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/

 

 

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”

Aging Policy Briefing/Meeting in DC 4/13/17

Monday, April 3: On Monday morning, the Aging and Disability Business Institute will host a pre-conference intensive, CBO Opportunities in Health Care Payment and Delivery Systems, aimed at helping CBOs understand and recognize business opportunities within an evolving health care landscape as CMS moves toward alternative payment methods tied to values and outcomes. Monday afternoon, the Aging Policy Briefing formally begins. Attendees will dive into health care and aging policy analysis and updates from the new Administration and Capitol Hill. n4a may host a Capitol Hill Reception on Monday night for APB attendees and their Members of Congress.

Tuesday, April 4: Attendees will convene bright and early to continue the policy briefing before advocates deploy to Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon for meetings with Representatives and Senators. Please note that advocates will be setting up their own visits.

http://www.n4a.org/Files/2017%20APB%20Agenda%20Draft_Website.pdf