Pain Recycled, A Wellness Approach

Recycling is the process of collecting and processing materials the would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products.  When we think of the term or the action of recycling, we usually are thinking of plastic bottles, metal objects, cardboard materials and so on.  However, in light of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I would like to focus this blog post on how we recycle our personal experiences and heart-felt pain.

Our health and wellness journey cannot exclude our mental health.  Our mental health impacts our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being and vice versa. It is tightly interwoven into all aspects of our life.  Mental health is one of our greatest assets and supports our ability to overcome challenges and obstacles.  It impacts our relationships, our abilities to function in the workplace, individual life goals, finances, and much more.  If we do not address our mental health as part of well-being, our desire for healing and being whole will never come to fruition.

Everyone single human being walking this earth has experienced stress.  The stress can differ among us and will sit on a sliding scale of intensity in different points in your life. That stress can lead to avenues of great pain and mental anguish.  If we do not address that pain in our lives, over time, we end up recycling it into our future experiences.  Those recycled feelings and experiences if not processed in a healthy, productive way, will strengthen the vicious cycle of unresolved pain.

Therefore, the question is, what are the proper materials needed to recycle our pain so that it can be used for a new purpose in life and not just left-over trash that can clutter our potential?  Lets look at some material needed to translate the experience in a productive way.

1. Identify It! Become self-aware. Notice your reactions, emotions and mental thoughts that occur in a situation.  Where are they coming from and are they congruent with the experience?  Alot of our responses to a situation, a person or event are exacerbated by previous experiences.  It is a build-up of old trash that never was taken out, let alone recycled.

2. Slow Your Roll!  Before making a final decision or display an extreme reaction; feel that pain, sit with it, and give yourself time.  Be gentle on yourself and others.  We are wrapped in emotions and thoughts that can be projected onto others, intensifying the current experience.  Spend time with yourself, sort out those emotions, clean up your thoughts and place it into its proper context.

3.  Practice a Wellness Approach! Whatever relieves stress in your life that is not harmful to you, do it!  Go for a bike ride, practice yoga, meditate, confide in a friend, or try something new.  Remember, an “approach” is different than a one time “occurrence”.  An approach is something you can regularly incorporate into your life that can assist you in recycling that painful expereince.

4. Turn Your Pain into Purpose! One of the biggest influence on my healing in life has been giving back to our world.  What I realized early on was that my experience is not exclusive to me.  I am not alone and am walking this earth with many hurt human beings.  When I began to take my message to the streets, I realized that there were others who could benefit from what I was learning.  If you want to recycle your pain into a product that has a new, fresh and fruitful use, help someone else.  You will quickly find that your pain becomes the catalyst for your purpose.  

Lets make a deliberate effort to address our mental health in our wellness plan for our lives.  Make your pain, your emotions and your thoughts a priority, so that all other areas of your life can evolve.  Remember, there is truth in your pain. Do not be ashamed of it, but instead, recycle it for a new use in order to support the growth in yourself and others.  Our world, your community and you are depending on that process.

“One small crack does not mean that you are broken, it means you were put to the test and you didn’t fall apart.”  -L. Poindexter

 

May-is-MHA

Caregiver, Sweat That Stress Out

“Both tears and sweat are salty, but they render a different result. Tears will get you sympathy; sweat will get you change.” -Jesse Jackson

There is no question about the impact of stress on a person’s physical, emotional and mental well-being.  Stress in our society looks differently by gender, race, socioeconomic status and age.  However, the stress burden has increased over time across all demographics.  It is toxic, intense and can actually turn your genes on or off.   Stress can cause brain damage, impact memory,  shut down your immune system and increase inflammation in your body.

As it relates to caregivers, the  increased stress burden, is referred to as Caregiver syndrome or caregiver stress.  This syndrome is described as a condition that strongly manifests exhaustion, anger, rage, or guilt resulting from unrelieved caring for a chronically ill patient or loved one.  Although it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the term is often used by many healthcare professionals, in the terms of expereinced trauma, grief and compassion fatigue.  With all the known science, knowledge and research behind the caregiver stress, what is the proposed solution?

May 30, 2019 will mark my fourth year of becoming a full-time caregiver for my mother with Alzheimers.  I can testify to the stress like no other, as I still maintain my full-time job, take on a second part-time job as a spin instructor and Health Coach, in addition for  caring for every aspect of my mothers life.  Daily I  fight systems of care, advocate for proper diagnosis, testing and treatment of her illnesses,  manage all her finances, and experience her dementia behaviors in my home.  If you want to truly know what a war on healthcare looks in this country, take on caring for a chronically-ill loved one with limited resources and finances.  My world has been completely altered for both the bad and the good, yes, the good.  I am working on a better me, on a better world, all in the name of love for my mother.  Her diagnosis has changed my life’s direction, permanently.

What I have learned through this caregiving journey has extended my quality of life, through a personal investment in my own health.  However, not every caregiver has this epiphany and is usually buried miles deep in stress due to loss of every kind, including employment, health insurance, retirement benefits, social outlets and finances,  in order to be the rock for their sick loved one.  As the the numbers of caregivers in this country increases, so does the level of burden on the systems of care and the economy.  We are encountering a Public Health crisis with this underserved population being ignored by all professions.

What is the solution?  I have many thoughts on how societal polices and laws could impact an individuals world through local community supports and financial relief.  However, there is not one simple easy answer to address the multifaceted world of a caregiver.  I have always said, if an answer does not exist, seek it, search diligently or become it.  Yes, become  your own answer.  Do not sit in apathy, but instead, stand up and fight for the justice you so much deserve.  Be the voice, the reason and the solution not just for yourself, but an entire population in need.  Research, study, ask questions, do not accept the lack of, the minimalist solutions or closed doors.

I may have read every research article on Alzheimers, wrote world-renowned physicians, sought holistic preventative measures and studied the body composition and  its reactions to environmental influences.  I increased my knowledge of the brain-body connection, inflammation, the importance of proper nutrition, exercise and stress reduction activities.  In a recent blog post, I described the connection between cycling and brain health.  We have ignored brain health for so long and the current dementia epidemic demands that we elevate the science, research and knowledge as a national priority.  In turn, I have taken my love for cycle and translated it into a  disease-prevention approach in my life and messaging platform for others.

Recently, a good friend of mine asked me to attend a heated cycle class, at the Sweat Shoppe in Atlanta, GA.  Yes, that is what I wrote, “heated cycle.”   I sat and processed that request for a minute, and then of course I agreed to go. I mean, how bad could it be?  I had taken heated yoga and was game for anything new, especially fitness-wise.  Well, my first encounter with this “heated cycle” was hellacious, to say the least.  The extreme heat, the intense spin moves, and a packed class full of enthusiastic sweat- loving cyclists had me visualizing a “polar-bear” plunge. (You know, that activity in the middle of winter, where you strip down into your bathing suit and leap into ice-cold ocean water.)

After the 50 minute ride, I emerged from the room, soaking in sweat like I had just taken a shower in my clothes.  Every part of my physical being was drenched and I really was questioning my sanity at this point.  As I left the “heated room” and drove home I could not help but think about the physiological benefits of what I just experienced.  I was feeling great, refreshed and full of energy.   According to the benefits listed on the Sweat Shoppe website, the heat and the sweat have major impacts on your immune system, removes impurities from the body, releases endorphins and much much more.  So let us connect all of this; cycling, sweat, heat, physical activity, brain-body connection and caregiver stress.  This sounds like a health correlation and possible protective factor to me.  If stress is the major risk factor in a caregivers world, let’s increase the protective factors around them at the community level, so there is a positive individual outcome to negate that stress.  In a one hour sweaty cycle workout, I increased my mental, physical and emotional well-being, reducing my physiological response to the caregiver stress burden.

Caregiver, I encourage you to think outside the norm, the societal box, and seek the alternative solutions to address the stress you face everyday.  It will not be eliminated quickly and has life-altering implications on your present and future well-being.  Look for your own solutions, or be open to new ways of managing your stress. Your life depends on it and make the decision that you will not be the next one diagnosed with a chronic or terminal disease.  Defy the data and love yourself enough to SWEAT OUT the small and big stuff.

“We learn more by looking for the answer and not finding it, then we do from learning the answer itself.” -Lloyd Alexander

 

 

Three Health and Wellness Strategies for a Traveling Caregiver

If you are a caregiver and have been told a million times to carve out time for yourself, get some respite and seek help, send me a virtual fist bump and try not to bang your head on a very hard surface.  For me, just that I can schedule in a daily shower is a victory and fulfills my health and wellness quota for the day.

However, on the serious side, I have a an earnest desire to prevent this horrific disease called “Alzheimers”, and frankly, all other chronic diseases that plague our world.  If I can just push myself outside the comfortable, while in the present, I will reap in the future, by enjoying my aging disease-free, pain-free and medication-free.

Part of my push includes intense planning and preparation, which is a huge added task to a caregiver, who is consumed with their loved ones’ responsibilities.  We plan their doctor appointments, their routine tests, their medication management, their bedtime schedule, their finances, etc.  We, as caregivers, are the last of the long list of planning that usually fades away into the abyss.

Recently, I attended a Caregiving Conference in Chicago, IL.  In order to attend this conference, I had to arrange months ahead of time.  I had to negotiate the caregiver hours, arrange the time I would be gone with my husband, who works, ensure all my moms medications were filled, and doctor appointments kept.  This list goes along with the negotiation of my paid full-time job, as I needed to carve out time to develop the presentation with my partner, edit slides, draft handouts and meet the dates of the conference coordinator.  I had to find the funds to go to the conference, budget the trip around my other financial responsibilities and plan what I could do and not do while in Chicago.  So exactly where did that leave the time to incorporate the Health and Wellness piece into my travel plans?

Below are three simple tips I am trying to make a habit as a traveling caregiver, so I don’t end up eating cheesecake every night from the hotel restaurant.

  1. Pick up some budget-friendly healthful snacks from the grocery store before you leave that fit right into a carry-on bag.  I stuff a clear zip-lock bag full of nuts, jerky, and plantain chips; enough to carry me through the number of days I will be gone from home.  Your hotel may not be in the ideal location with access to a grocery store, so packing what you need for those airplane and late night munchies will help and reduce vending machine temptation.
  2. Pack a pair of sneakers, at least one set gym clothes and download some body-weight only exercises.  Most hotels have small gyms, but you really do not need to leave your room to get your heart rate up.  I always tend to overpack for the gym, as my goal is to go everyday while I am on travel. However, travel lethergy is real, especially when you have left one busy life behind and have a compromised immune system.  Keep it realistic and simple.  One outfit will suffice for a couple of days.
  3. Ask for what you don’t see, but need.  Finding something healthy to eat at the airport or in a restaurant can be the very last fight you want to battle in the arena.  My partner and I walked around the food court in Chicago for 20 minutes examining the menus for the “gluten-free, dairy-free, everything-free” options.  It just did not exist. As my stomach began to yell at me, I passed Dunkin Donuts and saw those chocolate glazed donut holes.  Oh yes, they were inviting me in like a warm cozy sweater on a cold Chicago night.  My stomach wanted them. I was so hungry.  But I walked back around to the Latino restaurant and told them what I needed.  They made it for me, right on the spot, with no hesitation at all. And….it only cost me a few dollars, $5.90 to be exact.  In some airports where the cities are more progressive and eco-friendly, like Chicago, they have installed Farm Friendly Fridges that include healthy options. These also can be found on local colleges and University campuses.  These are a great option when trying to stay on track.  Check the locations of these fridges before you leave to plan for access and cost.

No matter what role you hold, these are some simple and economical ideas to incorporate into your travel planning.  As a caregiver, I am seeking to stay consistent in my healthful routine, in order to live a life of freedom, rather than in chains to doctors, medicine and illness.  I am making these habits apart of my every travel itinerary.  If you have additional ideas, please feel free to send in comments and I will post.

“Those who think they have no time for healthy eating…will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” ~Edward Stanley

 

 

Caregiver-You are Your Best Resource

I don’t know about you, but if I hear one more person or organization say to me, “make sure you take care of yourself”, “hang in there, you got this”, “pick yourself up and keep going”, “take time for yourself”, “accept help”, “keep your doctor appointments“, I’m truly going to scream at the top of my lungs!

The reality is that those who are giving out such advice are really saying, “we don’t know what the hell to do to help you” and “you, caregiver, are going to just have to help yourself.”   This is truth in that there are no organizations or people who are going to come by your side and help you through this.  This is a long grueling journey that isn’t  a one time event, like a death, where they send you a condolence card, a meal or some flowers.  This is a long race, that you caregiver, many times, will need to run as a solo marathoner to the finish line.  I am coming to this understanding as I interface with local, state and national level caregiving organizations, whose mission is supposed to be supporting the caregiver.  The truth is that many would like your “traumatic” story to advance their organization in order to create more opportunities for their own funding, strength and sustainability.  What is needed, until change comes in our society around caregiving, is a documented framework for caregivers that considers the reality of this role.

As I continue to find my way in this caregiver role, I want to share them with you:

A. Redefine Your Tribe: We have all been there where we have lost friends and family members due to becoming a caregiver.  We also know that the current dementia or caregiving organizations are not going to fund your caregiving role, giving you ongoing respite, or be there for you when your loved one is in crisis.  We also know the Alzheimer’s Association is not going to come over and help you clean your house, organize your loved ones medical appointments, or send you out for a massage.

However, I have found a new tribe of support and its non-traditional, in a sense.  I have become connected to the members at my gym and specifically my trainer.  It happened unusually and I was not seeking it.  But it developed over time where a community of support developed around me, for me, as a caregiver.  In fact, when my mom was in the hospital recently, they were the only ones to visit her and me.  They brought me food, and stayed for hours to make sure we were ok.  Not one call, text, nor message was received by those I expected.  It was the development of a community by my trainer that has become my support as a caregiver.  I know not everyone can go to a gym due to the demands of caregiving, but is there a private business within your community that have or can become your support?  We have limited the opportunity of support through our expectations of organizations who are “supposed” to be there for us.  Now is the time to really think outside of the box when it comes to caregiver support.

B.  Take Out the Trash: It is truly time to dump the toxic people, dysfunctional organizations and useless things that are just not helping you through the caregiving journey.  Re-access all people, support groups, organizations, that drain you, are one-sided, and detrimental to your health and well-being.  You are barely hanging in there yourself, with caring for your loved one. The last thing you need is to go onto an online support group and see people fighting, threatening their lives or attacking you.  This has been my experience and I now avoid all on-line toxic negative social media groups.  I also took time to assess all the texts and messages coming my way and saw that maybe 3 were inquiries of concern about me.  The rest were an ask of me, a question, a “can you volunteer here”, “be apart of this”, “join this”, etc.  If a relationship is not equal in value, why are you apart of it?  In addition, if you are a caregiver, why are you allowing for an draining relationships at all?  Now is the time to empty out all unnecessary tasks and toxic relationships.  That, my caregiver friend, is a key survival technique.

C.  Caregiver Safe Space: Often I have felt that my home is a prison as I try and find places to hide or escape the caregiver role.  I have a full time job during the day and another one that picks up right after or continues simultaneously.  It is not until I fall asleep (if you can do that), that I break from anything. I am sure that as soon as you wake up and allow your feet to hit the ground, you are working.  Your home can be seen as a prison cell blocking your freedom to peace and rest.  It is important to really take a look at your whole home situation with your loved one.  How do they sleep, when are they sleeping or quiet? Where is their bedroom, and what are their patterns of behavior?  My mom is right across the hallway from me and is an early riser.  She will listen for the very moment I step out of bed.  She used to be at my doorway as soon as the alarm went off.  So, I created a safe space for myself to give me a place of calm before caregiving.  There is a nook in my bedroom that I have created where I can get up, diffuse my essential oils, read my bible, mediate, drink my coffee and breathe.  It is the first place I go to now after I awake, before I step out my bedroom door to begin caregiving.  By giving yourself this transition, you are prioritizing your own wellbeing, calming your stress hormones and approaching caregiving with a different mindset.  By incorporating this into my life, I have felt less resentful towards my mother and more balanced.  It is my time, whether its 5 minutes or an hour, its mine that can not be stolen by caregiving.

CG Safe Space1

D. Alternative Healthcare:  “Make sure you keep doctor appointments.”  I think this advice frustrates me the most.  If I see an organization or webpage that links to this recommendation, I delete them.  Really, like we don’t want to make our doctor appointments.  Caregivers are at the highest risk for every chronic disease and mental health issue. (I wonder why?)

When I look at the number of doctor appointments I need to take my mother, from primary care, optometrist, orthopedic, pulmonologist, dentist, etc, the appointments alone could range from 6-12 in a month.  Then there’s the state social worker, the state nurse, the state everything because she is on a Medicaid waiver program.  Oh and lets not forget the number of emergency rooms visits, urgent care visits and hospitalizations.  Therefore, my approach is steeped in health and wellness, holistic lifestyle changes to prevent illness.  But, my other solution, when I do fall ill,  is teledoc or telemedicine.  Many insurance companies are including this as an option, as well as state-funded programs, and private businesses.  Many are free from copays and scheduling difficulties and take less than five minutes.  You literally sit in your home and pick up a phone to speak with a doctors.  It takes less than 5 minutes to be diagnosed and prescribed medications, if needed.  I have used teledoc so many times for my own illnesses and it has saved me so much time and travel.  Look for an alternative, cheaper and realistic way to address your health.  It is a priority, but the reality is the time and access as a caregiver.  Get creative and be resourceful!  You deserve it!

I have many more tools and ideas but will continue with future blog posts.  I hope some of these are helpful and please feel free to share yours as we are a resilient caregiver community.

     “As you discover what strength you can draw from your community in this world, look outward and well as inward. Build bridges instead of walls.”

– S. Sotomayor