Care Partners Resource

When you’ve said YES to Caregiving: then reality sets in

Most people have no idea what comes with saying “YES” to caring for a loved one. What do you do once you have said yes and then realize it is more than you bargained for?  Maybe it is an immediate   “oh no this is more than I can handle,” maybe after a short while you realize you aren’t cut out for this or perhaps you have been caring for your loved one for a while and things have changed so you to no longer feel able to meet the needs of your loved one or yourself. There are many reasons you could feel in over head and with that decision comes: guilt, a sense of failure, betrayal or fear of judgment.

Is it fair to judge yourself for being honest? Is it fair for others to judge you? The answer to both is NO and yet we cannot help but do it. I am sure many of us have had feelings that this is just too much but feel there is no way out. We continue to go on as we have for many reasons, the emotions mentioned above or money or you simply don’t know how to make a change.

A friend recently told me something that resonated in many ways. She asked “how often have you made a commitment and for whatever reason you realize you can no longer honor your decision?” She followed up with this very wise advice: Ask yourself are you now continuing to honor the promise to your loved one (or the person to whom you have made the commitment) or are you just committed to the commitment? Is this truly doing the honorable thing or are you becoming a martyr?

As a caregiver I was faced with this decision many times. I was fortunate to have finances and a supportive family that allowed me to not only do what was best for our mom but also care for myself in the process. Our care plan changed many times over the 8 years.

Many caregivers are not met with support when they voice their challenges. There is often judgment and resistance from family members and friends. Some caregivers have no one to voice help them during these challenging times. Even with support there often is self criticism and doubt.

How can you find solutions to alter your care plan that also honors the commitment and your needs? Here are some steps to help begin the process:

  • Identify the challenge(s). Be specific, can you see how each of these may have different solutions?

–          I am exhausted

–          I am depressed

–          I feel isolated and alone

  • Ways to identify the challenge. First start by making a list and then try to identify what is causing the problem.  Often the original challenge is not actually the problem.

–          You may think the challenge is you have lost your patience. But you discover the problem is you are exhausted. Once you think about it you realize the reason is not due to lack of sleep but due to depression.

  • Work on one challenge at a time
  • Start your search to solve the problem: Seek help from a professional

–          A good place to begin is mentioning the situation with your loved ones physician

–          Seek advice from other caregivers. There are many support groups in most areas or on-line

–          For many common caregiving challenges you can get solutions by using an organization like Family Caregiving 101, National Stroke Association or The Area Agency on Aging, CarePartnersResource.com, just to name a few. Most of these organizations have on line information and someone you can speak with.

–          If you are stuck try Google or Bing they can be great resources. Just type in your problem

It may be that even after this research you still feel unable to continue on in the role as caregiver. There are resources and funding to help in finding alternative care in most cases. Ask about alternatives when you are researching assistance.

Finally no matter what you decide is the answer be gentle with yourself. Caregiving is not easy and not for everyone.  Taking good care of yourself is the best way to care for your loved one!

Share

Journaling for a better New Year

It is a New Year, time to review the past and make resolutions to improve your life for the year ahead. It occurred to me how often I would make and break resolutions year after year. As a caregiver it’s hard to set goals and promise resolutions when so much of your life is out of your control. Staying on task one day at a time is a challenge: how then can I possibly make a commitment to change for an entire year?

Looking back over my annual “It’s A New Year” Journals from the eight years I cared for my Mother there was a consistent theme:

  • This year I will take more time for myself
  • This year I will be more patient, tolerant and less critical of others
  • I will leave guilt in the year that has just past
  • Etc., etc., etc!!!

Skimming a few pages forward it becomes obvious very quickly that it did not take long for the stress of care giving to take hold and my resolutions to go right out the window. One journal entry spoke to my frustration as I watch everyone around me head into the New Year with such hope and excitement. All I could feel was dread, another year of doctor and therapy appointments and feelings of helplessness as I watched my Mom continue to be stuck in her world of post stroke challenges.  But then I read a book by Kay Adams called Journal to the Self and began practicing the techniques.

Soon my journal entries show hope and I begin to turn a corner.  I learned to use my journal to manage my feelings. Gradually I began use these pages as not only a safe place to express my feelings, but a way to manage daily tasks, keep track of my resolutions and check on my progress. Eventually I took back control of my life.  I found that by venting my frustrations and disappointments in my journal I was able to let go of them in a more constructive manner. This led to more patience, tolerance and less judgment of others. Because I wrote through these emotions I began to realize that care giving was what I was doing not who I was and this shift in thinking allowed me to be less than perfect. Soon the guilt began to lessen and I realized that all I could do was my best and if that was not enough then tomorrow was another day. By using my journal to manage tasks I became more organized and found time for self-care. All of these changes made me happier and a better caregiver.

I was so grateful for the improvement in my life that I became a Certified Instructor of Journal to the Self® and offer the course on my website www.carepartnersresource.com and in person. I hope to improve the lives of care givers one Journal at a time.

Share

Care partners tour of duty

Becoming a care partner is similar to enlisting in the military. Both are a call to duty and similarly neither enlistee has any idea what their enlistment will require of them. However there are some striking differences as well. One clear difference is that before agreeing to enlist in military service a person usually takes time to weigh the pros and cons. The decision to enlist as a care partner or caregiver is often done with no time for thought. Other differences are;

  • no defined term for your tour of duty
  • you are not assigned to your position based on your occupational specialty
  •  there is no plan in place to move up the ranks
  •  and the biggest difference is usually this duty comes with no financial or medical benefits

My tour began with a phone call late one evening in July, 2001.  I answered the phone and heard my oldest brother saying words that I could not comprehend, “Mom is in the hospital” “She had a bad stroke.” The rest of the night was a blur, calls to my son telling him the news, to the airlines to catch a flight to LA, packing and then heading to the airport. All I knew was my mom’s brain was under attack and she needed me.

In my mind the decision to enlist had been made when I answered the phone. It was my duty to join the ranks and make sure Mom got back on her feet.  I don’t recall knowing who the enemy was: What is a stroke? How long my tour of duty would last: What is the recovery period?  I had no idea what a care partner or care giver was and yet unknowingly I had already enlisted to become one.

Once I arrived at the hospital basic training began immediately. The meetings with family, the doctors, nurses, therapists and social workers all began. It became clear to me that I needed to advance up the ranks quickly and take on a more active leadership role.  Days later when the bleeding stopped and mom was stabilized the true test of my enlistment became clear. Her life was never going to be the same and neither would mine.

The early stages of care partnering are foggy. I questioned what I had gotten myself into but it was too late to turn back now. I wonder how many young men and women who take the oath to serve our country feel the same overwhelming fear. My enlistment came with duties that I was not sure I could carry out as well as an assignment away from my family and home.

As time went on we celebrated battles that were won and  found new determination to forge ahead when any ground was lost. Mom and I  continued this strategy until my enlistment ended one day short of eight years when mom decided it was time to surrender and she quietly took her final breath while I sat by her side.

I realize that what I saw and dealt with during my tour of duty is different from what our military personnel must endure and in no way compares to what they must see on a battle field. But I too am left with the wounds from combat against the effects of a “brain attack” that took my mom’s independence.  Most family care partners and caregivers like me are left with both mental and physical scares from our time of service.

I have begun my journey back into the “civilian population” and I am reaching out to other care partners and care givers through my website www.carepartnersresouce.com.  My hope is to heal my battle scares by teaching others the successful strategies I learned during my tour of duty. 

Share

Care Partners Resource