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

 

 

Spinning my Way to Healing; the Unexpected Gift to a Caregiver

In October 2016, I decided to do something different with my fitness.  I was a year in to riding my bike through neighborhoods and parks and had recently lost 30 pounds.  I thought as a caregiver, I needed to up my game and continue to grow in my health and wellbeing.  So what exactly did I do?  I signed up for my very first spin class.  Yes, a 60 minute heart-pumping, sweat-dripping spin class at my gym.  I mean, how hard could it be?  I was biking through the week and doing strength training, this would be a breeze.  Well, what I didn’t know, was that a random stranger was about to give me a special gift, a gift to sustain me through my walk as a caregiver.

I remember the month so well, because it was Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and our gym was showing support in its classes.  I had reserved a bike in the back of the room, so I could experiment and hide, in case I couldn’t hang.  I quietly sneaked in and scurried to my bike with excitement.  As I adjusted my seat and handles, I jumped on and looked up and this tiny, fit energetic instructor was smiling and starting the class with this introduction, “It is Breast Cancer Awareness month and I have developed a playlist in support of all those who are fighting.  I want you to take this hour and ride for someone, fight for someone or fight for yourself.”  I could feel the moisture forming within my eyes and told myself, “girl, get it together, you cannot bust out crying in this class in front of all these people.”  This instructor did not know what was happening in my life or what I had been through in the last year.  But she was using her voice to send out words of power into the atmosphere.

As the instructor turned on her playlist, the very first song was of course, “Fight Song“.  If you are a caregiver, this song was written especially for you.  I started my ride and these lyrics penetrated my heart:

            “This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me”

Needless to say the tears flowed like a river, a release of pain dripped out of my eyes and dropped on my handle bars.  The next 60 minutes of riding included beautiful fight songs with a inspirational instructor encouraging, pushing and lifting up the class. Every word that came out of her mouth was molding the pieces of my heart back together again.  You see, my mom is dying and every day she loses a memory or an ability, and my heart tears apart.  I entered this class broken and shattered but when I left that day, I was filled with hope, strength and a sense of community.

After class, I was completely wiped and drove home in silence, thinking of the power behind the words of this instructor.  She could have played some music and honored those surviving or still fighting breast cancer. However, she took it a step further and applied it to all our lives.

Because we are human beings, we carry so much emotion within us, joy, love, pain and sorrow.  You do not know what is going on with that person sitting next to you in a class, at the grocery store, at your school, wherever you may be.  What an impact you can have by giving the gift of a kind word to a stranger.  It could switch the direction in someone’s life forever.  I am now an spinning-addict and get to a class whenever I can, but especially this instructors class. Not only am I working on my physical health through this class, but my emotional health as well.  Its a time just for me, to release the stress and gain the strength I need to continue in this caregiver role.

Sandy Smith Barefield, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me the gift of healing through your classes.  Your words and songs reached a soul who was searching for peace and respite.  You gave me a gift that I will carry with me not only through my caregiving journey, but throughout my life.

Recently, my instructor played “This is Me.” from “The Greatest Showman”, and the tears began to run softly down my cheeks, with my eyes closed and my feet on my pedals.  I dedicate this song to you, Sandy:

“Another round of bullets hits my skin
Well, fire away ’cause today, I won’t let the shame sink in
We are bursting through the barricades and
Reaching for the sun (we are warriors)
Yeah, that’s what we’ve become”

 

 

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

 

5 Tangible Things You Can Do for a Caregiver

This time of year can be very stressful for caregivers, whether its holiday parties, expectations of gift-giving, family meals, lonliness, preparing for guests or not preparing for guests.  No matter the caregiver scenario, there are three major obstacles that have to be dealt with and that is (1) time, (2) money, and (3) resources.   These three obstacles not only create barriers for a joyous stress-free holiday but also for just plain daily living.

Caregivers are extremely limited on time due to the ongoing tasks of managing a loved ones life, including their behaviors, finances and physical ailments.  Every second of the day is planned, organized or consumed by their loved ones needs.  There is always a financial stressor involved as well, no matter what your household income consists of.  Caring for a sick and/or aging human being in this country has become one of the most expensive burdens to bear.  According to AARP, it was estimated in 2011, that US citizens spent a total on $357 billion on long term care.  However, family caregivers provided $450 billion worth of Unpaid Care.  These numbers are indicative of the cost of aging in America along with the lack of resources and finances available to afford the care needed.

As I have embarked on this role of caregiver, I have noticed that many of my friends or coworkers are at a loss on how to support me.  They’ve listened to my stories, the drama faced with Medicare and Medicaid, and endured the description of long lists of tasks that consume my day.  Many Caregiving organizations put the onus of caring for the caregiver on the caregiver.  So while I am caring for my mom, their tips include statements like,  “make sure you take care of yourself”, “seek the help and support you need.”  How noble and supportive to point out that we need to take care of ourselves (which we do, but it takes a village).

Therefore, I, along with some of my caregiver comrades decided to come up with a short tangible list of how you can support caregivers:

1.  Meals: Make a meal or arrange for a meal to be delivered to the house.  Meal-time is one of the most stressing events in our house.  After working all day, managing my mom’s appointments, walking the dogs and touching base with my husband, making a meal is the last thing I truly want to do.  If our loved one’s have dementia, food is one of the hardest things to figure out.  People suffering with dementia lose their taste buds, their desire for eating, or over-eat certain food groups, like sweets.   Find out what your caregiver friend or family member can eat and arrange for that meal to be delivered to the house.

2.  Respite/Time: Time is invaluable to a caregiver.  Offer your time, whether through yourself or through someone you know, or a caregiver agency.   Offer to spend an hour, or two or even a night, depending on the situation, in order to give that caregiver a break.  Respite is expensive. Hiring a caregiver can be $20-$25 an hour.  Remember, money is the biggest barrier to caregivers seeking respite.  If you have hotel points, offer those points for a night away.  Whatever you have and you can spare, donate to the caregiver.  Visit your caregiver friend’s house several times to get to know their loved one.  Learn the routines, the schedules, and the person so you are prepared to take on a couple hours of caregiving.  If you arrange for another caregiver to support your friend, plan an outing like movies and dinner.  But you be the proactive partner in this one and not add any additional tasks to the caregiver.

Offer to come and clean or organize their home, while the caregiver is attending to other responsibilities.  I’ve noticed how quickly my house can become disorganized with my mom having Alzheimers.  I call it the “Where’s Waldo Phenomenon.”   My mom will put food under her bathroom sink, socks in the freezer, dog food with the human food and so on.  It is a daily search, find and reorganize.  With all my moms personal affairs, I have over 15 folders of documentation to keep straight, from medical records to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security records.  Her records are more organized than mine.  Assisting your caregiver friend in organizing their lives will alleviate time spent in a search hunt later.

3.  Find the Resources: What can I say about resources, besides the lack of them.  However, they are there, if you put on your “inspector gadget” hat.  I cannot count the hours, days and months it has taken our family to find the resources we need to manage caregiving.  If you know google.com, assist the caregiver in finding free resources, grant funds for respite, or actual organizations who can help.  Filter those resources as well. Make a call to an organization and find out what they offer.  I called over 30 local and national organizations in my first month of caregiving and only one could offer me support.  Don’t send the caregiver links to research or tips on caregiving.  We are caregivers and live this everyday. The latest funded Alzheimers research is not going to help me survive day-in and day-out of caregiving.  (Tip: if you find a resource that offers grant funds, offer to fill out the application or contact the organization with the caregivers situation.  Wherever you can take a step away from us, please do.)

4.  Communicate: I cannot count on my hand how many people, friends or family members who disappeared when I took in my mother.  When I couldn’t go out or my every answer was “I can’t”, my world became so much smaller and any support I thought I had vanished.  Send a text or make a call at least weekly to let the caregiver know that you are thinking of them, love them and how much they are appreciated.  Send cards, emails of encouragment and let that caregiver know you are there, especially on special occasions, like birthdays. Cards and flowers are even more appreciated by caregivers.  Be present, be kind and be human.

5. Pay a Bill/Give Money: I don’t know how to emphasize this enough. You will be consumed by financial hardship beyond your control when you become a caregiver.  Its just the nature of the beast.  You can save your entire life, take out long-term care, plan as much as you like, but caring for a sick, disabled or elderly loved one is beyond expensive.  Instead of participating in an Alzheimers Association walk, give that money you would have raised to the caregiver.  Instead of searching for organizations to donate to, write a check to a caregiver.  Call a utility company and pay a caregiver’s bill that month. Give a gas card or grocery store gift card. If you own a business, offer free or reduced cost services, like car maintenance or house repairs.  I have an amazing health coach who has volunteered her time with me along with a fitness instructor who created a work-out group around my schedule, that fits my budget.  These are professionals apart of a larger organization that have become apart of my caregiving community.  Remember, many caregivers have had to quit their jobs, retire early or pull from their pensions to care for a loved one.  Their present and their future is in jeopardy.   Whatever you have to offer is a blessing, especially to relieve the financial burden.

As a final note, a caregiver is a caregiver, whether their loved one is in the home or placed in a nursing facility.  The responsibilities may be different, but the emotional, physical and financial drain is the same.  Whether you become an advocate for them, chip-in on a bill, plan an outing or visit their loved one in a nursing home, your act of kindness and support will impact a caregiver immensely.

A big shout out to my fellow caregiver, Susan Ellis for contributing ideas to this blog and a big thank you to Anissa Amason and Sheena Lance-Nold from Lifetime Fitness Johns Creek for inspiring me to write this.  Your generosity and sense of community is beautiful!

                    “The greatness of community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members, a heart of grace and a soul generated by love.”

-Coretta Scott King

 

 

The Blooming Caregiver

Many times when we think of caregiving and the brutal battle fought everyday, we don’t think of beautiful words to describe it, like delightful, serene, full of potential, thrilling, and fulfilling.  Most adjectives used to describe the duties and role could spin you into a therapist office contemplating different diagnoses.  However, as I develop in this process, I am noticing more and more how there is a huge impact on myself as a human being, similar to a blossoming flower.

Have you ever watched a flower bloom and its reactions to environmental influences?  I have these beautiful Startgazer Lillies on my deck that I watch respond to the extreme sunlight, the rain, the humidity and the chilly nights.  I watch what makes them bloom and what makes them shrivel up.  The strain of too much sun, or the collision with a heavy downpour of rain can wither a blossom unto death.  As too, the caregiver, with an overabundance of environmental extrinsic stress can diminish the very essence, the intrinsic nature of being human.  If we are not careful, our blossoms will whither, our soil will dry up and our bright colors darken.   So how do we blossom as caregivers?

  1. Stay balanced with enough rain and sun to thrive, not just survive.  How do you ever think about doing this?  Well, I can tell you, being a financially restricted, young, married, working caregiver, this took a determination, a mindset and a love for myself.  It is true, no one is going to do this for you, not a system, not the government and definitely not friends and family.  Many will desert you and disappoint you.  You can look around and see the abyss of services and support.  Therefore, mentally, what is your option? Are you going to whither up and die, or seek the rain and sunshine?  What do you need to bloom during this time of great trial? What is your rain and sunshine? Define it for yourself and find a way to access it!
  2. Turn your trials and tribulations into hope and support for others.  Whether you   believe in God or not, your spiritual being provides a sense of purpose in humanity in that we are here to support and help someone along the way. We are all tied to one another, living on this earth together, sharing some set of meaning and purpose.  You are not traveling this road solo and are interconnected to your fellow man/woman.  As you learn more about caregiving and what has assisted you, share it with others.  If there is not a support group, start it.  If legislatures and the federal government aren’t supportive, tell them what you need, over and over and over again.  If there isn’t enough exposure to the needs and issues that surround caregivers, expose it.  Exposure can come through many different avenues including mulit-media outlets, work policies, non-caregiving and caregiving institutions.  If there is no sunshine, bring the rays and if there is no water, bring the fresh rain!  Blossom caregiver!  Write about it, talk about it, open your mouth and share! One of my favorite leader of all times, Martin Luther King Jr. had such powerful truth-filled quotes that has changed history and man-kind:
    • “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”
    • “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
    • “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort or convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
  1. Make your strengths your personal weapons of war! Did you know a lily (Lilium) could grow just about anywhere? They are the earliest to bloom and the easiest to grow.  They have a multitude of colors, can be fragrant or non-fragrant, and require little care.  Sound familiar?  A caregiver receives little to no care from anyone.  They come in many different races, ages, sexes and socio-economic statuses and exist all over the world.  Disease does not discriminate and wherever there is a human suffering with a debilitating disease, there is a caregiver that embodies some heavy-duty strength.  You have strengths caregiver and are the foundation of the survival of another human being.  Examine your strengths and put them to use for yourself.  We fight and advocate everyday for our loved ones and yet, we ignore ourselves like we have no value.  Take a minutes an inventory the strengths and values you apply to caregiving everyday and begin to apply them to yourself. They are the petals in your bloom, the root in the soil and the nourishment needed to continue to flourish. 

“Strength and growth come only through effort and struggle.”

The Healing Power of Silence

“Silence isn’t empty, but yet full of answers.”  How many times in your day do you hear silence?  Yes, I said “hear silence.”  Everyday we are bombarded by the texts, emails and calls pulsating through our phones.  You turn on the TV to hear the recent reality show drama, the days events full of crime, murder, poverty and hardship.  Our music pumps in our cars on the way to work with the sounds of traffic ringing in our ears.  As caregiver’s we have the additional noise as we wake to the needs of our loved ones and fall asleep to the repetitive sound of an Alzheimer’s thought.

All caregivers are given the “survivor” tips by friends, family members, organizations, colleagues and on and on.  They tell you in order to maintain your sanity on a daily basis, you should,  “take care of yourself”, “try yoga”, “see a “therapist”, “join a support group”, and my favorite, “download this tip sheet or newsletter.”  But how often do you hear, “take 10 minutes and be silent?”

After a recent visit to my Psychologist, I left her office very irritated with what she was pushing me to do.  After months and months of explaining and describing the burden I face as a caregiver, daughter, wife, and working professional, she was pushing me to prioritize something in my life.  All I kept thinking was, she wants me to do this, my colleagues want me to do that, my husband wants this and my mother needs that.  I was feeling like a ping pong ball bouncing sporadically between the expectations of others.  Caregivers are told to seek help, support and assistance, but they are rarely told, sit in silence and feed your soul.

After I left my therapists office I had realized what was bothering me; noise, constant direction, opinions, judgements and demands.  I drove around the corner to my local park and sat patiently in silence, waiting it to speak to me. There was no music, no cell phone, no texting, no instant messaging, no Facebook, only the mystical sounds of birds.   For the first time, in a long time, an overwhelming sense of peace came over me.  I could breathe in the freshness of the air and the wisdom of silence.  I heard more in the 10 minutes of silence than I had in months from humans.  What I heard was silence serenading me victorious words of strength, peace and love.

The next time your caregiver world consumes you with noise from others, those support systems, take time out to wrap yourself in the healing sound of silence. Your soul and spirit will thank you. “Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.”

For more health benefits of silence: http://omtimes.com/2012/10/the-health-benefits-of-silence-simple-yet-profound/

 

 

Three Crucial Caregiver Survivor Tips

March 29, 2017 marked the one year anniversary of the death of my father.  Last year at this time, I was caring for my mother who had been diagnosed with Alzheimers disease and was feeling exhausted in every way imaginable.  I could barely get my weakened body out of bed to begin another day of caregiving.   I didn’t know that I was about to hit rock bottom emotionally, psychologically and physically.  I remember the day oh so well.  It was a Saturday morning and my day started with dragging my mom out of bed, bathing her, cleaning her dentures and dressing her.  We strolled down to the kitchen so I could make her breakfast with our two dogs by our sides.  My husband was working, as he usually does on the weekends.

As we sat at the kitchen table staring at one another over coffee,  my phone began to ring over and over again.  I did not want to answer it,  as it was yet another task to endure.  Yes, as a fulltime caregiver, even answering your phone calls can be extremely burdensome.  The person behind this call was relentless and persistent in ringing my phone and forced me to answer.  As I pushed the accept button, a voice of a middle-aged man asked for a “Heather Oglesby”.  I sighed and reluctantly confirmed my identity.  The man stated he was a private investigator looking for the family of Paul Oglesby, my father.  He began to share the news that my father had passed away.  As I listened to the details of his death, tears poured down my face like a raging waterfall.  I could not speak or swallow, thinking, “is this really happening?  I had not seen my father or spoken to him in 20 years since he walked out of our lives.  I, now, would be the “designated survivor” of my father’s limited affairs on top of the responsibility of being my mothers full-time caregiver.

That day took me further down a path of despair as I tried to figure out how I was going to handle all the responsibilities that were drastically dumped into my life.  However, what I didn’t know about myself, was the level of resilience that would emerge from the depths of that despair.  The following day, I got up out of bed with a determination, a fervor, that I was going to make it.  We all have an internal drive for more; a deeper desire of human fulfillment.  Being a caregiver will create an environment in which that drive can be diminished, squashed and devalued.  The caregivers primary role is sacrificial, denying every need to meet all the needs of someone else.  However, my life experiences and the receipt of love from others along the way was now going to be the catalyst and life raft I desperately needed.

Over the past year, I have taken the steps to actualize the human potential that still resides within me to heal; to move beyond the confines of the caregiver role.   Below are the brief steps I took to fight my way back to a healthier me:

  1. Mental: Address your mind first.  Make a mental determination that you are a priority and you will not allow the caregiving role to take you down.  Following the news of my fathers death, I picked up the phone and made an appointment with a psychologist.  I was on emotional pain overload.  I knew it was time to get the psychological support I needed to work through the impact of my parents recent events.  Seek the support however you can.  There are free community case management programs and counselors that you can tap into through your Local Area Agency on Aging. Google.com is the caregivers best friend and resource.  When one agency shuts the door on you, don’t give up.  Keep seeking.
  2.  Nutrition & Health: The neglect of the caregiver’s health is a common challenge. We are so busy caring for our loved ones that before we know it, its been a year since we have seen a doctor and we forget what a dentist actually does.  If you are fortunate enough to have health insurance and a comprehensive primary care doctor, ask for functional testing for your thyroid, cortisol levels, vitamin deficiencies, adrenals, and autoimmune antibodies.  Stress can do a number on our bodies.  If you cannot afford testing or do not have health insurance, begin to read about natural healing through the foods you consume.  An anti-inflammatory, heart healthy and brain healthy diet (way of eating), can support your immune system while under great stress.  Essential oils are also a great way to supplement your health needs.  More information on doTerra Essential Oils can found on my doTerra business site.
  3. Physical Exercise: Get Moving! It does not matter how you do this.  Just move. Climb stairs, walk outside with your dogs, stretch, buy a yoga DVD.  I was so fed up with my fatigue and ongoing weight gain due to stress, that I literally got up one day, drove to the local Walmart and bought a bike.  That was one year ago and I am now biking 70 miles a week.  Do what works for you.  There are inexpensive ways to take care of your body, but just realize that it takes time.  Persistence is the key and no fad diets or 30 day cleanses are going to solve the effects of stress on a caregiver.  You must change your lifestyle bit by bit over time.  Take the small steps now and huge rewards will come.

Remember that this walk as a caregiver is one of the most unsupported roles in our country today.  It can be an extremely stressful time of your life, with little to no support from friends, family or your community.  Think outside the box and get creative.  Ask for help from unconventional people and places.

In the last 6 months, I have been bringing my mother to my local gym, Lifetime Fitness,     with me so that I could exercise and not worry about how I would find care for her.  I can’t say enough about the staff at this gym.  My mom can’t work out and I can’t leave her alone, so in order for me to take care of myself, I bring her along.  She will sit on a bike and stare into the abyss, but she’s supervised for free by me.  They do not question me or her about membership or deny me access because she is with me.  The kindness of the staff at my gym has saved my life and increased a caregivers quality of life exponentially.

Step outside the typical boxed-in thinking as a caregiver.  Approach businesses and let them know what you are experiencing and ask them for their support.  You might be surprised in their response.  The above steps I choose to make for myself can be seen in the results below, one year later.

A caregiver make-over, organized, funded and supported by a caregiver, myself.

fullsizeoutput_2001 Continue reading “Three Crucial Caregiver Survivor Tips”

Put Some Perspective on That

As I come to an end of my second year of caregiving, I have come to realize that all along, I have moved through many different perspectives on my situation.  Perspective is a medieval Latin term, defined as “a particular attitude, view, position, stance or approach.”   It can also be defined as “the relative importance of things; sense of proportion.”  Being a caregiver takes some perspective and there is no correct, exact way to “view” your situation.  It takes experience, time to process and much reflection.

My journey with caregiving begun prior to picking my mom up at a homeless shelter in a traumatic state of dementia.  It began as I was birthed into this world.  My parents, over time, placed me in a caregiving role.  I took care of my sister, looked after my mom and as soon as I could work, I used my money to buy the family Christmas presents every year

Growing up in a low-income family and with parents who lacked the skills needed to advance through life can narrow your world-view.  When there are major deficits in a family, whether it be social, emotional, physical or financial, a response is generated in a child.  That response is usually driven by survival needs.  How the child chooses to survive will impact their future. Have you ever seen the family where one child is always the one to take care of the siblings or the parents?  In all my caregiver groups, a common issue always emerges; one sibling is solely caring for the parent or relative.  They are overwhelmed, angry and isolated because they have taken on the role that others refused, or because they are the only child.  This experience in my childhood shaped my old perspective and is why I am fulfilling the role that was handed to me 44 years ago.  I am continuing the road that was paved for me.

But, wait, wait, I found a way to jump onto the alternate highway. For the first time in my life, I have found value in myself, the meaning and purpose sitting in my soul.  I have found me in a traumatic situation.  I want to share ways in which I regained a piece of myself through the caregiving role, my new perspective.  My first approach, visualize your life now and what you want from the future!

Write the Vision Down and Make it Plain: (Habakkuk 2:2)  Whether you believe in God or not, you have a purpose for your life.  Caregiving is not your only purpose. What? What did you say?  Yes, caregiving can consume someone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  But it is not your only role and definitely not the only calling on your life.  It is apart of who you are and can define your daily tasks.  New Years 2017 included a vision for my life.  I made a firm decision to develop a fresh new perspective.  I refused to let the inadequate healthcare systems, the lack of treatment and support for Alzheimer’s and the apathy towards families caring for loved ones take me down.  I was coming out swinging for my life.  How did I swing?  I developed an online vision board.  Every area of my life that was suffering was now a target for me to improve upon.  I wanted better health, an improved relationship with my husband, decreased debt and strengthen my spiritual walk.  Write what you want. Take tiny realistic steps.  By creating this vision board, I have outlined the desires for my life and its like I have a blueprint for me, not just for my mom.  You can use any online vision board.  I use this site: http://www.dreamitalive.com.

I will elaborate on each element of my vision board with steps I am taking to actualize it.  I have already complete two of my visions for the year, (1) One vacation a year with my husband and (2) workouts at the gym at least 4 times a week.  It feels amazing to just complete something for me.  I encourage caregivers to take time and think about you.  Take on a new perspective.  Caregiving is brutal and one of the most challenging roles to take on, but don’t let the role take you down.  You are valuable and you deserve to thrive in this life!

Continue reading “Put Some Perspective on That”

First blog post

Well my friends, this is my very first blog post.  I am both excited and nervous at the same time to share my story with you.  Representing the caregiver community is a big undertaking and not to be taken lightly.  With all that we endure and all that we experience, my words and thoughts must lend itself to respect and true understanding.  I have read  an over-abundance of caregiver tips, resources, and  fact sheets over the last 20 months that have either angered me or made me bust out laughing hysterically. The lack of the caregiver experience is evident in these resources.   I love my friends and family, but if they send me one more fact, statistic or caregiver tip that was written by either an academic institution or some funded research institution, I might lose my cool.   If they are interested in facts, they can ask me, I am the statistic. 🙂

My desire to blog on this experience  is to convey the REAL caregiver journey.  This journey is every day, 24 hours a day, 12 months a year.  There is no break, no respite, unless you create it.   The journey I am describing lacks community support, drains your finances, physically beats you down and emotionally empties you from the core of your being.  While I believe in a positive and healthy approach to caregiving, I know the raw experience and refuse to sugar coat the realities of this walk.

My caregiver journey really began when I was a child.  As the first born into the typical dysfunctional family, my role quickly developed into caretaker, mediator, counselor and protector.  As I moved into adulthood, my role became provider, especially for my mother, who lacked a higher education, was low income her entire adult life and could not make sound decisions for her life.  I always say that I did not want this job, but sometimes life dictates circumstances beyond our control.  I could have walked away from this situation very early on in life and may not be where I am today.  However, God developed my character and filled my heart with compassion, empathy and a desire to serve others.  I will never say I had a choice to take care of my family, to me, that is what love is.

Now at 44 years of age, I developed a new love, a love for myself.  Did I have this prior to picking my mom up at the homeless shelter and becoming a fulltime caregiver of someone with Alzheimer’s?  Probably, but I did not consciously take action in my life to self-preserve.  I really should be thanking my mother.  The last 20 months has saved my life. This time has given me new profound meaning and purpose and has provided a self-awareness that I do not think I could have gained, if I had not stumbled down this path.

I am hoping to adequately describe this journey, as it can be horrific, heart-wrenching and devastating to the family’s undertaking the prime responsibility of caring for a loved one.  At the same time, I want to describe the kindness I experienced along the way.  In the face of continous closed doors, denials, appeals,lack of empathy and just plain lack of services, my family crossed paths with angels.  These angels assisted us along the way and to this day, may never know the depths of their impact on our lives.

In future blogs, I will also be discussing the health and wellness aspects of caregivers.  This was and is one of the biggest challenges I have encountered.  You become invisible as a caregiver and before you know it, you have not been to a doctor in two years, you don’t remember what a dentist does and your workout clothes have become your pajama’s.  This is a very scary situation for caregivers and  I will be sharing my on-going successes and challenges with you.

Thank you for reading or skimming my very first blog post.  I hope you will come back and visit me and I hope that I will make the caregiver community proud in being the voice to the largest ignored vulnerable population in the world.  Feel free to leave comments or email me.  I want to hear about your journey.  Lets build this community together!

First blog post

Well my friends, this is my very first blog post.  I am both excited and nervous at the same time to share my story with you.  Representing the caregiver community is a big undertaking and not to be taken lightly.  With all that we endure and all that we experience, my words and thoughts must lend itself to respect and true understanding.  I have read  an over-abundance of caregiver tips, resources, and  fact sheets over the last 20 months that have either angered me or made me bust out laughing hysterically. The lack of the caregiver experience is evident in these resources.   I love my friends and family, but if they send me one more fact, statistic or caregiver tip that was written by either an academic institution or some funded research institution, I might lose my cool.   If they are interested in facts, they can ask me, I am the statistic. 🙂

My desire to blog on this experience  is to convey the REAL caregiver journey.  This journey is every day, 24 hours a day, 12 months a year.  There is no break, no respite, unless you create it.   The journey I am describing lacks community support, drains your finances, physically beats you down and emotionally empties you from the core of your being.  While I believe in a positive and healthy approach to caregiving, I know the raw experience and refuse to sugar coat the realities of this walk.

My caregiver journey really began when I was a child.  As the first born into the typical dysfunctional family, my role quickly developed into caretaker, mediator, counselor and protector.  As I moved into adulthood, my role became provider, especially for my mother, who lacked a higher education, was low income her entire adult life and could not make sound decisions for her life.  I always say that I did not want this job, but sometimes life dictates circumstances beyond our control.  I could have walked away from this situation very early on in life and may not be where I am today.  However, God developed my character and filled my heart with compassion, empathy and a desire to serve others.  I will never say I had a choice to take care of my family, to me, that is what love is.

Now at 44 years of age, I developed a new love, a love for myself.  Did I have this prior to picking my mom up at the homeless shelter and becoming a fulltime caregiver of someone with Alzheimer’s?  Probably, but I did not consciously take action in my life to self-preserve.  I really should be thanking my mother.  The last 20 months has saved my life. This time has given me new profound meaning and purpose and has provided a self-awareness that I do not think I could have gained, if I had not stumbled down this path.

I am hoping to adequately describe this journey, as it can be horrific, heart-wrenching and devastating to the family’s undertaking the prime responsibility of caring for a loved one.  At the same time, I want to describe the kindness I experienced along the way.  In the face of continous closed doors, denials, appeals,lack of empathy and just plain lack of services, my family crossed paths with angels.  These angels assisted us along the way and to this day, may never know the depths of their impact on our lives.

In future blogs, I will also be discussing the health and wellness aspects of caregivers.  This was and is one of the biggest challenges I have encountered.  You become invisible as a caregiver and before you know it, you have not been to a doctor in two years, you don’t remember what a dentist does and your workout clothes have become your pajama’s.  This is a very scary situation for caregivers and  I will be sharing my on-going successes and challenges with you.

Thank you for reading or skimming my very first blog post.  I hope you will come back and visit me and I hope that I will make the caregiver community proud in being the voice to the largest ignored vulnerable population in the world.  Feel free to leave comments or email me.  I want to hear about your journey.  Lets build this community together!