

My only suggestion is this:

Do what soothes you, follow any inkling of a curiosity, buy, borrow, visit anything or anyone that stirs something in you. These are the seeds of desire.

And our desires, however small or trivial doesn’t matter, are the thread thin roots of our new selves.

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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Boomers and caregiving: Pass the joy with a side of stress. Rita Wilson spoke on the Today Show this morning  about her bountiful life–a mother in her 90′s, teens at home, being a new grandmother, and writing a new column over at Huffington Post/Huff Post 50 about women 50 and over. Her days (like most boomer’s days) sound like there’s more people to love and care for than any super-hero boomer woman can manage.

Like a very full Lazy-Susan, no matter where we turn there’s someone who needs our care. Celebrities in the news are facing what you and I face–Maria Shriver lost both her parents recently (her dad to Alzheimer’s), not to mention man troubles. Having a circle of friends where you can be honest about the guilt, the resentment, the sorrow, the changes, the disappointments life brings, the feelings of never being able to do enough, give enough, care –that circle of friends can save our sanity  (and maybe keep us off death row–or provide an alibi!) and at times may be our only lifeline when all we thought we knew crumbles.

ABC Nightly News recently called me for a quote to be aired on a caregiving report on the “Most Stressed Woman in America.” I’m not surprised she was a middle-aged caregiver. That’s not a beauty pageant I want to win.

And just as we find ourselves we begin to lose another–our parents are aging and disease is rearing its horns. We barely get two seconds to ourselves before we have to step up and make some of the scariest decisions of our lives. Can my parent still drive, live alone, should I move them in with me, into a care facility, should I trust this doctor, there’s so much I don’t know, how do I manage their care when my heart is breaking? And eventually, how do I begin to say goodbye?

Questions of who am I now, and who will I be without you circle like crows.

Women over 50 are strong and resilient. They know how and when to let loose and have fun. They’re fierce, love their family and friends, juggle far more than a set of china plates. They’ve weathered divorce, head lice, runaway teens, breast cancer, hemorrhoids, death and lost car keys–the big and small tragedies that come and go.

Don ‘t underestimate a boomer caregiver. They’re diplomats, warriors, shamans and alchemists. They hear the tick, tick of the clock and it doesn’t scare them–it motivates them. They’ve got plenty of goals but as they age they get off the kick of having to be crazy-busy all the time–being clear about knowing what you want and no longer wanting it all makes for a good life. Health, family, friends, simple joys like holding hands, waking to your favorite coffee, and taking a walk in the woods–that’s what matters.

I’ve recently joined this tribe and their example of wisdom and moxie is a good road map to follow. As I let go of youth I reach and strong hands surround me. I’ve read it’s not what comes next that scares us–it’s the change–that in between time just before we let go and leap. Free fall. It helps to have my friends cheering me on–and holding the rope.

Boomers and caregiving may come in tandem, but so do boomers and friends.

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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Forget Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief. They’re merely a jumping off point. Grief isn’t linear. Grief is multi-layered and doubles back on itself. Grief is raw. For many, it’s the closest a person comes to unhinging–to a break with reality. Getting through grief isn’t easy and isn’t predictable. Getting through grief is different for each one of us, but the more we share, the more we reach out, the more we help each other.

Suicide. Murder. Car accidents. Cancer. A sudden heart attack…or the long and winding road of Alzheimer’s. Grief doesn’t start at the point our loved one breathes his or her last breath. Grief is about loss, and loss can start months or even years before death takes the ones we love.

Grief is biological. Animals grieve. Watch this YouTube video where an elephant herd has found the bones of their matriarch. They form a circle around the bones, pick up her bones and hold them in their trunk, feeling each crevice with their trunk. This collective sorrow is healing–and even elephants know they need to grieve.

And yet some of us don’t show grief.

We don’t cry at funerals.

We don’t sentimentalize those who have gone before us.

We show no emotions–does that mean we’re heartless?

Showing and feeling grief are two different things. Some of us don’t share our emotions with many others, but that doesn’t mean we don’t feel them.

Emotions don’t go away simply because we squash them down and cover them up–they ooze out the sides of our life. We overreact to a traffic jam. We drink too much. Sleep too little.

Others get lost in grief. The sorrow, regret, and sometimes guilt swarm around us and threaten to steal all joy and purpose. Years go by–and we’re stuck. We can’t move on. We have no desire to. It’s as if time has stopped and we got off and the train sped away leaving us back then–back there.

So how do you get through grief–how do you feel it when you need to and then allow it to pass–before it destroys your life?

No simple answer to that one. I won’t pretend to know.

Sometimes we have to force ourselves to get back into life. Join a group and make ourselves show up.

For some of us anti-depressants seem to help. For others, a therapist. We need to talk it out.

For others, we have to allow ourselves to wallow for a while–until we get sick of our own juices.

No one way.

How to be there for someone else who is grieving?

No “you should be better by now,” or ‘I’m worried about you.” That doesn’t help.

Be willing to sit quietly beside them. Show up at the same time each day, or each week.

Listen. Offer distractions. If you have to, get in their face and fight for them. If they reject you, keep coming back.

One of the most tender betrayals of grief and how very long it can take and how different it is for everyone–and that we have no right to judge someone else’s loss–is the movie, “Reign Over Me.” It’s about a man who lost his wife and children in the 9/11 tragedies. It’s one of the more honest conversations about grief–one that I think might help.

What those who are experiencing grief need is to believe in hope again–some small sliver of hope.

And you might just be the hope they’re looking for.

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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All of us worry about aging. Perhaps we should worry less–and learn from a pro. So, who’s the oldest person who ever lived?

The oldest woman (that can be documented) is Jeanne Louise Calment. She lived to the age of 122.

Born in Arles, France, February 21, 1875, and left this earth on August 4, 1997. Now, that’s impressive–but what’ more impressive is her mindset, her ability to embrace challenges and change. If anything is the key to longevity–with quality–it’s embracing challenges and changes with a measure of wit and grace.

What attributes do you need to live a long, healthy, and meaningful life? Living past 100 isn’t just about longevity–it’s about quality. Being a caregiver, I got to see “old age” close up. My mom lived to the age of 92 and it was only the last two years that were extremely difficult. ( My mom had Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and heart disease). There isn’t always rhyme or reason why one person makes it well past 100 with a sharp mind and a spry body while another person seems to hit one health problem after another.

Many centenarians have eaten what they wanted, smoked, drank (usually in moderation)–while someone else who tries to follow all the rules finds a not so pleasant diagnosis. Life isn’t fair. That’s a mantra we must embrace–and not in a negative way–but by choosing to love what is kind of way, and knowing the only thing we can change is our attitude.  Life’s a crap shoot, so let’s play some craps.

Highlights of Jeanne’s Louise Calment’s Amazing Life:

  •  Born the year Tolstoy published Anna Karennina
  • Born one year after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.
  • She met Vincent Van Gogh in Arles, her home town, when she was just 14. She wasn’t impressed.
  • In the end Calment was blind and almost deaf, but she kept her spunk and sharp wit to the end.
  • At age 121, she released her two CDs, one in French and another in English titled, Maitresse du Temps (Time’s Mistress). the CD features a rap and other songs. She wrote or contributed to five books.
  • Her husband died of a dessert tainted with spoiled cherries–she was a widow for more than half a century.
  • She outlived her only daughter who died of pneumonia at the age of 36. She raised her grandson who became a medical doctor and  lived him as well (he died in a car accident in 1963).
  • Calment took up fencing at the age of 80, and rode her bike until 100.
  • Calment enjoyed port wine and a diet rich in olive oil–and chocolate–two pounds a day.
  • At the age of 119 she finally agreed to give up sweets and smoking–because she could no longer see to light up.
  • Calment enjoyed a life of relative ease–from a bourgeois family, she always had enough money–not wealthy mind you, but enough.
  • She was active–and enjoyed tennis, bicycling, swimming, roller skating, piano and even opera. In her later years she sold some of her real estate and lived comfortably in a nursing home in Arles until her passing. She was affectionately known in France as “Jeanne D’Arles.”

Calment’s attitude and longevity s attributed to her decision not to worry: “She never did anything special to stay in good health,” said French researcher Jean-Marie Robine.  She once said “ If  you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.”
Calment recommended laughter as a recipe for longevity and jokes that “God must have forgotten about me.” ( L’Oubliee de Dieu?) as her reason for her long life.

For skin care, she recommended olive oil and a dab of make-up.  “All my life I’ve put olive oil on my skin and then just a puff of powder.  I could never wear mascara, I cried too often when I laughed.”

Calment’s Quotes:

“I’ve waited 110 years to be famous, I count on taking advantage of it,” she quipped at her 120th birthday party.

Also on her 120th  birthday, when asked what kind of  future did she expect, she replied “A very short one.”

Getting used to growing media attention with every year that passes, she quips:  “I wait for death… and journalists.”

“When you’re 117, you see if you remember everything!”   She rebuked an interviewer once.

On her 120th birthday, a man in town said, “Until next year, perhaps.”

“I don’t see why not,” she replied. ” You don’t look so bad to me.”

Clement’s Best Quote:

“I’ve never had but one wrinkle, and I’m sitting on it.”

I don’t know about you, but aging like this doesn’t sound too bad. It sounds like a good life.

Enjoy life, learn to let go–even of those you love, crack a good joke, eat what you love, and don’t worry about the rest.

***

Mothering Mother is now available as an e-book! (click here to order for your Kindle)

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Want to know what caregiving is like?

It’s like running a marathon…with a bear chasing you.

You’ve got to pace yourself because it’s a long haul.

You can’t stop because you might get eaten alive.

Whether your mom or dad or spouse has early onset Alzheimer’s, ALS, Parkinson’s or COPD, sometimes caregiving can last decades. How do you do it? Where do you get the inner resolve? I hope you’ll leave a comment and share.

There’s another group of caregivers who know a thing or two about marathon caregiving. Nothing more sobering or inspiring than to meet a caregiver of a disabled person. Not all disabled people need caregiving, per say, but those who do know that at some point it has to turn into a symbiotic relationship–you have to need each other–it’s a two-way street.

Take Team Hoyt. If you want to be inspired learn a little about Rick Hoyt and his father Dick. Rick was born with cerebral palsy. What I know about this horrible disease is that once you look past it, you find some pretty darn amazing people. Rick wants to feel the wind on his face. His dad figured out how.

Together, they run marathons and triathalons. They are serious–no “give me a break cause my son’s disabled” –not for them. They are hard-core and do it together. Dad pushes son. Son is 100% committed. The two of them find their zen-zone and they definitely get some wind in the soul as well as wind on the face.

Take Amanda, she’s a gal in my writer’s group. She had a cerebral hemorrhage three years ago. Amanda uses a wheelchair and is paralyzed except for partial use of one hand. She had to learn how to talk again and struggles with her eyesight, but don’t feel sorry for her. She’s smart, has great come-back lines, and is more determined to be independent than a room full of three-year olds. 

She loves to write. She types nine words a minute. She think about every word she wants to write. Each month she brings her manuscript to be read. She has a goal to complete her memoir by 2015. I don’t doubt it a bit. Her tenacity inspires me. She lives in her own apartment and while she needs some assistance from her mom and others, she certainly doesn’t dwell on it.

If you’re caregiving for someone who’s going to be around for awhile (and that’s a good thing), then you gotta learn to pace yourself. Here’s what Amanda shared with me:

  • Look for things they can still do for themselves. Let them–even if it takes ten times as long.
  • Don’t coddle them. It’s insulting.
  • Don’t leave them out or think they don’t care about other people’s problems, however small.
  • Imagine–and plan your life with them. Don’t wait until “they pass” to have a life–get busy now.
  • Get lots of help. You can’t do it all and they get tired of seeing the same ole’ face.
  • Encourage them to make friends–and you do the same.
  • Watch your back. If you spend years helping/assisting/lifting someone, you better learn to do it where you don’t hurt yourself.
  • Be wiling to speak your mind. You can’t care for someone for years and not have a few “issues”  crop up. So get them off your chest and move on.

Amanda’s advice gave me a lot to think about. Seeing it from her perspective was refreshing and reminded me not to hover and to think differently if caregiving is going to be a part of my life for years to come.

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Like many adult children and sandwich geneartion-ers whose parents don’t want to leave their home, I had to practically force my mom to sell and move in with me. It’s not that I wanted to evict my mother from her own home, it’s because I knew that she was no longer safe. Caregivers everywhere face this difficult decision–but it also means we have to deal with all the stuff–when history collides with clutter.

My mom had Parkinson’s and heart disease–and I was starting to question whether she had some form of dementia. I worried about her falling, her not eating, forgetting to take her meds, getting locked out of the house…and as my mom’s only child and primary caregiver, I knew I had created a community of support and relied on extended family, friends, church members and community resources all that we could.

It was no longer enough. My mom needed continuity, and I was the only one who was willing and able to step up.

My mom agreed–at first. But the day we were to sign the papers and sell her home, she had a panic attack. She thought it was a heart attack and we rushed to the hospital. I had my doubts, but knew we should get it checked out. Then her avoidance tactics escalated. She wanted to back out of the deal. I had to be the strong one. I called the real estate office, arranged for the Durable Power of Attorney papers to be delivered to the hosptial, and signed the papers in the waiting room.

They gave us three days to finish moving out. I pulled up to my mother’s house–the place I had lived from age 12-18–and began the arduous job of packing and sorting. I was alone–me and thousand memories.

Part of me knew this was the beginning of the end. My dad had passed a decade before. My mom was 89 and I knew at best, we had a few years left–and her health issues would only escalate in time.

It’s tough–to deal with saved/recycled aluminum foil and a two dozen pie pans as well as treasured family photos, important documents, and childhood toys. Part of me was angry for being saddled with such a monumental job–why hadn’t she dealt with all this crap before now? But then I thought of my own house and my own stuff–guess I’d better get busy.

Every room, a memory. Every room, a million decisions.

I grieved and bungled my way through the next three days vascillating between overwhelming exhaustion and tender recollections. It felt good to be alone, to feel everything, no matter how hard it was.

I gave myself permission to make mistakes–to keep too much–to throw away the wrong thing.

Who could get this right?

Finally, the house was clear–the movers would come the next day–and mounds of trash sat at the end of the driveway.

I walked the land. I remembered the school bus dropping me off each day and my cat, Charlie, greeting me, the daffodils that popped up every February around the giant oak tree–bright yellow against the bleak sky. I followed the trail down to Daddy’s garage, picked up a stone and placed it in my pocket.

I took photograps and said goodbye to every tree. I saw myself at 14 on the roof sunbathing, walking to the car with a nosegay on my wrist on my way to prom and later kissing my date goodnight under the porch light.  I saw Daddy, could hear the high-pitched squeal of power tools, smell the sweetness of sawdust, and see my own toddlers looking for Easter eggs in the backyard. This house held me, nurtured me, gave me a place to grow up, and now gives me a place to remember.

I sat in my car knowing I’d never be able to come back–driving by just isn’t the same. What would come with my mom–caring for her in my final years–was not something to I could face–not yet.

It was all I could do to turn the key and back away.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available in hardback or on Kindle

www.caroldodell.com

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Caregivers are often told to take care of themselves, and sometimes this advice is a little annoying.

Exactly how am I supposed to take care of me? Not give my mom her pills in the morning? Go to the gym instead?  Not take her to physical therapy? Not help my kids with their homework or fix dinner? Just soak in the bathtub all day? Right…

Yes, the stress builds and you can’t sleep, you’ve gained 40 pounds and you’re pretty sure you’re depressed but you don’t care to go to the trouble it would take to find out. Self care sounds like a fairy tale most days, but don’t think that the self-help movement is some new-age 70s feel good way of thinking. It’s not. In fact, it’s as old as Socrates…

One of my favorite books is Eye Witness to History, edited by John Carey. It’s first hand accounts recorded throughout history, and as a memoirist and writer, I love having a front row seat to the most stunning and scary historical moments man has ever witnessed.

The first account is written by Plato and recounts the death of Socrates. The year was 399 B.C., and for those of you (us) who might be a bit fuzzy about Greek history, Socrates was a philosopher and teacher, (and he’s still widely debated today–both as an individual and for his teachings). He got in a bit of trouble with the Atenian government and was considered a “gadfly”  (a fly who stings the horse into action). He wound up in prison and was proved guilty of corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens (political minds, that is) and was  ordered to drink a deadly mix of hemlock poison, which killed him.

On the last day of Socrates life, his friends, including Plato came to visit him and asked,  “Do you wish to leave any directions with us about your children, or anything else. What can we do to serve you?” 

Socrates replied: “Nothing new. If you take care of yourselves , you will serve me and mine and yourselves.” 

So this idea of caring for yourself first is the best way to care for another isn’t new. It just makes sense and that’s why it’s been around for so long. When we “sacrifice” ourselves for too long, we lose ourselves, we deplete who we are. Sometimes it’s needed–giving all you have–but it isn’t a sustainable long-term model.

During the last couple of years of my mom’s life (she had Parkinson’s, heart disease and Alzheimer’s), I can tell you, there wasn’t a whole lot of self-care going on. I had to pull it out–long hours, lifting my mom, hospital stay after hospital stay. I rested when I could–napped in the middle of the day–or any other time for that matter, took long showers. when my family members could take over “mom duty.”

I simplified my life–letting go of work, friends, saying goodbye to many activities–but I held onto a few lifelines. I journaled every day. Not a lot, but when the tears or screams built inside, I’d anchor them onto a page. I slipped  outside to pray and think, allowing nature to nurture me. I returned to take a college class one night a week–up until the last six months of my mom’s life. I got a new puppy to bring us all joy and laughter and remind us that life does indeed go on. Other aspects of my life were put on hold. That’s just part of it–for a season.

Self-care isn’t always a bubble bath and candles. It isn’t impractical nor is it selfish. The only way for a caregiver to do it is to incorporate small amounts of self-care throughout the day. Read a line or two of a poem. Buy your favorite coffee and refuse to get up off that couch and take care of anyone until you drink that first cup. Put a lock on your bedroom door and use it. Take short five-minute walks in your yard. That may be all the self-care you get to, but those few snatched moments here and there add up.  You’ll find a sense of calm comes over you when you’ve honored your own soul.

Take care of you and yours and you will serve me well. Good advice. No wonder Socrates is still remembered today.

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It’s not what you think. Caregivers don’t dread the work, giving up aspects of their lives, or even the inevitable moment of death that’s to come.

I recently spoke at a caregiving event (sponsored by my friends at Community Hospice of North Florida) and I asked caregivers what they feared…and a quiet, thoughtful gentleman shared:

“I fear that something will happen to me and I won’t be able to continue to care for my wife.”

That’s one of the biggest fears–that our loved ones won’t be cared for.

I’m sure it’s different for each person, but there are a few fears that most caregivers have in common.

What’s your biggest caregiving fear?

By asking yourself this question, you can then face it and then begin to explore solutions.

I knew the second this gentleman said it, that it’s a big fear, especially for those caring for spouses. 

And yet, most caregivers don’t take proper care of themselves. They put off their own doctor appointments, forget their own medications, and go dangerously  low on sleep and rest. Most caregivers are generous, kind-hearted, and conscientious–with others, but forget to give themselves the same respect and attention.

Spouses worry about their ability to care for their husband or wife more than any other group. They’re typically close to the same age, which means they probably have health issues of their own. They want to keep their partner at home, with them, and make sure that every need, every inkling of a desire is met–but they can’t if they’re not here.

Adult children, sons, daughters, and other family caregivers fear burning out, giving up, or the onset of some disability/illness that will cause them to be unable to stand up to the unrelenting workload and emotional load that comes with caring for others.

Caregiver stress is a real problem in the care community and that concern takes on a physical manifestation in the form of heart disease, cancer, depression, or arthritis.

Caregiver Fears:

  • What if I die before my loved one? Who will care for them?
  • What if my back goes out?
  • What if I have a stroke or my cancer comes back?
  • What if I can no longer lift or move my loved one?
  • What if I lose my temperand do something I’ll regret? 
  • What if my depression gets worse?  
  •  What if I start forgetting important things like medication or if I left the stove on? 

The bad thing about fear is that it’s paralyzing.

We don’t run or yell or scream like we should (Ever watch a horror movie? The girl just cowers in fear). That’s our first reaction, but then we need to realize we’re in the grips of fear and make a plan–face the fear and decide our course of action.

My gentleman was still reeling from admitting his deepest fear, so it was important to give him the time and space to process his revelation. I asked him, and other audience members if they had a plan–a back up plan, and then I led him to some community resources who could help him figure out what would be “Plan B.”

Ask yourself: What can I do to give myself a sense of peace that my loved one will continue to be cared for?

Do you need to change your will? Ask someone to be his/her guardian and care advocate? Check into care facilities or purchase long-term care insurance? There are no easy answers, but doing something is better than doing nothing. Start small. Make a call. Ask someone.

My gentleman friend needed to know he had choices–agencies such as the Council on Aging, Urban Jax (in our area) and the Alzheimer’s Association who could help now, offer respite, home health care assitance–and later, he needed to consider small care home, memory disorder care home nearby (his wife had Alzeimer’s), information on Medicare.

By the end of the day, he said he felt better. He needed to face it, to say it out loud. He went home with the beginnings of a plan.

We tend to fear the unknown, and in the “caregiving world,” there are lots of unknowns. We turn our fears into monsters and we hide, deny, and ignore in order not to look at them. Their shadows loom above us, but when we turn on the light, admit our deepest fears and take a look around, we realize  we’re not alone.

The best way to defeat a monster is with the help of a few friends.

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In the U.S. today, more people are addicted to prescription meds than those who abuse heroin, meth, and cocaine–combined. It usually starts as a result of surgery, an accident, or a chronic pain condition that has become unbearable over time. The sad part is that it turns good people into mush. They lose their closest relationships, their homes, their children, their livelihood–all for a pill. For many, it’s also a part of their caregiving journey.

As a caregiver, it’s easy to fall into this trap. After all, you’re home all day–many times isolated–and you have access to lots of medications. You might be a tad depressed, your back hurts, you’re exhausted–and if you could just sleep, just not be in pain for a few hours…

Or your loved one finds themselves reaching too many times a day for something to alleviate the pain and loneliness, –maybe it’s your spouse or parent or child who is struggling with a prescription med addiction. It might start in college–the new craze is to take Ritalin or other drugs to help you study harder and longer and be extra alert during tests. It might be with a spouse who had back surgery and the pills “helped,” but now they have a hard time letting them go.

Oprah and Dr. Ozdid a special on this topic, and the people they interviewed were heartbreaking examples of how common this problem really is–people you wouldn’t expect. “Whether it’s Xanax, Vicodin, Valium or Percocet, Dr. Oz says more than 50 million Americans have admitted to trying prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons.”
 

Women, young women with children, older people, teens–all walks of life face this problem. As we well know, Betty Ford, President Gerald Ford’s wife struggled with this very problem and then opened the Betty Ford Clinic to help others battle addictions.

I watched this happen to an acquaintance. She was a young mother with three boys and a husband who traveled for his work. Rumors and concerns swarmed around her, and friends tried to intervene. She finally hit bottom and had to have a liver transplant. If anyone knows about organ transplants, then they know that it plunges you into a world of doctors, medicine, and a life-time of pills. I heard that sadly, she passed away about 5 years after her liver transplant. She had gone bad to abusing prescription drugs. Her boys no longer have their mother. Hers is ultimate warning: addictions can become so big and so consuming that it can literally consume your life.

Is Prescription Drug Abuse Common Among the Elderly? Yes.

According to DrugAbuse.gov, “Persons 65 years of age and above comprise only 13 percent of the population, yet account for approximately one-third of all medications prescribed in the United States. Older patients are more likely to be prescribed long-term and multiple prescriptions, which could lead to unintentional misuse.

How to Prevent or Cope With Prescription Meds Addiction:

  • Before you start to have a problem: get rid of the pain pills. If your surgery is long past, don’t leave them in your medicine cabinet. Toss them. Even if you think you would never be tempted, remove the temptation–for you and your family members.
  • Be a vigilant counter. Make sure you know how many pills your loved one needs, and be sure they stick to it. If you only have one prescription of pain pills and you count them out, then it’s easy to keep track and know if pills are missing.
  • If you’re not the only one picking up prescriptions, then be aware that many people who are addicted use multiple doctors and multiple pharmacies. Check the bottles, check the dates, check the doctors.
  • If you suspect a problem, then start paying attention. Check their purses, backpacks, bathroom cabinets, cars, and other hiding places. This is serious, you need to know what’s going on.
  • If you find a problem, start attending Al-Anon. As the support person, you need support and education. You need to create a game plan, and you need to know you’re not alone.
  • Know that this won’t’ be easy, especially if your loved one has a condition that really does include pain. Be willing to give them “tough love.” This could cost them their life, and I’d rather my spouse, child, or parent hate me than for them to die.
  • If your loved one is old-er, they may be obstinate (that of course, can come at any age) and they may refuse to attend Nar-Anon meetings (for those who abuse narcotics) but visit their website, become educated, and don’t give up.
  • Notify their doctors that prescription drugs are a problem, but realize that if they’re truly addicted, you may see agitated, even violent behavior as well as shakes, nausea, sleeplessness, and all kinds of antics.
  • Look at your own behavior: how have you contributed to this situation? Be honest with yourself. Don’t look at it as blame, treat yourself with the same compassion as you would your best friend. You were tired, you looked the other way, you made excuses, you needed to keep the peace. You can’t move forward until you admit there’s a problem, and that you’re somehow a part of this whole picture–but know that you’re also a part of the solution. Until you acknowledge the situation, it doesn’t have a chance to change.

You can’t control or “fix” anybody else. You’re only 100% responsible for you. Caregiving comes with many challenges, and the abuse of prescription drugs is a huge problem we have to start talking about. Don’t isolate yourself, make excuses, or feel you’re all alone. You’re not. There are others who have struggled with addictions, with being a family member of those addicted, and their insights and their example can help.

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