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Archive for the ‘perfectionist’ Category

Life lessons are everywhere, and I was recently reminded of what it’s like to be a caregiver by my two dogs–Kismet and Rupert. Kizzy (short for Kismet) is an Alaskan Malamute and her son, Rupert who is part lab. (She had a tryst in the front yard before we could stop her). Miracle was, she only had one puppy–so we had to keep him. Miracle number two was that Rupert was born the very week of the anniversary of my mom’s passing.

Recently, I was sitting outside with the two of them, their leashes attached to my lawn chair (they love to romp the neighborhood if set loose), only Kizzy wanted to go inside. It was a cool, there was a breeze, she had a water fountain next to her to drink out of, I was there to pet her and we had a beautiful lake and birds galore to enjoy–but no–she would have none of that. She wanted inside.

Kizzy strained and strained. Whined. Wouldn’t sit down and relax and enjoy being petted or play ball–nothing. Rupert, on the other hand is less stubborn, more easy going by nature, and so he  was sprawled out beside me just as comfortable as he could be.

Both dogs were in the same place, under the same circumstances.

One was miserable. One was content. It was simply an attitude on both of their parts.

As I sat there, I thought of how some caregivers–or care receivers don’t want to be where life has brought them. Whether it’s pleasant or unpleasant isn’t even the point. They simply don’t want to be there. Period. They strain. Whine. Refuse to become a part of their environment and just enjoy the ride.

Others bloom where they’re planted. They adjust, adapt, make new friends, look around,  and figure hey, if they’re going to be there they might as well make the most of it.

Attitude.

I’m not saying that caregiving isn’t hard. Lord knows I know how hard it is. My mom had Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,and in those last three years, I was Kizzy straining on the end of my very short leash.

I know now that I was scared. I was afraid my mother or that caregiving would consume me. I was afraid that if I was okay with it, that I’d never get to leave–or quit. I was afraid I’d never have a moment  to myself. I was afraid I was losing my indepence. Afraid. Afraid. Afraid.

Kismet, by the way, means fate.

I know that at times, I made it harder than it needed to be by not asking for and accepting more help, by realizing what a gift caregiving was (ironic gift), and by not seeing the beauty of where I was in my life. I missed certain opportunities by resisting so hard.  

If you’re miserable, edgy, antsy and irratated, ask yourself why?

At first, it’ll seem obvious–you’re exhausted, frustrated, sleep deprived, and perhaps dealing with a fussy loved one or facing death.

Ask yourself again–why are you miserable?

Keep asking until you get at the heart of the matter.

Ask yourself until you run out of excuses.

Why are you where you are?

Because it’s exactly where you need to be.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated Blog at www.OpentoHope.com

www.Kunati.com, Publishers

 

 

 

 

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Do you need to be needed?

Carl Jung called it, “The Wounded Healer.”

Caregivers, whether they come by it willingly or are drug into their caregivingroles, become accustomed to being needed. It’s comforting  and satisfying to know that you have a purpose.

But what do you mean when you say, “wounded healer?”  Is that a bad thing?

Wounded healer is an archetypal personality type that psychologist Carl Jung used to describe the relationship between analyst and patient–why a person might go into the psychology/counseling field.

No, it’s not a bad thing. I’m not sure there would be firemen, doctors, nurses, pastors, or teachers if there life experiences hadn’t given them a reason to step into these professions–to give back or make a difference.

I know good and well I wrote Mothering Mother out of a sense of need. I needed insight and direction. I needed to know how to step into this new role as a daughter who cares for her mother. I needed to examine aspects of the soul, my beliefs, and the ramifications on my relationships.

What would caregiving do to me?

I couldn’t find the answer, so I had to write my way through.

Jung had some theories as to why people choose “needing” professions:

  • The wounded healing is consciously aware of his own personal wounds and can be empathetic toward the person in need. 
  • The care receiver/patient also possesses an “inner healer” he is unaware of, but it’s there to help guide him and lead him to wholeness. 
  • The care giver–and care receiver (wounded healer and patient) are a good fit for each other. They need each other, in many ways.
  • They intersect at that point of need and each derives something from their relationship or experience. 

Jung also noted that you have to be careful and make sure that this type of agreement or relationship remains a healthy exchange for both people. He referred tho this as depth psychology and cautioned that the caregiver could potentially have his old wounds reopened, or get caught in a vicious cycle. He also cautioned against the ego taking over and the caregiver getting hooked on the power or the needing and falling into an an inflated ego.

For most caregivers, I fear that you’ll wind up creating more and more “needing” scenarios and begin to only feel like yourself when someone is in need or crisis mode.

It’s a big let down after your loved ones passes or goes into a care facility. You feel useless. You thought you longed for freedom but you feel lost. Your days were defined for you and now…what do you do with yourself? Who are you if not someone who cares for others?

You like that you’re good at something. You’re proud of the fact that you’re a good organizer, that you can spout off medical jargon, that you’re the one everyone comes to for a diagnosis. You actually own your own copy of Grey’s Anatomy, and I don’t mean the DVD collection of McDreamy and McSteamy.

Jung derives the term “wounded healer” from the ancient Greek legend of Asclepius, a physician who in built a sanctuary at Epidaurus in order to treat others. Spiritual writer Henri Nouwen also wrote a book with the same title. The Greek Myth of Chiron is also used to illustrate the archetype of the Wounded Healer so this whole deal about being needed and what it does to you isn’t new.

Realize that you might have codependency tendencies.

What is codependency?

NIMH, the National Institute of Mental Health defines it as: “Co-dependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.”

Oh, that’s not me. I’m not that bad. I’m not aiding an alcoholic or hiding an abuser.

Neither was I, but I did see aspects of control issues and “only I can make her happy” in my caregiving and even parenting years. A little of this stuff is toxic.

One book that changed millions of lives was Melodie Beattie’s Codependent No More. It brought this subject out of the counselor’s office and allowed lay people to analyze their behavior and seek help.

So how do you care give without taking it too far?

  • Be aware. Realize when you’ve tied your super-caregiver cape on, when you’re deriving more power or satisfaction out of your role than you probably should have–when you push others away or start to feel oddly territorial. Awareness is key.
  • Stop being so nice! Niceness is an illness. Do what’s right, not necessarily what’s nice.
  • Trust that what is right for you is right for those you love.
  • There is a time to extend yourself for others, but make sure there’s a cut off date.
  • If you are going to have to care giver for a long time, then make a plan so that your whole life and health and relationships aren’t derailed indefinitely.
  • Give up perfectionism. Allow others to help. Ask, demand help–and then accept it. If it’s difficult, then let one thing go at a time. Let one job be done by someone else for awhile–and go from there.
  • Ask a friend to be honest and let you know when you’re in “need to be needed mode.”
  • Laugh at yourself when you “do it again.” Don’t use this as another thing to feel guilty about. Break it down into manageable chunks.

It comes with the territory, but it’s not all bad news.

Recent studies on happiness says that people derive more joy out of being needed and having purpose than they do out of having money. Happiness seems to be based on treasured experiences, spirituality, a sense of family, and meaningful work. It’s also lowest during mid-life when you thought if you worked hard enough, made enough money, and raised decent kids, you’d be happy–suddenly you realize that while maybe you got some of that, much of life is beyond your control. You have to dig deeper, look beyond life’s trappings to find a deeper sense of joy.

So see? If you just don’t go crazy with this needing thing, it could actually be good for you. Caregiving certainly has aspects of experiences, purpose, family, and spirituality.

Balance, grasshopper. Balance.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Check out my book on Amazon: Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

www.mothering-mother.com

Syndicated blog at www.hopethrives.org

Family advisor at www.Caring.com

 

 

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There’s a new kind of caregiver out there.

She (or he) is a savvy caregiver, isn’t a martyr, and doesn’t look defeated (all the time).

She (I use the feminine pronoun to apply to everyone) has her act together (in some respects) and isn’t going to let her life and her plans be completely derailed–and yet she loves her family, her elders, her children, and embraces the fact that she’s an integral part of their life.

How does she do it all?

It’s not about being perfect.

In part, it’s about being prepared, looking at the big picture, and then breaking down the day-to-day components into manageable bites.

It’s also about choosing to care-give.

This isn’t a passive thing–and yes, it may have come to you sideways, unexpected or by default, but you didn’t have to say yes. Everyday people place their family members in care facilities, sometimes out of necessity and sometimes by refusing to give them any level of care.

Realize that you are choosing to care-give. That sense of choice also provides you with purpose and direction. It means you’re not a victim.

Preparedness (Boy Scouts, move over) and How to Care-give Not to Kill Yourself

  • She’s (the healthy caregiver) gathered the necessary info and has it at her fingertips–Living Wills (The Five Wishes is the one I highly suggest) DNR orders, if necessary, insurance info and numbers, notes made about recent doctor appts. or hospitalizations, and medicine info.
  • She uses her calendar and to-do lists efficiently, but she’s not a robot. Some days you chuck it all and love on the person who needs it the most (that may be yourself).
  • She has her down days, her pajama days, and she knows that balance isn’t about doing a little every day–sometimes there are seasons–seasons of quiet, seasons of chaos, and seasons of grief.
  • She’s learned not to let every little thing rial her. She’s experienced enough in life to know what’s worth freaking out about (which is very little) and what isn’t (which is most everything else).
  • She listens, repeats back what is said (to a loved one or to a doctor) so that she understands clearly. She takes notes if it’s important or could be necessary later.
  • She can shut it all off and be a woman, get a mani-pedi, be silly and play Prince in the car and sing to the top of her lungs. She doesn’t get sucked into being an elder or being a teen just because she happens to spend a lot of time with either (or both).
  • She prioritizes. Sometimes a home-cooked meal is soothing and rattles her nerves. Sometimes it’s pizza night. She laid down the “shoulda’s, woulda’s, and coulda’s.”
  • She has a great support team–friends to call and gripe to, a gynecologist or family doctor who’s looking out for her, knows the stress she’s under and can monitor her well-being. She relies on her faith, her heart, her circle of support and doesn’t try to go it alone. She considers herself a part of a team and shows a heart of gratitude.
  • She asks for and accepts help. She isn’t interested in being super woman or perfectionist woman. She’s willing to get help and seeks out competent care.
  • She knows she’s vulnerable to stress, so she’s devised a meditation time and exercise time she can manage–it may be only a few minutes a day, but it keeps her sane.  She’s found her own spirituality.
  • She continues to improve her own life–she takes an on line class, a yoga class, is learning how to knit–something that keeps her mind active and learning.
  • She utilizes the internet, finds help, information, and forums that help support her and her caregiving experience.
  • She can see past tomorrow–she knows that caregiving isn’t forever–and she has her own personal plan to move on with her life.
  • She gives herself permission to “lose it” every once in a while–sometimes things just go in the crapper and that isn’t a reflection of her, it’s just life. If she bites someone’s head off, forgets an appointment, bounces a check, she admits her faux pas and lets it go.
  • She values her marriage/intimate relationship and allows sex and intimacy to heal her. Even when she’s exhausted, she finds and asks for ways to connect.
  • She enjoys caregiving–even with all its craziness, caring for a loved one is a privilege. She finds ways to incorporate everyday pleasures to share with her care partner–bird watching from a bedroom window, stopping for ice cream on the way back from the doctor.
  • She takes the time to hold hands.
  • She’s strong enough to make the touch choices, to not be popular, to figure out how to get a doctor, care staff to understand where she’s coming from–and she’s brave enough to know that when death comes, she may be asked to make critical end-of-life decisions, decisions others may disagree with.
  • She’s not afraid of Alzheimer’s or Parkinsons and doesn’t give up in the cruel face of whatever disease her loved ones face. If they forget who she is, she’ll remember for them. If they become uncontrollable, she gets help and doesn’t take it personal.
  • She knows that she may not always be able to do this–and she’s explored other options. She isn’t going to wreck her health or her marriage. She’s planning for those changes now.
  • She knows that caregiving will take her to the bitter edge, and she’s got to figure out how regain the parts of her that get lost in the mix. She knows how hard this is, or will become, but there’s a thread that’s pulling her along, a thread will lead her out and will allow her to continue her journey once caregiving is over.

The new kind of caregiver isn’t a super-mom or super-daughter (or super-son).

They’re real people loving their families. It’s realistic. It’s not martyristic.

The world may not understand the “sacrifices” as some might call them that caregivers (plain ole’ family) makes, but those who have been there understand the love and loyalty that comes in tow.

You don’t do all these things at once, so don’t try to measure up.

You don’t do them to impress anybody.

This is survival. This is how to care-give and not kill yourself in the process.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com

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This June, my mother will celebrate her sixth anniversary “on the other side.”

I can hardly believe it’s been that long. I spent the first year in grief and rebuilding my life.

That’s normal, and you can’t rush it or fix it. It was more like two years, and that’s also “normal.”

That’s how long it takes to assimilate a death, process your emotions, and begin to incorporate your loved one into your being. Of course, averages are just numbers and each person’s process if different, but you really shouldn’t expect much from yourself during those first two years–at least that long. 

For me, that time was a mix of guilt, regret, longing, lostness, mania, and vacillating between lethargy and intensity. To the outside world, I might not have looked like I skipped a beat, but what choice did I have?

I was a sand-gener–I had daughters to finish raising, to get into college. I returned to college myself, lost 30 pounds, stayed married, wrote my book, wrote short stories, essays and articles–I looked busy. I was busy. But there was a whole lot going on under the surface.

But only in retrospect can we see the bigger picture.

Now, I can look back and see where I’ve been and what I’ve learned.

It’s a laundry list and I can’t say when I learned what.

There’s no order, only this is what I know–about caregiving, life, death, mothers, daughters, families, faith, and surviving.

What I Learned:

  • I’m glad I didn’t know what was ahead–if I did, I would have never gone on this journey. 
  • Believe that caregiving has come into your life to heal you, show you things about yourself, give you a chance to work on old issues–and that in the end, you’ll emerge a better person.  
  • To accept myself and my mother and our relationship “as is.” It’s okay not to try and fix things.
  • Forgiveness are like small pebbles you pick up along the way–nothing big and monumental–just a gathering of what I choose to keep–and what I leave behind.
  • Doctors and nurses aren’t gods and I don’t have to do everything they say. I can speak up, ask for somehting different. I know my loved one much better than they do–and I have to make–and live with my decisions.
  • For the most part, going into the hospital in those last few years only made things worse. It wore me out, and there is a time to just accept that your loved one’s health is falling apart and let it.
  • Live with the chaos, the dishes, the laundry–sleep whenever I can–there are times to just get by.
  • Stop worrying about what my relatives or our neighbors think. Unless you’ve been a caregiver, youy can’t fathom what this is like.
  • To ask for more and more and more help. I tried to do too much alone and on my own.
  • Trust that I will bounce back from caregiving. Don’t drive my health to the absolute bitter edge (just almost), but then reclaim my health, my life, and my sanity and move on.
  • Guilt and resentment take up too much time and energy–stop giving my power away by mulling on things I can’t change.
  • You might not want to piss off all your doctors and nurses because you might eventually need them–so be savvy about how you deal with them.
  • If you’re forced choosing between your health, your marriage, your sanity, your children–and your elder–then choose your life to put first. Not theirs. As cold as that sounds, life moves forward. This doesn’t mean you ditch them on the side of the road, but in your mind and heart, put your life first.
  • Don’t just tolerate things you can’t stand. Stop being passive agressive and complaining about it later. Do something about it. Pitch a fit. Tell off your sibling. Fire a home health aide. Scream for help. Be a bitch. It probably isn’t the first time–nor will it be your last. You get what you tolerate, so stop tolerating so much. (I’m talking to myself, here)
  • No matter how religious a person may have been in their life, it doesn’t mean they aren’t fearful of death. Fear, or lack of, has more to do with a person’s psychological make up, and a way they’ve practiced seeing and responding to life–and this will determine how they handle death.
  • Realize that those last few years, months, or weeks may be more about semantics–that their spirit has already left this earth and the shell, their body, just hasn’t left yet. Be okay with taking care of that shell–but don’t make it hard, and don’t over think.
  • Understand that anger is sometimes a useful emotion–it’s a way we protect ourselves, but there’s also a time to lay anger down.
  • Laugh whenver you can–at whatever you can. Be irreverent, be snarky, other than downright cruelty, laughter is so good for you that you need to see the humor and crazyness of your situation.
  • For the most part, go with your gut. Do what feels most natural, particularly after your loved one passes and you’re grieving. Sleep, eat, cry, run a marathon, join thepeace corp–whatever is driving you, let it drive you–it’s part of your journey, and other than truly dangerous behavoir, you can’t screw up, so go for it.
  • You feel really lost after losing your mother. You wonder who you are without them to help define you. Later, you might even feel free-er, less confined.
  • Missing someone hurts, but sometimes it’s good to hurt.
  • It may take a few years, but eventually, let go of the exhaustion, resentment, guilt, and begin to enjoy your new relationship with your loved one. People “on the other side” still teach us, guide us, speak to us–and realize that they are now a part of who you are. You carry them with you.
  • Understand that you may have to care give again–a spouse, another parent, a sibling, who knows? Begin to think–how would you do it different?

Here I am, almost to June. Six years ago I was at my mother’s bedside.

It was grueling, and the weeks were dribbling by.

It rained every day, and my mother was in a coma. It felt like she’d never die. That may sound cruel, but I was beyond all human niceties. It also felt like I’d never live. Practically speaking, I knew I couldn’t fix Alzheimer’s. I knew her living would keep her in a place of perpetual lostness, and I didn’t want that for either of us.

I hated everybody–hospice, me, my mother–and then I let go and just allowed.

The barometric pressure felt off the chart. ‘

Death had to come, but when? Mother had quit eating and drinking, and I let her. That was an excruciating decision, but I chose to let her leave this world. I chose not to intebate her, to do a feeding tube. I knew that this decision would be one I would have to bear alone. I would have to sit there, every minute and see the ramifications of my choice. I did, and as hard as it was, as many times as I wanted to panic, jump up, run out, beg for intervention, I didn’t. I stayed firm.

My world grew calm, my movements quiet. We waited.

And here I am–six years forward. Blogging. I had no idea I would wind up blogging every day. I doubt I even knew what a blog was at the time.

My book, Mothering Mother has been out a year. I’ve talked to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of caregivers. I’ve been featured on CNN and other tv and radio programs. I’ve written a novel about Vincent Van Gogh, and finished my prequel, Said Child. I graduated from Jacksonville University and danced at my daughter’s wedding, and buried our beagle. Life is full. It swells and ebbs.

What I’ve learned is to accept each day, the power of now. Each season. To be alive with what is given to me at the time. To realize I’m not so much in control as I am in the flow. I am a part of what is happening, not orchestrating it.

Caregiving gave my life a deeper meaning. It revealed things about me, how I think, how I handle life–things I’m proud of and things I’d like to address.

One thing for sure, caregiving changes you in ways you can’t imagine.  

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated Blog at www.OpentoHope.com

Publisher: www.kunati.com

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We always think that happiness is “out there.”

When I get a new job, when I take vacation, when I lose 30 pounds, when…

Happiness is not that hard. We make it hard. Happiness is having new eyes. A fresh perspective.

After I moved my mother in with us to care for her, (she had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s), she used to tell everybody–the postman, the grocery clerk, the pastor, the lawn guy, that she had given up everything to move in with me–her house, her car, her friends, her life.

Apparently she thought I had given up nothing.

I would stand next to her and smile and let her have her moment, get the sympathy she thought she deserved although most people had no idea what to say.

It reminded me of a precocious two-year old I knew who would run in from playing with a tiny scratch on her arm and pronounce to the entire room, “LOOK AT WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME!”

There were times as a caregiver (and other times in my life) that I wanted to do that, pronounce it to the world.

But somewhere along in my early adult life (after years of anger and hurt about being adopted and other very painful issues) I got tired of my own whining. I simply wore it out. I was tired of being known as the girl with the problems.

I decided to be the happiest person I knew.

Not a sappy Pollyanna happy type you just want to slap, but deep-down easy, not in your face joy.

It hasn’t been a linear path getting here, but I am pretty darn happy.

One day, while caring for my mom, she toodled into the kitchen, slapped her hand down on the counter and pronounced, “I’m not happy!”

As if I could bop her over the head with my fairy wand and “Voila!” instant happiness.

I looked at her, my mother who truly was a happy (in a self-centered, domineering, the entire world is here to serve me kind of way) person. It just wasn’t easy, and life isn’t always easy. She didn’t like having to leave her friends and move in with me. Her body was giving out and Parkinson’s had taken its toll, also, Alzheimer’s and depression are linked. Most days, she couldn’t toodle into my kitchen. She didn’t like that I had to divide my time away from her to take care of my children and my marriage. She didn’t like that her life was playing out and that sooner, rather than later, she’d die.

But I couldn’t fix any of that.

I just looked at her with this dawning revelation.

If only one of us could be happy, then I’d choose me.

Kind of the life raft theory. Who do you kick off the boat?

The one who most likely won’t make it any way.

Sounds terrible, I know, and I had truly, truly, truly tried to make her happy–and more than that, I had tried to take care of her, keep her safe, keep her alive.

But if the people around you simply choose not to be happy, then realize you can choose otherwise.

Choose joy.

My life is far, far from perfect, and I’ve been kicked in the teethquite a few times, but this morning, I rode my bike for five miles with my ipod on singing my heart out.

I have a new CD–Grey’s Anatomy’s Third Season, and I love the compilation of songs and artists. I belt it out, make figure 8s and circles with my wheels, and dance on the bike (be-boppin’ up and down) and I don’t care what anybody thinks.

Why should I? In the first place, hardly anyone’s home at 10am, and most people I know aren’t happy–or at least they don’t act happy, so why should I care if I’m known as the crazy bicycle singer?

My kids think I’m nuts, but they’re used to me by now.

My morning coffee, my journal, my glider, the sun, my bike, my ipod, my afternoon dark chocolate fix–the warm, strong hug of my husband–these are what I call give me my “happy fix.” They bring me immense daily joy. They cost very little, and I try not to run out or get so busy and stressed that I don’t do these things I love, the very things that sustain me.

Caregiving was grueling at times, and the end was really, really tough–but it taught me to love, to give, to stretch beyond myself, and it was for a season.

Since my mother’s passing, I’ve learned that life is pretty darn short and I better snatch all the sweetness and joy I can. Parts of my life are still crappy, and I’m not always this giddy–I tend to be more so in the spring and summer, so if I’m getting on your last nerve–sorry.

What I hope for you today is based off something I read this morning in Alan Cohen’s Daily Devotional book, A Deep Breath of Life,

April 14th entry:

I used to think I was a perfectionist.

I was constantly finding flaws and errors other people overlooked. If there were many aspects of a job that was done well, I would point out the one area that wasn’t.

But now I realize I was an imperfectionist.

If I was a perfectionist, I would have found perfection everywhere I looked.

***

That BLEW ME AWAY. I hope it did you too.

I plan to become a happyologist.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Family advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.opentohope.com

 

 

 

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Do you feel like running away?

You may have restless caregiver syndrome.

What’s that, you ask?

I may have made up the term, but I certainly experienced it firsthand.

Have you seen the commercials for restless leg syndrome?

They’re kind of quirky, and I’m not saying that it’s not a serious disorder, but it’s presented in a way that makes my own legs twitch! Nothing like an idea planted in your brain.

But that’s exactly what I felt like some days as I cared for my mom who had Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. I just couldn’t sit still. I wanted to run, to stay busy, to go, go, go.

I guess I was scared.

I was scared my mother would consume me.

I was scared that this was going to be my life from now on, and that by accepting it now, I was accepting it forever.

I was scared that if I sat still, thought too long, I’d realize it was a mistake, that this wasn’t what I wanted to do. I was scared I’d grow old and not have the life, the adventures, the memories and journeys I’d always dreamed of.

Restless caregiver syndrome happens off and on in the caregiving process. It occurs when you’ve given up your old life in order to care for your loved one. It’s also compounded by a sandwich generation lifestyle where everyone wants something from you all the time. And, if you’re female, you may be dealing with the oh so lovely change of life–men-o-pause. And, on top of that, you’re probably a boomer and thinking about your own future, i.e. finances, career, retirement, aging, etc.

You became a caregiver because your loved one needed you. You did it believing it was the right thing to do. You told yourself there were some benefits—getting out of a dead-end job, able to spend more time at home, maybe take better care of your own health, or begin that second career you’ve always dreamed of.

Only…

Caregiving isn’t quite what you’d thought it’d be. You’re bored. Stressed. Unmotivated. Overwhelmed by all the stuff there is to do, and how little you feel you get done. You have time (sometimes) but no focus, no initiative.

Your loved one certainly needs your assistance, but you didn’t plan on becoming someone’s personal butler, driver, maid, and cook. They also seem to enjoy your being at your beck and call—or they’re miserable, fussy, or constantly apologizing. You didn’t think all this emotional baggage would come in tow.

You‘re consumed by caregiving even when you’re not caregiving.

You’re fumbling in your own life. Directionless. How long can this go on? The years stretch out in front of you like a vast desert. Some days, sure, you feel on top of your game, but there’s also an underlying sense of sadness. You know where this is going to end.

A restlessness has built up inside you. You gotta get out. You can’t sit in that living room chair one more minute. You can’t scramble one more egg. But you’re stuck.

How to Combat Restless Caregiver Syndrome:

·       Play a game with yourself: if you were under house arrest, but you weren’t caregiving, what would you do? What resources do you have right at home?

·       If someone gave you three years to reinvent yourself, what would you do? Learn a new language? Take some classes and become a computer whiz? Sell your handmade jewelry online?

·       Create a structure you can live with. You call the shots. You decide when dinner is, you decide the med routine. If you want your loved one to go to bed at 7pm so you can have the night to yourself, then arrange it. Create boundaries you can honor that make your life easier.

·       Start planning for time off. Check into respite care; hire a CNA for $20.00 an hour. It may take you a while to get all this in order, but do your homework, find someone you feel your loved one is safe with, and start taking regular breaks.

·       Don’t use your take out for anything that you aren’t dying to do. Go for a mountain hike, antique shopping, to the local pub to watch a football game—anything that will make you feel as if you’ve truly taken a break. No errands. No combining. Time off is time for you.

·       Create a room—your bedroom, a spare office, part of the garage that is just for you. Make it your haven. Put a cooler in there with drinks, stock a mini-bar, and collect magazines only you like— and go there — alone. Your family and loved ones will respect what you respect—and they will run rough-shod over you if you let them.

·       Call a friend and vent for 10 minutes. Set the timer and then just go for it. After that, tell your friend to forbid you from any further complaining for the day. Complaining and whining and griping are good, but not when it’s a toilet bowl that never flushes. I mean that visual to be disgusting so that you’d STOP. Incessant thinking is unhealthy.

·       Use your fidgetiness and wear yourself out. Do something physical—put all your anger and edginess into it. Clean out the frig, scrub the bathroom tiles and get out the gunk around the shower door. Use your restlessness.

·       Find a safety valve. If you’re really about to blow your top, how can you get away? Do you have an emergency person? Can you take them to adult day care? Are they okay for a couple of hours alone if you really couldn’t take it anymore? Have a plan B—because sometimes, it all gets to be too much.

·       If you have siblings and you’ve been carrying this burden alone—then make the call and insist they help out in some way. Even if it’s paying for home help, then that’s a help. Don’t let resentment and exhaustion build up. Tell them how hard it is. Insist you get a weekend off every few months—and a week or two of vacation time a year. You only get what you ask for, so ask!

·       Don’t be a perfectionist and think everything has to be exactly right and exactly your way. If you do, you’ll be a slave to the mundane. Choose a few things to do well, and a few things to do lousy. Nobody ever died because the forks were sticking up in the dishwasher.

·       If your loved one is being ugly, then get in the car and leave. Even driving around the block helps. I used to walk out back, down the embankment out at the river—and scream. So what if the neighbors heard! Better they hear me scream than gunshotsJ They’re adults and can be alone for 5 minutes and they need to be taught that you will not be mistreated. Make that point clear.

You get what you allow.

Sometimes, you’re just going to feel restless as caregiver. You’re going to want to run, to scream, to change your name to Flo and become a waitress on some seaside pier restaurant (my fantasy, not yours necessarily).

When you feel like running, then run. Get out as much as you can. Even if it’s just out the front door and around the block. Hide, sneak out, stay in bed an extra half hour, stand in your shower until the water turns cold. Do what your gut is telling you to do–at least in some small way. If you let off the pressure valve, then maybe, maybe the whole thing won’t blow.

Trust yourself. Trust your journey and this process.

Later, there will come a time when you might not be able to “run,” so do it now. Trust that you will come back.

After your loved one passes, you’ll go through this all over again—there’ll be days when you just can’t be at home. It’s a part of the grieving process. There’ll be other days, or weeks that you can’t make yourself leave. Home feels safe.

Again, trust yourself. Trust that your body, your soul, and your heart knows how to heal itself.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Family Advisor at Caring.com

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir, available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

www.opentohope.com

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You’ve been caregiving awhile–

and you have to admit, you’re good at it.

But how would you know?

What is an UBER-Caregiver anyway?

In this context, I mean “over the top, more than necessary, to excess”

See if any of these fit you:

  • You take pride in the fact that you can maneuver your way around the Medicare/Medicaid site.
  • You know all the medical/caregiver lingo and even use the acronyms.
  • You talk like you’re a pharmacist  and try to diagnose everyone else in your life.  
  • Your loved one’s doctors ask you’ve ever considered going into medicine.
  • You’re the unofficial leader of your local support group.
  • Your loved one is always clean and matching, and people comment what good care you give.
  • Your loved one’s daily regime is more planned and detailed than a wartime tactical maneuver.
  • You’ve started introducing yourself as your loved one’s caregiver–not their son, daughter, spouse.
  • Your friends and family say they’d like you to be their caregiver when the time comes….

I know your defenses (my defenses)

You have to get good at this. You can’t help it, it comes with the territory. What else do you have to do? You might as well do it right if you’re going to bother at all.

It fills you with a sense of pride. And rightly so. Only…

Somewhere deep inside you there’s a small voice that says, “this isn’t what/who you thought you’d be when you grew up.”

You had other plans.

There are other things you’re good at to.

How did this happen?

Uber-caregiving isn’t all bad. Your loved one certainly benefits. They’re taken care of well–whether they like it or want it or not.

It’s the flip-side of Uber-Parenting and I’m guessing here, but I think it comes with perfectionist tendencies, wanting to please, and a tenacious spirit that loves to learn and be good at things.

Have you ever seen the mother who fusses with her toddler too much?

She leaps every time they take a tumble. She says they’re hot and bundles them up–too much–their little cheeks are flushed and they look pudgy in their three layers. She’s a know-it-all that drives all the other parents bonkers. She thinks her kid is brilliant…and therefore, by default, yours isn’t…

Same thing, honey. It’s irritating as hell.  

And while it’s good to be good at what you do, you might have gotten carried away.

Why? For me, I think I was bored. My mind and body is active and is always searching for something to challenge it and keep it engaged–for meaning and purpose. And the only thing that seemed available at the time was caregiving. Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and Parkinson’s had become my life. I liked the challenge. I liked learning how to handle all this. It made me feel smart–and needed.

The only thing is, it’s not all I’m meant to be. I’ve always been a writer/communicator/artist. That’s who I am at my core.

Why is Uber-Caregiving Not So Good For You?

You might be driving your loved one nuts.

You might be driving away help.

You might be isolating yourself and not know it.

You might be running from your demons/avoiding personal soul/heart work.

It might not be as fulfilling as you try and tell yourself it is.

And one thing I know for sure.

You’ll eventually be out of a job.

Our elderly, our infirmed loved ones will eventually die.

I know you don’t want to hear that word. You don’t want to think about it. Part of you believes that if you’re good enough, give them the right meds, find the right doctor, enroll in the right treatment plan…that they won’t die. You’ll have more time.

You might (might) buy them–and you a little time, but people die. Death, dying, grieving are all a part of this experience. We avoid it as long as we can, but eventually, we have to look at it.

I say that with a gentle voice and tender hand. You can’t always feels those things across the abyss of the Internet, but I mean that with utmost kindness.

 

Your loved one will pass away, and your life must go on.

What will you do then? After years of caregiving. Years of pouring your heart and soul and energy–and money into all that caregiving asks and seems to demand.

And then your life changes. It’s over. In one day. And you walk around in a blur. Part of you is relieved. You’re exhausted, you didn’t even know how exhausted you were, but another part–a bigger part is completely and utterly lost.

I tell you this because I know. That’s how I felt after my mom passed away after three years of full-time caregiving and 15 years of being her only child, her daugher, and her caregiver coordinator. That’s a long time. Long enough for that identity to form.

When I started writing Mothering Mother, I didn’t realize I would become an uber-caregiver, and I certainly didn’t do it all right. I wasn’t a perfectionist, but at times, I was a know-it-all because caregiving was all that I felt like I was thinking, doing, being. Writing about my mother’s actual passing allowed me to look beyond that point, to deal with my guilt and grief–and begin to slowly build my life again. I did because I didn’t want anyone else to have to face it alone.

I ask you, look past today. Look past that moment of death. Look past that year of grieving, and look into your own future.

Who will you be?

What will you do?

We’ll talk more tomorrow.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir, available on Amazon and in most bookstores.

Kunati Publishing

www.mothering-mother.com

 

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