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

 

 

The Caregiver Community: Healing or Hurting You?

I set my alarm this morning for 4:30am. in order to write this blog about the concept of community. I have been pondering my current “tribe”; the people around me providing support, encouragement, laughter and love.  It is my special community that has evolved around me that has sustained me as my mother’s caregiver.

It has been 3 years, 1 month, 2 weeks and 3 days, since I moved my mother in with me.  Yes, I count every day, week, month and now year, as it is one of the hardest transitions in my life.  I look back many times and wonder, how have I done it.  How have I survived the battles with Medicaid, with insufficient services, with negligent doctors, while working fulltime, starting a business, going to school and taking care of my own health?  The answer always comes back to three things, (1) my faith in God, (2)my resilience and (3) the people who surround me, my community.

When I first started this caregiver journey, I reached out to all the typical players, the Alzheimer’s Association, national caregiving organizations, Rosalyn Carter Center, local faith-based support groups, Emory ALZ Research Center and on and on.  I joined online support groups and chat rooms, seeking the hands of strength and searching for answers I so desperately needed.  What I found was the exact opposite.  Their answers are rooted in the ideology that if you just knew how to be a better caregiver, you would have less stress.  All the tips and suggestions diminish you as a person and only define you as a caregiver.  The so-called “support groups” turn into a depressing, hopeless space of desolation and despair.  It is consumed with caregiver complaint after complaint and excuse after excuse of why their lives are now destroyed and nothing can be done about it.  Its the systems fault, its the incurable disease that only leads to death, its the lack of family support or financial resources.

After spending my first year engulfed in a failed caregiver support system, I started to focus on my own health needs, removed myself from all caregiver support groups, and “smoke and mirror” organizations whose whole function is to protect caregivers.  There is a tagline that a lot of “helping” organizations use, “do no harm!”  Well, all of these groups and organizations were harming me, exhausting me and were not pouring life into my situation.

As I began my journey with health and wellness, I joined small group classes at my gym, enrolled in a Health and Wellness Coaching Certification and a Spin Certification.  A natural occurring community emerged and now, 3 years, 1 month, 2 weeks and 3 days later, I am more resilient, healthier and vibrant than I was prior to caregiving.  The people around me have wrapped their arms around me as an individual, not as a caregiver.  They have created a tool of respite for me, a positive outlet and an avenue to a healthier me.  Their impact on my life exceeds the caregiver role and has forever changed who I am for the better.

When I think of “my community”,  a set of characteristics becomes evident and are what I believe are a foundation for the caregiver community.

Creates a space for freedom
Opens doors of opportunity
Magnifies your individuality
Mobilizes your goals and dreams
Understands your uniqueness
Navigates stress in your life
Initiates growth and potential
Tackles challenges collectively 
Yields Grace and Mercy

If your community is not building you up, creating a space for individual freedom, assisting you with setting goals and priorities for your life, now is the time for that re-assessment of who is surrounding you.  Who and what do you need to evict from your neighborhood in order to grow, to heal and to be whole?

“Devote yourself to your community around you, devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”   – Mitch Albom

 

The Caregiver Rollercoaster

This past month has been a truly busy and life-altering time with my mom getting ill.  The doctor appointments, prescriptions, grocery store runs, late night wake-ups and coordination of all her services, had me spiraling like the “SooperDooperLooper.”  Yes, for those of you who know what this is (an old-school rollercoaster at Hershey Park), you can confirm the feeling of winding through the tracks at warp speed, flipping upside down with little warning and dropping down hills at a rate that makes your stomach wish you didn’t have that Hershey candy bar.

What I’ve come to know, by experience only, is that caregiving is cyclical and mimics a rollercoaster.  There are days that are expected, like the climb up the rickety tracks, but then before you can even prepare for it, the doors of chaos are opened with sudden flips and nauseating turns.  When the caregiver goes through that door, typically, no one goes with her/him.  Everyone around the caregiver maintain the same expectations with little to no understanding of the mental strength that is required.

With this last episode with my mom, there were times I felt that a huge black hole had opened up and was trying to swallow me.  With all the responsibilities of trying to work, maintain a marriage, pay bills, make sure there is food in the refrigerator,  taking care of myself seemed unrealistic.  There were times I did not know whether to laugh out loud hysterically or just curl up like a baby and cry…in public.

There are some theories around the stages of caregiving that can be found here: http://bridgessc.org/caregiving/stages-of-caregiving/.  However, I would argue that there is no preparing for a caregiver rollercoaster.  There are many stages and we move from stage to stage with no set time limits.  We can plan and plan for an aging or special needs loved one, but because our systems are fragile and our society has become so individualized, the lack of support tears our plans apart and caregivers are left to strategize a new plan instantly, on the spot.   It wasn’t until I recently met with my Nutrition Coach at Lifetime Fitness that I was able to sharpen my vision, stand straight up and bring myself back to a sense of levelness.  She walked me through my primary values, my challenges and my blessings, allowing me to regain the stability I needed at that moment.

Here are my lessons after this last rollercoaster ride:

  1. Acceptance: I am a caregiver and this is not going to be easy.  A lot of individuals cannot and will not relate to my situation, leaving this to a solo ride.  In moments of sanity, take deep breaths and recover, as we do in physical training and remember the blessings.
  2. Strengths: I have them and I certainly pulled on them.  I had forgotten them momentarily, but they did not leave me and in fact, resurfaced with some supports. Caregivers have strengths that cannot be compared to any other. Whether you are caring for your loved one with Alzheimer’s, or for a child with Down Syndrome, you have a specialized skill set and are a fortress of strength that cannot be imitated or duplicated. You can only obtain this through experience!
  3. Supports: My support during this ride was not a typical person in my life that I lean on. That support, in a moment of time, was my coach.  I went to her for a nutritional session and walked away with my feet balanced and my vision crisp.  I will never underestimate the opportunity for support.  It is there all around me and I appreciate it in all forms.
  4. Special: I am not alone in this journey and know many amazing caregivers who bring so much love and care to this journey.  When I examine the world and the selfish acts of others, caregivers are special.  They go against the grain and become exactly what the world needs, awakened human beings, sacrificing their lives one for another.

What has your rollercoaster been like?  What were your strengths that pulled you through and the unexpected supports that arose out of your ride?

“Life is like a roller coaster with is ups and downs. What matters is whether you are keeping your eyes open or closed during the ride and who is next to you.”

– Ana Ortega

 

How to be Wonder Woman in the Face of Adversity

Last night my family and I celebrated my mothers 67th. birthday.   In keeping with the theme of resilience and strength, we took her to see “Wonder Woman.”

Wonder Woman is a leader in the fight of justice.  She searches for peace, uses her lasso of truth as a weapon and deflects evil through the use of those unbreakable bracelets!  She defends and unites humanity and resists the intended destruction of evil.  I truly believe that each caregiver is a “Wonder Woman.”

Many times we face adversity in our lives, whether its due to our own choices, a failed system, dysfunctional family units or to a random crisis in our lives.  The reason for the adversity is important, but not as imperative as your reaction to it.  There is a turning point that can be made, a conscious decision to change the course and outcome of the event.

However, as an individual, you must wrap yourself in the “lasso of truth” and be honest with who you are and where you would like to go.  Your trauma and crisis does not define you and it is up to you to resist the negative impact In your life!  But how does one tap into “Wonder Woman Powers?” Below are a of couple steps below to begin to explore your own personal potential.

  1. Who are you?  List out all the characteristics of yourself, including strengths and weaknesses. Be honest and wear that lasso of truth.  List them out into two separate columns.  Both strengths and weaknesses are important as they can be leveraged to calibolt you into your dreams.
  2. What do you want? What would make you whole or complete?  Write a list of all your desires in every area of your life, including, (a) career, (b) health and wellness, (c) love and romance, (d) travel and adventure, (e) wealth and prosperity, (f) family and community, and (g) hobbies and creativity.
  3. Where are your gaps?  Now that you have your desires written, rate yourself in that area from 1-10.  #1 being the lowest satisfaction rating and #10 being the highest satisfaction rating.  What do you notice about your ratings in the different areas of your life? Is it a surprise or does it resonate with you? What are the reasons for the lower ratings?
  4. What area of your life are you ready to tackle?  Looking at your ratings and assessing your own strengths and challenges, select an area of focus.  This could be your health, career or finances. You must choose.  Remember, nothing is impossible. Impossibility resides in your mind and you must evict it before you can even think about the steps to put in place and develop that action plan.
  5. Why do you have a box?   We all live in a box, a box that society, family and even ourselves have built around us.  Once in awhile, we will peer through a window, a small opening in that stuffy place and wonder what it must be like to breath, to truly live.  It is us standing in the way of ourselves.  One must get out of the way of stale thinking, remove the blinders of tunnel vision and open the heart to the potential that lies within you.  We must destroy the box all together.  Wonder Woman’s personal “amazon trainer” pushed her for more. She never allowed her to get comfortable or let her guard down.  To be victorious, she had to give more-fight harder!
  6. What are your resources? Friends, family, and even a computer can be some amazing resources to educate and expand your mind.  If your friends and family live within your box or put that box around you, then they are not a resource. My favorite resource is my computer. I’ve googled my way to learn about different areas of improving my life, from taking coaching courses to finding the most reasonable ways to vacation.  Assess your resources and they must be different but supportive, accessible but uncomfortable!

I will follow up on with this blog piece on the personal steps my family and I have taken to change the course and direction of our lives and break down those boxes that surrounded us.   Know that “Wonder Woman” lives within you and there are no limits to your super-powers except you!  Love yourself enough to invest in you!

“If you do what you’ve always done, you will get what you have always gotten!”

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Caregiver Blessings

Being a caregiver is one of the most grueling jobs on earth. I was cleaning out my voicemails from last week and realized that I had a total of 32 calls in one week in relation to my mother and her care. Whether it be case managers, pharmacies, doctors offices, advocacy groups, adult day care, Medicaid officers, Medicare and social security, it’s about her wellbeing.

Taking care of a sick, disabled or elderly loved one is truly brutal in this country. They don’t make it easy and this is not for the faint in heart. But I count my blessings everyday and here they are:

1. God: my faith and trust lies in Him!

2. Husband: could never do this alone without Gilbert Blackwell! ❤️

3. Home: we are not homeless, and can call ourselves homeowners

4. Food: we can chow down (in a healthy way) ☺️

5. Vehicles: how would I survive without a vehicle in GA…no mass transit here…😜

6. Employment: not my favorite job, but it’s a job with income

7. Healthcare: yes, it’s expensive as hell, but I have it (including access to an awesome gym)

8. Education/growth/opportunity: have it and it’s available and we are able to access it

9. Supportive friends and family: need I say more? (Including my fur-babies)

10. I opened my eyes today and have another chance at life!

What are your top ten blessings that sustain you?

They are there..just look around you!

Caregiver Resilience

In the two years of caregiving for a loved one with Alzheimers, I truly feel as though our family has uncovered a strength like no other, a rope of resilience, that has kept us humble and determined to survive.  Using your story to bring awareness to a key issue and bring hope to others is the least one can do in the face of hardship.

I woke this morning with the greatest blessing in seeing our story posted on the Option B website.  What a validating feeling it is to know that your suffering can lead to someone else’s victory!

https://optionb.org/stories/surviving-alzheimers-disease-h1vm4ghrx

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/