The Things that Make You Go “Thrive”

“Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”  -Lao Tzu

Why do I love the word “thrive”?  I define myself by this term often and every step I take in life is encapsulated by the value I place on its meaning.  The word “thrive” means to grow vigorously, to flourish and prosper and to press towards a goal despite the circumstances.  I believe the last part of this definition is what resonates with me the most, especially when addressing well-being.

Caregiving is traumatic, challenging, filled with long-suffering and sacrifices.  There are other situations in life that can have a similar impact and may be relatable to the caregiving scenario.  But no matter what the adversity is, the characteristics of a person who decides to thrive is truly honorable.  What makes you stand-up and fight for your life and thrive, in spite of?  It can truly be baffling to some, amazing to others, and inspiring to many.  So taking the time to identify the things that make you “thrive” is imperative.

Here are the top three things that make me go “thrive”:

  1. My Faith: I don’t know where I would be without my faith in God;  in something higher than myself.  The belief in something I cannot see but just know is there, has kept me through many hardships in life.  I have watched situations resolve itself, doors open, and blessings rain down on me, all because I choose to rely on faith. I believe that there is a purpose for every single human life walking this earth.  But in order for purpose to be birthed out of us, we have to go through an experience.  Those experiences shape our own personal cause in life.  Faith is what is hoped for and yet not seen.
  2. Mental Strength: I like to describe this as mental integrity.  Managing our thoughts is the key to the outcome of our emotions and our actions.  What we think, elicits an emotional response and can cause a physical reaction.  When life throws trials, problems and challenges my way,  I have to pay attention to what I thought about those scenarios, in order to confront any absolutes that have been hibernating within my mind (such as  “shoulds”, “oughts” or “cant’s”).  It’s completely valid to get angry, frustrated, sad or whatever emotion floods from your heart.  But then what?  If we were to sit in any negative thoughts or emotions for a period of time, what would be the consequence?  We must decide that we are a priority and worth every opportunity, blessing and gift life has to offer. We have to shift our thinking in order to thrive.  This is a deliberate commitment to ourselves and will guide our steps that are conducive for growth and prosperity.
  3. Desire for Joy: I love to be happy. I love to smile, to laugh and to enjoy all life has to offer.  Who doesn’t? (don’t answer that).  This deep desire has never left me, no matter what has entered into my life.  The caregiver experience has truly tested the authenticity of this desire.  The amount of time I have spent fighting major systems of care, advocating for my mother, advocating for myself, could have stripped me of my joy and hope in humanity.  When doors closed on me, opportunities were lost, friends deserted me, finances strained, I tapped deeply into that desire and made a “mental” decision to fight for it.  I fought and still fight to keep that jubilation in my life, no matter what I see in front of me.

In summary, these are the things that make me go “thrive.”  My faith has protected my mental integrity and leveraged the joy that resides within me, which in turn, has caused me to “grow vigorously.”   I encourage you to evaluate what has given you the superpower to flourish in spite of.  Once you have identified it, build your life’s foundation on it so that when a storm blows your way, you do not plummet, but instead rise on the cloud of your potential and land firmly on your purpose.








The Portrait of a Caregivers World

“Sometimes the strongest among us are the ones who smile through silent pain, cry behind close doors and fights battles nobody know about.”   Four years ago, I became a full-time caregiver for my mother with Alzheimers.  Four years ago, the self I knew became buried in pain, sacrifice and battle for someone else’s life.  Today, I can say that my emerged revitalized self has new meaning, purpose and intention.  However, the pain and experience has not ended, instead it has shaped my world beyond something I never foresaw.

Everyday, I smile, laugh, listen to others problems, console the person with a complaint about their life, and then continue to complete the duties of a caregiver for a loved one living with dementia.  Friends, coworkers, colleagues and acquaintances will ask how they can help, state that they cannot believe the sacrifices I make, or just sit and listen with no obvious solutions to gift you.  However,  because this is my walk, it is my responsibility to share this experience with the world.  The lack of solutions is to be expected and sometimes doesn’t easily exist.  The reason for that, is because you are the solution.

Caring for a person with a chronic illness for a long period of time is truly one of the most character-building life activities that one can go through.  People will lose their patience with your experience, lose the level of empathy and understanding they once had and begin to dissociate from your world, due to your continued limitations you have.  More frequently, I have had to say “I can’t”, “thank you, but no thank you”, call out from work, and look for creative solutions and opportunities.  You see, the length of caregiving is never really discussed as an overall impact on ones health and well-being.  It can be a long brutal obstacle course and the stamina and endurance that is built cannot be compared to any other race.

In today’s race,  I write this blog from the hospital, as my mother is undergoing anesthesia to have three MRI’s.  Multiple doctors have ordered MRI’s for her brain and back due to her Alzheimers and severe Osteoporosis.  The hospital and I have become very familiar and the atmosphere of illness, stressed families, and emotionally-numb medical staff are now a major part of my world. The starting line-up to todays course starts with requesting time off a week ago.  That in itself can be one of the biggest hurdle, negotiating time off with your employer.

I took one week off from work to handle my moms medical needs.  I did not take off to vacation, go on a girls trip or romantic get away.  I used my annual and sick leave to care for my ailing mother.  I want to describe a couple hours for you today from the lenses of a caregiver.  I wake up early (4am) and grab a quick cup of coffee.  I, then move to my mothers room, where I awake her from sleep and orient her to the conscious world.  This means telling her what time it is, to take off her clothes, get in the shower, dressing her, grooming her, giving her medications, all before jumping in the shower myself.  This entire process takes about 2 hours every morning.

As we drive to the hospital, I put on her favorite playlist to relieve the stress I know she feels.  She taps her foot, but does not speak.  She knows I am about to take her to a place she abhors, the hospital.  We arrive in a flurry, as I always do, because no matter what, there is never enough day-time hours to handle all life tasks as a working caregiver.  She reluctantly gets out of the car, and then begins the psychological fight.  The slow walking, the attitude, the non-verbal disdain for anything medical, followed by the shut-down.  There is no communication, no eye contact and definitely no commitment to reality or owning any part of the experience.  It falls on me to be two fully-operating brains.

We enter the hospital and here comes the ignorance of Alzheimers from the medical community meeting me at the door.  They begin to ask her questions that she obviously cannot answer and then look at me, like “what’s wrong with her.”  I point to her diagnosis on paperwork and look at them with expectation of behaving decently and with knowledge of the disease.  Nope, nope, wrong expectation Heather.  As the technician asks me why am I signing papers for her, I look at him and have to state, “I am her Power of Attorney and she has Alzheimers Disease!”  Yes, I had to discuss my mothers cognitive inabilities in front of her, due to the lack of training and awareness around this disease.

Next round of staff emerge; the MRI tech, the lab staff and nurses, all with whom I have to go through the same process, as my mother declines more into her protected isolated shell.  As they hook my mom up to IV’s, her eyes are closed and tears run down her wrinkled tired face.  I am simultaneously filling out paperwork, answering medical questions and consoling her, wiping her tears and holding her hand.  As they whisk her away, I am told to go sit in the lobby for three hours.  I look around and see sterile walls, no form of calm or tranquility and decide to excitedly (not) nourish myself in the hospital cafe and write this blog.

You see, the caregiver is the strongest foundation a loved one could have and the whole entire bridge to the healthcare system.  We hold every answer, offer every solution and make ongoing recommendations in order for our loved ones to have some sort of quality of life.  We should be the priority in the preventative sense as we try to reduce the impact of disease in this country.  Caregivers should continue not to accept poor treatment, demand to be prioritized and integrated into all systems, policies and practices across the healthcare industry,

I described one morning of a caregiver’s world, from 4am – 8am, to be exact.  Multiply that by 12 more hours for the day, times 7 days a week, 4 weeks a month, 12 months a year, for how many years?  Think about the toll this has on a caregivers world.  It is monumental.  Try to describe this world to an employer, a friend, and even medical professionals.  The caregiver, as an individual, is hidden beneath the disease, overshadowed and forgotten, and yet remains the kryptonite for the one diagnosed with the disease.  Employers, hospitals, medical communities, fitness and wellness centers, community organizations MUST focus on the caregivers experience in order to alleviate the stress and burden of caregiving.  The caregivers risk factors for developing a chronic disease is astronomical. The physical and emotional impact of dementia caregiving resulted in an estimated $9.7 billion in healthcare costs in 2014.

I took a snap shop of my morning, not for pity nor glorification efforts, but rather to continue to describe the reality of the burden fo the caregiver role.  Society needs to address this role in all forms, as a Public Health crisis is on our hands.  Caregivers, continue to speak out about your experience, advocate for yourself and do not, do not give up on you!

“Before you give up, think about why you held on so long”

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 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: