Monday, July 31, 2017

You're Retiring?...AND You're a Caregiver? You need a Therapist

        Retiring and Caregiving at the same time are like juggling …a chainsaw and a loaded pistol.
If you think this is overstating the case consider that retirement and a variety of issues relating to our families are consistently ranked in the Top 10 most stressful events in life. 
So, here’s a simple suggestion: You need therapy.
No, really.
If you are smarter than most you’ll meet with a therapist if:
- You are retiring in the next 6 months (even if you are not staring down the barrel of caregiving).
- You can see the caregiving experience coming in the next 6 months.
- You have just been informed by a doctor or life event that you are now a caregiver. 
Why see a therapist if you are retiring? Because, you may have a wonderful idea of what retirement is like—I’m not at work!—but, research is showing that at least half of retirees experience a variety of anxieties and stresses, including depression, within 10 months of retiring. Why not identify some of the issues that could cause you problems before they are on your doorstep?
If you see a caregiver experience coming and you are like most of us you’ll do one of three things; start planning, resist planning and start worrying, decide to put it out of your mind (good luck!) until it happens. A good therapist can help you with all three options.
I’ve said it before in this column, I’ve had an emergency room doc look me in the eye and tell me, “No, your mother isn’t going back to her home. We are admitting her and after a few days she’ll go into a care unit for a few weeks. Then she’ll need some type of 24-hour care, from then on.” It’s like being told you’re taking a physics exam in two hours…and you’ve never had a physics course. If you get the type of news my brother and I heard 5 years ago you need to schedule an appointment with a a therapist as soon as possible. Believe me.
Understand that the term “therapist” is most commonly used to describe a counselor, but the title can apply to almost anyone. You are looking for the therapist who might be the difference between you maintaining a sense of balance during your experience, and you standing at the corner of Heartbreak and Depression with your head in your hands.
Here are 7 simple tips for finding the therapist who might help:
1) Ask your friends. If you have friends or family who have seen therapists for whatever reason ask for a name. Simply telling them you’re trying to get ahead of a challenge and are putting together a list of names for future reference. I promise, some may joke with you, but they’ll admire you for thinking ahead.
2) Ask a therapist. You would not call an optometrist and ask about stomach pain. Therapists, like physicians, focus on different areas an issues. Tell whomever you talk with what your challenges are and let them suggest colleagues. 
3) Go online and do some research. In some cases therapists and therapy practices may have websites or individual profiles. You may see comments and reviews. You will probably be bewildered with the alphabet soup of titles, qualifications and the services provided. They will range from Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) or Licensed Social Worker (LSW),  (LPC), Licensed Clinical Psychologist (LCP), PhD, PsyD and M.D.s. Do yourself a favor and do some research.
4) Ask if they offer a free consultation, such as a phone call or a brief visit. You’ll get a feel for how they communicate. Can you envision talking with this person and being very honest about your life, for 45 minutes a week, for at least a few weeks? Granted, this may sound simplistic, but trust your gut. If they are open to a short visit check out their office, appearance and communication style (do they make eye contact?). This isn’t etched in stone, but someone who is careless and disorganized in their workplace and personal life may be the same in relation to the relationship you have with them.
5) Have a list of questions. From a practical point, the first question is, “Have you worked with someone facing the same challenges I’m facing.” Ask them what they think about your situation and how they might help you. Find someone with applicable experience.
6). Don’t settle. Resist pressure, from yourself or family and friends, to go with the first therapist you see. Find someone whom you trust and with whom you believe you fit. After a few visits if you don’t believe you fit, say so. Maybe you don’t fit; or, maybe the conversation has moved into areas in which you are not comfortable. That is not necessarily a bad thing; it may point to areas you need to explore.
7) Who pays? Whether you are employed, or not, find out what your health insurance might cover.

In today’s world, with so much helpful information available, it’s crazy to ignore assistance in some of life’s most difficult situations.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The First, and The First, and The First.....

This time last year my brother and I were thinking about our first Thanksgiving…ever…without Mama. She had passed away on October 28 and from that day forward almost everything was a First.
The First Day of Our Lives Without Mama, The First Thanksgiving, First Christmas, our First Birthdays Without Her.
This year, obviously, is not a First. But, there have been so many times during the last week or so when I’ve thought about Mama and how she loved to get ready of the holidays (although, at times it was a hassle), be with everyone and enjoy the celebrations.
If you are in our situations—your caregiver journey is over—keep remembering the good times. The more you think about them the more they become the dominant theme. Thinking about the difficult times only reinforces the negative.
If you are still a caregiver there are two thoughts I’d offer: First, there will be a time somewhere in the future in which a day, an event, a holiday will be, for you, a First. 
The very practical understanding I’d like for you to take away is there will be a day when your caregiver stresses will be over. 
I certainly realize the reality is bittersweet, but simply understanding there will be a day when your journey will end can be comforting.
Second, understand the holiday doesn’t need to be perfect. Again, I understand the thought of, “we are not going to let all this ruin the holidays” is a normal, we-all-have-it thought. 
Caregiving can be one of those life events, like having a child, that throws everything into a spin and there is a normal reaction to want at least SOME of life to be “normal”.
But, trying to make everything perfect denies the reality of the journey and puts an extra burden on, not just one group—the people who are trying to make it perfect—but, a second group—the people who think they are supposed to act (for your benefit) like nothing as changed.
So, understand that the journey won’t last forever and don’t try to make things perfect. Those two reasonably simple strategies can lower your stress level and raise your level of thankfulness; two incredibly valuable blessings during this wonderful season. 

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


If you know someone who might benefit from this blog, please share.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

You Have the Power

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. 

Leo Buscaglia


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Is Worrying Helping?

My devotion this morning opened with a great quote from George Washington: Worry is interest paid by those who borrow trouble.

Worry is one of the main contributors to caregiver craziness. It sucks so much energy out of us and, as I’ve noted before, energy is an exhaustible resource. You can burn out.

In fact, I have a friend who says, “Come worry with me.” Now, you and I know that both of us worrying about the same thing is twice the wasted of time. But, what she means is that she needs companionship, a connection, a feeling that she isn’t in her situation alone. I get that and that’s a good thing.

Here’s the deal, though: Whatever it is you’re worried about, the only two issues to consider are can you do something about it, or can’t you?

If you can do something about it, then do whatever your can do. Even if it’s only a little effort that gets you a tiny bit farther down the road it’s something. And, I can tell you that one something leads to another and another, and the next thing you know you’ve got a handle on that thing you were worried about. You feel more in control and the worrying tends to stop or, at least, lessen.

However, you can overdo the strategy of keeping busy. You can burn yourself out by going-going-going all the time in an effort to convince yourself that you are doing something about the situation.

If you can’t do anything about it worrying won’t help. Hmmm…you didn’t seem to be paying attention to that last line because you were thinking, “Everyone knows that.” Right.

So, here it is again, “If you can’t do anything about it worrying won’t help.” 

Does worrying make you feel better? No. Does it make you feel like you’re doing something? Sometimes.

Whatever you are worried about, either do something or understand that there’s nothing you can do and move on. In the next blog I’ll offer a really practical way to move on. 


Here’s a hint, redirect yourself.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Tough Love: Listen if You Want to Be Listened To

Ran into a caregiver last week who had what—unfortunately—is the standard story; all of a sudden the responsibility is on him and his family, stress, “what do we do?!” coming up with answers a bit at the time, calling friends to ask what they’ve done to deal with the challenge.
He said, “I immediately realized how many of my friends are in the same situation. In the past when they talked about it I never heard what they said. It was just them. Now that we’re in the middle of it I’m hanging on every word of advice.”
The key part of his comment is the understanding that not only is he not the first and only caregiver, he has lots of friends in his circle who are in the same situation and can offer support.
ALERT!!! TOUGH LOVE COMMENT COMING
Here’s what I see: So many caregivers isolate themselves from support. It’s out there if you look for it. But, you have to be supportive of them, too. I see lots of caregivers who, once they get someone to listen, will wear the listener OUT with tales of woe. They don’t have anyone who will listen to their issues and once they find a target…well…it’s time for the listener to pack a lunch. 
If you want to just lay out all your problems you need to find a shrink or a priest. if you have a friend who will listen understand that they are gold…and be sure you listen when they are talking. The attitude of, “Yeah, yeah, I hear ya, but your problems are not as big as mine,” won’t get you listeners, friends and supporters for very long. 
Listen if you want to be listened to.
Everyone has battles they are fighting. Theirs might be different from yours, but they are no less important.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Forecast is Cloudy With a Chance of Sunny

It’s Friday, April Fool’s Day, and, no foolin’, it’s raining like crazy outside my window. A weather front moved in from the southeast and brought some rain, hail, winds, and overall yucky weather. 
Is “yucky” a technical weather term?
On days like this, if I can’t take a nap, I want to go outside, point at the sky and say, “Now You stop that!…please.”
But, you know what, the forecast is for this weather to move away by tomorrow and the rest of the weekend should be nice
Recently, I’ve come to understand that thoughts and emotions are like the weather. They often zoom into our minds like dark clouds and can easily overwhelm us. But, they aren’t there forever. There will be a time when they’ll be gone and we’ll see life more positively.
The reality is that you can’t control what pops into your mind and heart, it just happens. And, it’s difficult to cognitively (thinking it through) force the thoughts from our minds. You remember the old trick of telling people not to think about a pink elephant? SEEEEE!!! What are you thinking about right now?
But, it’s also true that you can literally work the thoughts and feelings out of your mind.
Here’s the secret: Keep moving. Have a To-Do List, a project, a hobby, something you can get busy on. Keep your focus on the activity and you’ll find that it doesn’t take long for your mind to move away from what might be a negative, stressful thought and onto the activity.
Caregiving is a wonderful example. The worries, frustrations, and, sometimes, anger, that come with caregiving often bring a thundercloud of negative and stressful thoughts to mind. As much as you can, look at each individual activity as something you can focus on, a task you can complete, another check on your To-Do List. 
This is a great way to keep caregiving from making life—and you—crazy.
Looking out my window right now I’m seeing a shadow beside a tree. That means a ray of sunshine has to be around here somewhere to create it.