Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Enough About Me, Now Let's Talk About Me

Last night, I clicked on an article about how caregivers can find more balance in their lives, especially around the holidays. It started out well by noting that the holidays can be an emotional rollercoaster, the days this time of year are shorter so there’s less sunshine, and in some areas of the country the cold keeps people inside more which often means less interaction with others. The piece noted how easy it is to slide into depression. But, it wasn’t long before a phrase jumped off the page at me.

The phrase, itself, wasn’t all that big a deal…I’ll give it to you in a moment.

Here’s the deal, though; if I see the word Balance in the title of an article that supposedly focuses on who I am or what I do I’m thinking it’s going to show me a variety of ways to keep from getting out of balance…in fact, I’ll go a selfish step further, the article is going to be about me, what will help me, my life, my problems and issues…me, me, me.

Now, anyone who knows me knows I’m not saying I want to discount the person for whom I’m caring. It’s just that for every 2 words written or spoken about how caregivers can take better care of themselves there are 20,000 words about how to care for the caree. And, I get it. Truly. I understand who the care is focused on.

This is my hot-button about caregiver information. So much focus is given to the caree that the caregiver gets left out. Dr. Ronald D. Adelman, the co-chief of geriatrics and palliative medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, has coined the term The Invisible Patient for caregivers.

But, as the old joke goes, enough about me, let’s talk more about me…Don’t promise me something that will help me and within a few sentences drop in the phrase, You can help your parents by….  And then, list a number of ways you can do things for the caree. 

Are you feelin’ my pain?

We all want to be better caregivers and we can discover a wide variety of ways simply by searching online with the phrase, “10 Ways to Be a Better Caregiver.” You’ll see a bunch of wonderfully written articles that offer all kinds of ways to help you parents are whomever you are caring for.

Allow me to be a little more blunt. If no one else is saying it to you, let me be the one: It’s ok to be a little selfish, it’s ok to look out for you, it’s ok to want to be cared for, yourself, every now and then.

As long as you are satisfying the Big Two: The Caree is Safe, The Caree is as comfortable as possible considering your financial realities; you are fulfilling your responsibilities. After those two, everything else is gravy.

So much that is written and spoken about care for caregivers is actually about how caregivers can be more effective in their caregiving duties. That’s wonderful…but, it ain’t about how I/you/we can take better care of ourselves.

As my mother used to say, “It’s ok for you to take care of you.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Boats and Caregiving...a Comparison?

Hang with me on this one because I’m going to compare two situations—boats and caregiving—that seem to have little in common, but, the more I think about them the more connections there are.

There’s an old saying among boat owners that the two happiest days of their lives are the days they bought their boats and the days they sold them. Boats are a blast when everything is working. The day you buy a boat you are imagining all the fun it’ll be, the days on the water, wind in your hair, sun on your face. But, even when things are going great there’s a ton of expense, time, and effort just to use them. 

When boats aren’t working it’s even worse; you have to haul’em around to get’em fixed and that can be extraordinarily expensive. The day you sell your boat you may be remembering some of the fun you had, but you’ll also be breathing a sigh of relief that the stress associated with the boat is over.

Now, flip the two topics around…two of the saddest days of life for a lot of us are the days we find out we’re caregivers and the day our caregiving responsibilities end. The day we become caregivers can be one of the scariest days of life. I remember my brother and me standing in the parking lot of a rehabilitation center and thinking, “How do we handle this?” There were challenges ahead we couldn’t imagine. 

I also vividly remember the instant Joe and I decided, while standing in the parking lot of a hospital, that we were not going to extend our mother’s death by continuing extraordinary measures. He called me two days and said, “Mama passed away about 15 minutes ago.” Our sense of relief—for Mama and for us—was almost embarrassing.

Being honest about the emotions caregiving causes is one of the ways to keep it from making life crazy…

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Here's How to Be SUPER CAREGIVER!!!! You'll Be Amazed....

What if there was a secret to boosting your confidence, pulling yourself out of those low times, and becoming SUPER CAREGIVER?!

The secret may be so simple—and, at times, silly-feeling—you’ll have a hard time believing it.

Amy Cuddy is a Harvard researcher who has found an interesting connection between body language and confidence. Her TED talk is one of the most-watched, ever…simply paste this link to your browser and check it out…

Cuddy has found that standing in a “power pose,”—fists on hips, head up, feet spread—you know, like Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, like a superhero, tells our brains to be more confident. The pose gives us an I can do this! type of confidence. 

Aren’t there times you could really use a boost? What about those days when caregiving is making life crazy and you need something to show you that it isn’t totally overwhelming? I know this sounds kinda wild, but it works! 

Try it in private. Assume the pose and two things happen: First, you’ll probably start laughing at the whole thing, and laughter is a wonderful antidote to stress. Second, if you hold the pose for a minute, and breath deeply as you do, you’ll find that you actually feel better, more powerful. According to TIME magazine, “Using a few simple tweaks to body language, Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy discovers ways to help people become more powerful.” 

Cuddy's life story is one of wonderful, but unexpected, success. Early in her college career she suffered a severe head injury and wasn’t supposed to be able to finish college. Not only did she complete her undergraduate, masters, and Ph.D., she returned to her training as a classical dancer and was wonderfully successful at that. Today, she is a well-respected researcher and teacher at the Harvard Business School.

No kidding, you should try this. In the short-term, assuming a power pose is a wonderful way to find a lighter heart. In the long-term, it can be a powerful weapon in your arsenal tools of ways to keep caregiving from making life crazy!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Here's Your ECNALUBMA!!

I have a phrase that can change your life as a caregiver!

You need to write it down on a Post-It note and put it at the top of your mirror so you see it every morning. You need a sweater with this phrase on it; the phrase needs to be written backwards like ECNALUBMA (when people are driving and they look in their rear-view mirror they see AMBULANCE) that way, every time you stand in front of a mirror, walk by a big window, or stroll by a shiny, dark car you see the reflection of the phrase. You need to write it on your palm or the back of your wrist so that when you hit a moment of stress you can simply look down and remember…

Detach with love.

I read the phrase on the site in an article by caring consultant, Carol Bradley Bursack.

Bursack does a wonderful job of explaining that, as caregiver, we often find that the person for whom we are caring becomes bossy, angry, and—sometimes—downright mean. In most situations they didn’t exhibit those behaviors in the past, but now, as their condition deteriorates, their feelings about life and control slipping away from them causes a level of stress that manifests itself in negative behaviors.

Detach with love. 

You aren’t detaching in the sense of denying your responsibilities or denying your love for them. You are simply acknowledging that they aren’t the person they were before…now.

Detach with love.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Is Your Sweetie Contributing to the Craziness?

One of the greatest stressors and stress-creators in caregiving is when the caregiver has a spouse/significant other who, even if they aren’t helping on a day-to-day basis, is emotionally removed from the situation. 

It’s wonderfully romantic and dramatic to believe they’ll be with you every step of the way, but for most couples, that’s not realistic. In some cases the spouse removes himself/herself from the situation, but you should understand that the attitude is seldom mean-spirited. Because we’re dealing with human beings with a whole range of issues there is an endless list of reasons why significant others abdicate responsibility.

On the other hand, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen caregivers (here’s a sexist comment…most often it’s women) who, again, for a whole list of reasons, shut their significant other out…and then get stressed and angry when the other person is not a mindreader and just knows what needs to be done.

The absolute best suggestions for getting the other person involved or, at least, getting them on the same page, comes from the AARP. They recommend the caregiver initiate a conversation in which these issues are addressed:

“What role do you expect him or her to play? Suggest specific ways your spouse can help, and show appreciation for his or her efforts. Recognize that your responsibilities affect your spouse, and encourage him or her to talk about any frustrations. Your relationship is a priority — keep it that way.”

Check the links in the Resources section of this site for connections to the AARP.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Pound Cake Queen

I’m standing behind the podium at my mother’s funeral thanking  many of the folks who cared for Mama during her 3 1/2 year journey. I thanked those who loved her, and whom she loved, and noted a number of people who made her life easier, and more enjoyable, in a variety of ways.
I told them what I discussed in the last blog; that so often, during times like this, we say, “If there is anything I can do just ask,” but we may or may not really mean it.
Then I told them about the fact that Mama was the Pound Cake Queen of Lumberton, NC. Every year, around the holidays, Mama would bake 10-12 pound cakes and give them to people she loved, people who had done good things for her during the year, and some of her neighbors. She baked and gave pound cakes as an expression of love.
And then, here’s what I asked of them; I said, “If you’re one of those folks who say, ‘If there is anything I can do, just let me know,’ here’s what you can do….I want you to bake or buy a pound cake during the holidays and give it to someone you love or someone who has done something good for you during the past year. And when you give it to them you need to understand that you are doing this in honor of Marie Collins and the fact that she made your life better.”
THE CONGREGATION LOVED IT!! People were laughing and clapping and nodding their heads because many of them ( me included) had been on the receiving end of Mama’s pound cake gift.
The part they really loved was when I said, “And, if you can’t, or don’t want to bake a pound cake, or, if you would LOVE to bake a pound cake but you understand that if you do you’ll end up poisoning someone, then go buy a pound cake, take it out of the wrapper, put it on a plate and when you give it to them tell them that it’s Marie Collins’ recipe!”
When I said that the room exploded! Mama’s best friend, Maggie, was laughing so hard I thought we’d have to give her oxygen.
Take the pound cake challenge. If you know a caregiver, give’em a pound cake. If you are a caregiver, think about baking (if you have the time) or buying a poundcake, cut it in half or quarters to spread it out, and give it away. 
I’d appreciate it and Mama would have loved it!

Monday, November 9, 2015

If There's Anything I Can Do, Just Ask...Really?

November is National Family Caregivers Month. What a great time to do something for someone you know who is a family caregiver!

So often, when we are caregivers, friends and extended family (even relative strangers) will often say, “If there is anything I/we can do, please let us know.”

As caregivers we reply, “I sure will.” But, we don’t. Hardly ever do we call on folks to assist…unless it’s the argument we finally have with family members who aren’t pulling their weight. Luckily, my brother and I never had that argument…LOL! We argued about other things.

Folks are trying to be nice when they ask if there is anything they can do, but many are also doing an understandable dance. When encountering a caregiver good manners almost demands that we say, “If there’s anything….” But, let’s be honest, so often, in our minds, we’re not imagining that they’ll ask…or, truth be told, we are hoping that if they do it it won’t be something that will make us uncomfortable. For instance, “Would you come and sit with Mama for a couple of hours so I can take a break?” Uh oh.

I can tell you that I got to a point at which I thought, “I’d just as soon you not ask if you don’t really mean it.” It wasn’t a mean-spirited thought; more one of, just be honest.

Again, it’s National Family Caregivers Month. Find someone who is a caregiver—believe me, they are everywhere—and ask, “What can I do for you?” and mean it.

In the next blog I’ll tell you what we asked folks to do. I assure you, what we asked them to do, and when we asked, will surprise and delight you.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Journey is Over

My current caregiver journey is over. On Wednesday, October 28, at about 9:15 am my mother passed away.

During the following couple of days my brother, Joe, and I stayed in close touch about how we were doing and how the details of Mama’s service would be  handled.

One of the things Joe and I agreed about was the feeling of release, and relief, we had. The steady humm of the weight of caregiving had been going on for so long I had become unaware of the stress. When the journey ended it seemed that the worry that had been such a weight…just lifted.

It’s such a cliche to say Mama is in a better place but, considering her deteriorating condition, she’s better off and so are we. During the last few days so many folks have been kind, caring, and understanding. They’ve offered, Sorry for your loss. My answer has surprised some, This was one of those situations in which you don’t want it to happen, but you’re glad when it does.

If you are a caregiver, or you know someone who is, understand that it’s ok to have the feeling of relief. It’s natural. It’s also natural to chastise yourself, to feel a little, or a lot, guilty, for having the thought. Come back to the understanding that the thought is your body and brain’s way of supporting you; of helping you survive. You simply need to understand that sometimes your mind (you do know your brain and mind are two different things, right?) isn’t working on your best interests by kicking out guilt thoughts.

So, this is a new phase of life, for Mama and me. Multiple times each day the thought never see her again comes to mind. That’s natural, too. 

As caregivers we all know what the end is and we are never completely prepared. I can tell you from recent experience, though, it isn’t all bad.

I love you, Mama. You made the most of this part of your journey, enjoy the next.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Slow Cooking Savior

When is the last time you used that old crock pot you received as a wedding gift? If it’s still in the attic or basement, go find it. If it’s stuck back in the back of your cabinet, get on your knees or on a ladder and get it.  
Slow cookers are the saviors of caregiving families. Go online and check out slow cooking recipes. There’s no reason to eat fast food or crackers and cheese every other meal because you’re pushed for time. 

Load the crock pot in the morning and come home to a wonderfully fragrant home and a hot, nutritious meal in the evening. Your stress level goes down and your smiles go up. Believe it or not, a slow cooker, a crock pot, can save your sanity when things get crazy.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Does Caregiving Make You Just Slap Crazy?!

Ok…so, let’s say we’re all in a big room and I’m up on the stage doing a caregiving seminar and you’re seated in the group. I ask everyone, in a wonderfully cordial, Southern style, “How many of you think caregiver stress can just make you slap crazy?”

Would you raise your hand? When I’ve done it in the past I’ll bet 80-90 percent of the folks in the room will raise their hands.

However, it’s interesting to watch the reactions of folks in education or health care. They’ll often get a horrified look on their faces. If they are from the North or West they don’t get slap at all. They think it means to strike. In a Southern vernacular, slap, used as I’m using it, as an adjective, means absolutely or totally. As in, “That is just slap ridiculous!” I think it probably came from the hand gesture some people make--slapping a table--when they want to be emphatic.

They also won’t like my use of the word crazy. As I’ve noted here, crazy is used to refer to a state of being brought on by the stresses of caregiving. It refers to the fact that we often feel, think, talk or act in ways we might normally not, due to caregiving pressures.

It’s ok to know that this stuff makes you—makes life—CRAZY!…and to say it. Just realize, though, that you might have to explain it every now and then.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

International Youth Day...Use the Youth Inside You to Fight the Craziness!!!

Yesterday, I visited my mother at her care center. Is it just me, or does care center sound better than nursing home?

I had no idea that today was going to be International Youth Day (based on a 1999, United Nations resolution), but I spent some time thinking about the fact that I am her son and kind of celebrating that in my heart. And, nothing like Alzheimer’s is going to change that. In fact, when she passes on, that fact will still be valid to me.

The idea behind International Youth Day was to celebrate, support and engage youth around the world. I’m thinking it’s a good idea to celebrate the youth in yourself…a spirit that can easily be lost in under the pressure of caregiving.

I believe the pressure from caregiving that impacts our Head, Heart, Health, Home and Hands (work), is what crushes that youthful spirit many of us have. But, it isn’t lost, it’s just hiding. 

Take some time today, even for a few moments, to try something new, experience a new sensation, read about something fun, REMEMBER A GREAT TIME FROM YOUR YOUTH! Neuroscience shows that simply remembering a great time in the past and reveling in it makes us healthier physically and mentally.

So, in the fight against caregiver craziness, you have an ally. He/She is the youth inside you begging to get out. Take a moment and let them out!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Caregivers Need Vacations! But, Don't Tell Anyone!

Every caregiver needs a vacation...or five!

It can be such an ordeal planning some time away from your caregiving duties, but it's worth it--even if it's only for a few days. However, it might be a good idea to keep your time off to yourself.

But, here’s the point of the day: I just got back from vacation…and I didn’t tell many people I was going. Didn’t mention it in a blog before I left, didn’t put it on FaceBook, didn’t announce, “Hey Y’all! I’m going on vacation!”

In today’s world, it’s probably not good to announce you won’t be home for an extended period. Increasingly, security experts are saying such an announcement might work as well as putting a sign in your front yard that says, “Come steal our stuff!”

I know the summer is two-thirds over, but, other than folks who help in your caregiving duties and some close friends who’ll watch your home for you, it might be a good idea to not announce, “I’m sooooo looking forward to vacation/long weekend!”

Oh, and thanks for the welcome back.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Drive On!

What are you thinking about when you’re driving? Come on, you can admit it; if caregiving is making you crazy you’re probably thinking about caregiving.
Whether caregiving has just been thrust upon you or you’re a veteran caregiver you can probably give me examples of missing red lights or stop signs; making moves on an interstate about which you later think, “that was scary, I shouldn’t have done that;” or losing your car keys every other day.
When driving to see your caree or simply running to the supermarket for a few things,  try to be extra attentive.  The stress and preoccupation inherent in caregiving may mean you are less focused on driving and more accident prone.  
Examine the routes you travel to frequently-visited destinations; supermarkets, doctors’ offices, care facilities and friends’ homes.  If you travel through highly congested areas, notably those with busy intersections, you may want to find alternate routes. Don’t worry that the trip takes a few minutes longer, safety is more important. Simply changing the time of day you make your trips may serve to make the trip safer. 

If you make regular trips to a care facility you may want to find a route that allows a short stop afterwards to “decompress” from a stressful visit.  Stopping at a mall to window shop, at a park to take a short walk, or at a friend’s home to chat for awhile may allow you to bring your mind back into a less-stressed mode. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

This Place is a Mess!!!

There are only so many hours in the day and the instant you become a caregiver a chunk of those hours are automatically committed to caregiving; either active caregiving or thinking about the care of your loved one. You often lose time you’d spend on the more mundane to-do things like keeping your home, car, office reasonably livable. However, living in a cluttered environment contributes to the craziness.  
Here is a no-questions-asked, sure-fire, 5-step way to clean up any any area in a minimum amount of time. I’ll use your home/apartment as an example.
First, grab a glass of water, juice or soft drink, and your phone. Click into the timer on the phone. (Or, better yet, get a $7, Walmart, crank-around, ticking kind of timer) . . . set the timer to 5 minutes . . . and get started.
Second, walk through the house and close doors . . . you only want to do what is immediately necessary so walk through and decide what doors you can close to keep clutter out of sight.  My first suggestion is the door of any child who is older than 10 (I’m sure you understand my logic).
Third, grab a trash bag or a laundry basket and make a quick run through the house getting rid of clutter.  Throw empty pizza boxes, old newspapers and broken toys in the trash bag and toss it.  Pile misplaced stuff in the basket and put it in one of the rooms with the closed door . . . you’ll find out what to do with the baskets in a moment. 
DING!!  When the bell rings STOP, SIT, AND SIP.  You’ll rest a moment or two, maintain hydration (sipping refreshment keeps our energy level up) . . . and then crank the timer around for another 5 minute session.
Fourth, quickly move lamps, pictures and mementos off tables, desks and credenzas, and start dusting.  Getting rid of the dust bunnies gives you the next best “I’ve got it together” feeling after tidying up.  Make a quick swipe on the items you moved off the surface and straighten them as you place them in their original locations.  
DING!!  STOP, SIT, AND SIP.  Again, rest a moment or two, have a sip, then crank the timer around for one more 5 minute session.
Fifth, vacuum.  Don’t spend a lot of time moving furniture around. . . hit the big spots and leave the smaller spaces for another session sometime down the road. 
Check your calendar and schedule another cleaning session a few days or a week from now.  On that day you will use one of the 5 minutes sessions to go through the laundry baskets you filled with scattered clutter . . . or, better yet, you will tell family members that their clutter is in a basket in a specific room and they can get it themselves. Even BETTER, enlist anyone else who lives in your environment in keeping it neater, cleaner and less stressful.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Getting Through the Tough Times

You’ve had a tough day of caregiving…how do you deal with it/treat yourself/deal with the stress? 

If you find a glass of wine, a cold beer or a candy bar relaxing there is nothing wrong with that — in moderation. Substance abuse, including food or any other type of harmful escape, is absolutely out. 

I often tell people that my method of coping is The 3 B’s…Books, Barbells and Beer. And, I make no excuses about using beer as a relaxer…but, I know my limit and when I reach it, I stop. 

Have I always been that disciplined…no. It’s just that I’ve had some situations in which I said and did things I regretted after having a few (or waaaaay) too many beers. I learned my lesson. 

Caregiving is difficult enough without the guilt that comes with losing control, even though the behavior may seem to make you feel better in the short term. 

A wide range of options for stress reduction are available. And yes, I’ll agree that exercise/meditation/prayer sometimes aren’t as satisfying as a cold beer can be, but here’s the cliche, you’ll thank yourself in the morning. 

Don’t make caregiving more difficult than it has to be.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Caregiving...Take the Stairs!

One of the reasons I love this time of year is commencement speeches. They are opportunities to get a reboot in life. They help us hear and understand points we often forget in the gettin’-it-done world of everyday life.

One of my young cousins, Conner Makitka, is the valedictorian of North Duplin High School’s Class of 2015. As such, she gave the valedictorian address at their ceremony last Saturday.

Conner had a DVD of her speech and we watched it at a family celebration on Sunday. She was wonderful! 

She made two great points: She said, “Up until this point in our lives there has been a plan.”…and she inferred that the plan was created by someone else, parents. Then she said, “But, now there’s no plan” and she talked about the fact that from this point forward most of the plans for life are made by the graduates. Point being: If you don’t already have a plan, you better start making one. I loved that!

But, the idea I liked the most—and the one that really clicked with me regarding caregiving—was when she said, “Life isn’t an elevator, you have to take the stairs.” Is that great, or what?!!

I loved her use of stairs as an metaphor. You have to work at climbing, but if you understand there’ll be landings, plateaus, where you can rest and collect yourself, you can keep moving.

We all wish caregiving was an elevator; you just get in, push the button and take the ride. But, we all know caregiving is about climbing stairs…and sometimes those stairs look like they never end. But, if we understand the concept of the landings—and look for them—we get to stop a moment and catch our breath before moving on to the next section. 

Stopping, even for a moment, and collecting ourselves is what keeps the craziness level from getting too high.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Fearless Caregiver Conference...What Were They Thinking?

Today’s Caregiver Magazine is sponsoring Fearless Caregiver conferences in Winston-Salem and Yanceyville, NC, this week. Gary Barg, the creator and publisher of Today’s Caregiver, is a great guy and did a wonderful job in Winston-Salem yesterday of helping 100+ caregivers and professionals get tips, tactics and strategies for, hopefully, keeping caregiving from making them CRAZY.

As a professional who spends most of his time at conferences presenting programs, it was interesting for me to simply sit back and be an attendee; to  listen, talk to others and to learn.

One thing, though, struck me as odd; too few people had anything to take notes with and on. Only about 25 percent of the group had a notebook or pad or anything on which to remember important information. Some folks obviously didn’t even bring a pen or pencil. 

What were they thinking?

Did they not think they’d hear anything worth remembering? Did they believe they’d remember everything? 

Or, did they just not think? Did they believe the information was like Velcro and all they had to do was be exposed to it and it would stick to them. Then, when they needed an answer, all they had to do would be to peel the answer off their bodies and read it?

The INSTANT you realize you’re a caregiver is the moment you should start keeping something to write with and something to write on close at hand. 

Don’t EVER go into any type of meeting (doctors, care centers, in-home care staff, pharmacists) without something to write with and something to write on.

You’ll forget half of what the doctor tells you before you ever leave their office. You’ll forget all kinds of everyday things. 

Do a To-Do List! You say you don’t have time? You don’t have time NOT to!

By the time the conference was only an hour old, Gary had already offered a wide range of great suggestions. I looked around at the staring faces and I wanted to jump up and shout, “Wake UP! You don’t understand the quality and importance of what you’re hearing!!”

But, I didn’t. I was too busy taking notes.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Branch or Wings?

While reading my morning devotion I came across a quote that jumped off the page at me: “A bird sitting in a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because it’s trust is not in the branch, but in its own wings. Always believe in yourself.”

One of the basic issues about caregiving that makes us all CRAZY is the fear that we don’t have all the answers/have the skills/have the money/understand the process and somehow our loved one will suffer because of it.

We suffer because we care so much. We worry that we are not doing our best. All you can do is all you can do. 

However, I’ll trumpet my basic philosophy: If you won’t take care of yourself you won’t be able to take care of others.

Moving through the caregiver experience and coming out the other end…whole…is the objective. 

Keep asking questions, keep learning, keep trying and keep taking care of yourself.

Don’t worry about the branch breaking, think more about the power of your wings.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Waterin' the 'Maters

I just watered the tomatoes we’re growing in pots in the back yard. Tomatoes are one of those plants that need a lot of water. If you’re not pretty diligent about keeping them hydrated they’ll quickly wither and die.

I’m not sure if other plants being “hearty” is a great thing. It doesn’t take much to grow milkweed or kudzu, but I’m fairly certain that a milkweed or kudzu sandwich doesn’t come close to the glory of a ‘mater-sammich on white bread with Duke’s mayonnaise and salt and pepper.

Some things need more attention. In certain areas of life, WE need more attention. As I get older, I become more convinced that if you come across someone who understands the areas of life in which you need more attention, and they are willing to offer it, life gets easier, happier and more satisfying.

And, just as important if not more so, you know as well as I do that not every area of caregiving makes you crazy. You've got a reasonable handle of some things while other areas make you nutz!

I'm sure you remember, in the acronym, C.R.A.Z.Y, the Z stands for "Zero In." You want to Zero In on the few areas that really get to you. So, try this: Pick one area of caregiving you find challenging.  Go online and search “10 Ways to Get Help With (Your Area).”  If you don't get information that helps, try: "How do I get help with (Your Challenge). You’ll be amazed at what comes up.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Mothers Day...What's It To Ya?

Mother's Day can be a joyous/difficult/both time for caregivers.

For some caregivers, Mother's Day is a time to revel in the fact that they still have their mother. They can see the future and coming challenges, but having Mom and being able to show her they love her and having her recognize that she is loved can be wonderfully special.

For other caregivers, Mother's Day is a challenging time. She may be difficult to deal with, in pain, unaware of the caregivers' presence. Seeing Mom in this state can cause feelings ranging from resignation to resentment, from pity to searing pain...sometimes all the emotions within seconds.

This past week a friend of mine was informed that his mother had passed away. He had been estranged from her for 40 years. When I talked with him about his loss it was apparent that he had compartmentalized his feelings, but the pain poured out of him like a bucket with a hole in the bottom. Not everyone has wonderful memories of Mom.

I don't envy the folks whose mothers are still alive and vital; I'm glad for them.  I had over 80 wonderful years with my mother and thousands of great memories.

As I've mentioned, my mother is 86 and an Alzheimer's sufferer who has no idea who I am when I walk in the room. She won't have a clue that Sunday is Mothers Day. However, she knows when she sees me that I am someone who loves her and she knows she loves me. In fact, she whispered it to me a few days ago. As you can imagine, at those times my heart goes on a roller coaster ride.

On Mothers Day I'll greet her with cards and the chocolate she loves. I'll read the cards to her multiple times and she'll gladly take the chocolate I offer. She'll smile and laugh at the silly things I say to try and make her smile.

And maybe, just maybe, she'll tell me she loves me.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

60-Second Focus

 Each morning you should lie in bed for 60 seconds longer and do two things. 

First, do a physical self assessment.  Is the stress of caregiving manifesting itself in physical ways?  

If your jaw hurts first thing in the morning you may be grinding your teeth at night.  If your hands hurt you may be clinching your fists as you sleep.  Are you more irritable, nervous, tired, or emotional?  The answer to the question is almost always going to be “Yes.”  

If so, how can you find a positive way to respond to the stress and possibly lessen it?  One answer is to concentrate on the second part of the 60-Second Focus.  Find one good thing about the day to which you can look forward.  Even if it is only that the sun is shining or you are still breathing.  Look hard and you can find one good thing about the upcoming day.  

If you can’t find one good thing . . . stay in bed another 60 seconds.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Choose New

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

Thursday, April 2, 2015

STOP THAT!! Stop Beating Yourself Up!

One of my best friend's mother is slowly sliding downhill while my mother is on a plateau. When my friend told me about her mother's health I thought, "Wish that was us."

Now, if your first reaction was, "Oh my God! I can't believe you'd say or even THINK that?!" then you haven't been in the caregiving world long enough and it hasn't made you crazy enough yet.

 Lots of us get to the point at which we want our loved one's suffering--if that's what it is--to be over. We want our own suffering and sacrifice to be over. If you're feelin' me about this, and you have the same thoughts, and you're beating yourself up about it...stop!

Your thoughts are natural and, in most cases, based on loving the caree and yourself, and that's a great thing.

Yes, there are some folks who are simply selfish and and self-centered and they see the caregiving experience as a burden; a negative but necessary exercise that gets them closer to inheritance.

But, most of us aren't in that group. We love the caree and have wonderful memories of the life we had with them, but life now, for them and us, has become something much less than what they would want.

My friend Elaine's dad was 93 when he passed away in February. He was ready to go. He understood that his life was not what he wanted it to be. His family wanted him to ease into his final rest in the way he wanted to go, and that's what happened.

So, if you're being hard on yourself about thinking that everyone, especially the caree, would be better off if the inevitable happened, give yourself a break. You aren't crazy.Your thoughts are based on love.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Hospital Gowns Are Embarrassing!!

I'm at an age at which every 5-10 years I have to have a rather unpleasant medical procedure done. If you're reading this blog it's likely you're in my age group.

Had it done yesterday and it couldn't have gone better; nice people, quick procedure, kind of a la-la feeling the rest of the day.

Unfortunately, one of the issues for caregivers is that we often don't take care of ourselves. We are so focused on the caree that we may not take our meds, get enough rest, drink enough water, eat right, get some exercise and take the necessary precautions--like the procedure I mentioned--that allow us to stay healthy.

You've read it hear before, you'll read it again...if you don't take care of yourself you won't be able to take care of others.

What simple, health-related efforts are you ignoring? If you keep ignoring them what's the possible negative outcome?

Take care of yourself. You deserve it.

Friday, March 20, 2015

What About Caregiving Makes You Crazy?!!

What is it about caregiving that makes you crazy?

Go to the Caregiving Can Make Life Crazy! Facebook page and leave a comment, or go to the blog, and leave a comment.

We'll see if we can't find some answers for you.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Time to Give Up the Fight

If you've never heard "Come In From the Cold" performed by George Benson or Marc Broussard click over to  after you read this and listen. It's a wonderful love song, and there's a line in it that deserves focus.

"Let's give up the fight."

The line is talking about resisting a relationship, an internal struggle.

Caregiving is full of internal struggles. In fact, most of the craziness in caregiving is caused by the internal struggles.

Most of us experience internal struggles on a constant basis. Some are small, "Should I have that second helping of mashed potatoes," while others are large, "Should I commit to a life-long relationship with someone who's an NC State fan?" (ooops, maybe that's just me...but, you get my meaning)

I believe the greatest internal struggle, the most difficult fight for many caregivers is standing face-to-face with the question, "Me or them?"

The caregivers might not pose the question as I did, but it comes down to whose welfare--life--is more important, the caregiver or the caree?

It's a brutally honest question so here's a brutally honest answer...The Caregiver's life is more important.

KEEP READING: This is the point at which some of you want to bail on me, but stick with me for a moment.

If you--the caregiver--don't take care of yourself you won't be able to take care of the caree. The reality of inflight instructions--put the mask on yourself first, then put it on your companions--is, as my grandmother used to say, the gospel.

So, give up the fight. Let yourself understand the C in CRAZY...Care...Care enough about yourself to understand that your welfare is most important, right now. Care enough to understand that as long as the caree is safe everything else is a bonus. Care enough to do whatever it takes to keep yourself away from the craziness.

Give up the fight.

Simply…take off the gloves, return to your corner, sit on the stool and take a breath, and ask, “Ok, what’s next?”

Monday, March 16, 2015

Most Dangerous In America

My hometown, Lumberton, has recently been chosen as the "Most Dangerous City in North Carolina" based on per-capita violent crime and property crime. If you search for "The Most Dangerous Counties in America," Robeson County, of which Lumberton is the county seat, is #2 on the

So much of what's not good about Lumberton and Robeson County has to do with low levels of education/employment/income. Although, they just scored a great new corporate neighbor, Sanderson Farms, that will bring 1100 new jobs to the area!

Now, you're thinking, "What does this have to do with caregiving?"

Well, if you lived in an area that had a "Most Dangerous" tag and in which the average level of education wasn't very high and you wanted a job and you weren't willing to, or couldn't, move to somewhere more than two miles from mama and daddy and the people you grew with...and the health care industry was exploding...then, even though you might wish you were doing something else...anything else...working at a nursing home or care center might be a "good" job.

I keep thinking that some of the reasons above are why, when I walk into the nursing home in which my mother resides, I don't see many smiles. You'll hear, "I've been working here 24 years and I love my job," but she certainly didn't have a smile on her face when she said it.

HERE'S MY POINT: That's why I say "Thank You!" to almost everyone I meet in her facility. The nurses, CNAs, receptionists, administrators, admissions, maintenance and the lady changing the linens (especially'd you like to change bedpans and soiled linens all day?).

Whether it's in Robeson County or We're-Richer-Than-Daddy Warbucks County the people who take care of those whom we love have a tough job. Thank them as often as you can and if you can take them a treat every now and then, do it.

Remember, they are the people who are hands-on, literally, and face-to-face, on an hourly basis, with the folks we love. The stresses they encounter on a daily basis, including their contact with us, family and friends of the caree, can go long way in making them CRAZY! Hearing "Thank You!" every now and then can offset some of the craziness.

Thank you.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Look What the Cat Dragged In!

I'd love to meet the caregiver who never has a negative thought. Their drugstore bill has to be unbelievable.

The "worry factor" for most of us as caregivers is so high that for years I've been teaching folks to think the word “Delete!” when their minds move into negative/unproductive thoughts and emotions.

I taught that if you catch yourself moving into a negative mental or emotional state simply start thinking or saying out loud the word, “Delete!” and keep saying it until it’s all you can focus on. Then push yourself to think about something positive or start a positive activity that moves you away from the negativity.

I’ve found something better!

Recently, I discovered that if, instead of “Delete!,” I used the phrase, “Look what the cat dragged in!,” it made me smile—sometimes laugh out loud—and I’ve found I can more easily move into a positive frame of mind. It works almost immediately!

Try it. When you feel yourself easing or jumping into a negative mental state think or say, “Look what the cat dragged in!” Or, come up with another phrase that you find outrageously funny.

No kidding, this works and it can be one of those little tricks that can keep you from going CRAZY!

***If you know another caregiver, or someone you know caregiving is making CRAZY! please forward this blog to them.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Where's That Form I Need?!!

You've been on the phone to the doctor's office/insurance company/home care business for an hour and getting them to make a decision has come down to one thing...the form. There's a form you filled out/should have filled out and if you can get the form to them as soon as possible they can make a decision that helps you and your caree.

So, where's the form?

You think it's in the pile of stuff on the dining room table, or in a folder stuck in a drawer with all the other forms or maybe it's the one with the coffee ring on it held onto the refrigerator door with a Myrtle Beach magnet.

Being disorganized is stressful, expensive and downright overwhelming. Disorganization can make you CRAZY!

If you aren't as organized as you'd like to be today is your day. Today is National Organize Your Home Office Day.

Here are five simple tips to get and stay organized.

1. The 30-Second Secret: Don’t got to bed at night and don't walk out of the house without spending 30 Seconds straightening a few things up. Take 30 Seconds at any time of day and dump/organize a few things on your computer desktop. This is the magic, nothing-beats-this key to getting and staying organized. The cumulative effect of 30 Seconds is amazing.
2. Like Piles: Put things in piles of “like” activities and work your way through each pile. The Piles are: What do you need to take Action on? What do you need to Pass On to others? What do you need to File/Store? What’s in the “Mystery” pile? What do you need to Trash?
3. Get a Timer: Use the Timer on your phone or go to WalMart and spend $8 for a baking timer. Set it to 15-minutes and organize as much as you can. When the bell goes off you get to quit.
4. 2-Day Clean Up: Pick a day and spend a couple of hours purging all the stuff you can. Don't worry about cleaning up everything. Just throw away/give away as much as you can. Six months from now, pick another day and do the same thing. A few hours, twice a year, keeps you from being buried in stuff.
5. Prime Real Estate: If you don't have a desk at which you keep all your caregiving information where do you keep it? You need some sort of work center that makes it easy for you to find all the important documents you need; having them scattered around in a variety of places makes your life crazier. Even if it's simply one of those plastic, handle-on-the-top file boxes you can get at the office box stores or WalMart, that's better than having stuff scattered all over the house.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Say Yes! to Life

The "Y" in CRAZY stands for "Yes!"...say Yes! to life.

If you've seen or read stories about family caregiving in the media you'll know they fall into three categories. I call them, Just the Facts, So Sorry, and There, There.

The Just the Facts stories are just that, facts. One out of ten Americans are caregivers. Six percent of caregivers die due to caregiver stress. Working caregivers get fewer plumb job assignments due to the time, energy and focus their caregiving responsibilities take...facts, facts, facts.

The So Sorry stories usually follow caregivers around for a few hours or a day or a week and show how much of their lives are focused on caregiving. Some of the stories have a positive tone, but most of them are essentially saying, "So sorry, this is what your life is when you're a caregiver."

The There, There stories are supposed to be comforting, but they are basically patting the caregiver on the hand and saying, "There, there, things will be ok."

The caregivers who do the best job of moving through the experience say Yes! to life. They understand that their caregiving experiences take up a lot of time, energy and focus, but they make a point of finding activities, people, situations that bring them a sense of life, joy and engagement. They don't give up on saying Yes! to life.

Did you have a hobby before you became a caregiver? Maybe you can't be as fully engaged as in the past but you can probably find moments to participate in it, or read a magazine about it, or talk to someone about their experiences in the activity.

Are there people who make you feel happy, make you laugh, help you feel alive? Don't lose contact with them. Too often, caregivers let their responsibilities gradually or quickly create a shrinking world until their whole life is the person for whom they are caring.

On the other hand, friends/family/coworkers may not know how to act/react or they believe reaching out to the caregiver takes up valuable caregiving time. Or, every time they talk with the caregiver all they hear are complaints and the Oh, woe is me attitude about caregiving. It doesn't take much of that to turn them off.

However, having another caregiver to bounce ideas off of and with whom you can share your stresses is a good thing. Here's a strategy: When you talk with another caregiver you each get 3 minutes to talk about how difficult things are. Then, you each call time out and talk about positive things that are happening in your lives.

Be proactive, say Yes! to life and take a moment to reach out to the people in your life who matter. And, remember, as a caregiver you probably want it to be about you once in awhile, but take a moment to ask about the other person, about their family/friends/activities/job.

While your contact with others isn't supposed to be a therapy session for you, you'll find that it's therapeutic talking with someone about topics other than caregiving.

Put yourself in situations that remind you there's a world out there whether you are caregiving or not. Go to a museum or a game, get a massage, take a walk, go to a party or a movie, cook something you like (but then go for a walk after you eat it!), do SOMETHING that reminds you you're alive, you have a life other than caregiving!

Say Yes! to life. If you don't caregiving will make your life CRAZY.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Zero #2

In the last blog you saw that it's good idea to Zero in on your two biggest caregiving stressors. Yes, you'll have a lot of other responsibilities, but if you can figure out a way to deal with the two biggies it really takes a load off.

The second Zero is this: What are your two biggest stress relievers?

Now, let me set a few parameters. The stress reliever needs to be positive; overmedicating yourself with alcohol, drugs (legal or not), food, exercise or any other negative escape doesn't work in the long run. You're looking for positive activities, people and situations that move your mind from the caregiver stress that makes you CRAZY and into a more relaxed, peaceful zone.

A caregiver friend of mine loves movies so she watches funny, positive romantic comedies as often as she can. I know other people who use strategies such as moderate exercise, aromatherapy, long baths, massage, reading, counseling and other methods to deal with caregiver stress.

The key issue in finding two ways to deal with the stress is that you can switch from one to the other. One stress reliever gets tiresome after awhile, but two allows you to stay fresh.

So, Zero in on the two biggest stressors and come up with practical ways to lessen them if you can't eliminate them. And, find two big stress relievers that work for you.

If you're looking for ways to keep from going CRAZY the Zero strategy works...try it.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Zero In On CRAZY

Here's where we are so far when determining your CRAZY level in caregiving:

C = Care (make sure the caree is safe)
R = Realistic (Expectations)
A = Ask (if you don't know keep asking questions)

The Z in CRAZY stands for Zero, as in, Zero in on the two issues that cause you most of your craziness and Zero in on the two people/activities/indulgences/thoughts that lower your stress level and help you keep the craziness at bay.

If I asked you to list all the things about caregiving that make you CRAZY you might have a really long list: professional caregivers, wandering, the caree asking multiple questions, having to deal with hygiene, impacts on your personal life...the list goes on and on.

Or, you might have a very short list: Having to keep up with all the paperwork and dealing with hygiene issues.

If you've ever heard of the 80/20 Rule, The Pareto Principle, you'll remember that it's called "the rule of the vital few." A few things cause most of your joys, most of your productivity and most of your problems.

So, the point here is to focus in on the vital few in a couple of areas: Challenges and Relief.

And yes, there's all that other stuff to take care of, but if you can focus in on the vital few you'll find that your feeling of control goes up and your craziness level goes down.

Take a moment and ask yourself, "What are the two issues about caregiving that really make me CRAZY?" Once you list the challenges ask yourself these questions (they are called the 5 D's):
- Can I Delay it?
- Can I Delegate It?
- Can I Diminish it (take a bite out of the problem a little at a time to make it smaller)?
- Can I simply not Do it (with no negative consequences to the caree?)?
- If the first four choices don't work can I simply Do it as quickly and effectively as possible and move on?

Stick with me. In the next blog I'll show you how to Zero in on the stress relievers.

***Don't forget to forward this blog to anyone you know who's a lower the craziness!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Ask Smarter: Seven Key Questions

If you read the last blog you know the "A" in CRAZY is Ask.

But, what should you ask? Well, it depends on what you need to know and if you're with me on the caregiving is like taking a physics test when you don't know physics the questions will depend on your situation.

However, here's a strategy that not only will help you come up with the right questions, it will literally make you smarter.

There are seven simple questions that form the basis of any exercise in getting the answers you need. Six of the questions are in a poem by Rudyard Kipling:
"I keep six honest serving men, they taught me all I knew.
Their names are What and Why and Where and How and When and Who."

In our exercise we'll be adding How Much to the poem.

Here's how you start: First, don't ever go into any sort of meeting (in person, on the phone or online...with doctors, social workers, caregivers) without something to write with and something to write on. We forget half of what a doctor tells us before we ever walk out of their office, so don't rely on your memory.

Next, simply write these seven questions in the upper left-hand corner of what you are writing on: What? Why? Who? Where? When? How? How Much?

Your eyes see the questions and relay the information to your brain (remember, your brain's basic purpose is to answer questions) and your brain starts looking for and being aware of, answers.

Using this simple exercise means fewer of those head-slapping, Why Didn't I Ask That?! moments.

Ask more questions and you'll be less CRAZY.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Caregiving: You have a physics test tomorrow...and you know nothing about the subject.

We know the C in Crazy means Caring. Your basic focus is caring for the caree.

The R represents Realistic. As much as you would like for everything to be perfect in your caregiving experience you know it won't be. As long as the caree is safe, everything after that is a bonus.

The A in Crazy stands for Ask. Here's a way to think about the caregiving experience: What if I came to you and said, "You have a physics test in an hour, get ready"?

You do not have a textbook, you've taken no classes, you know some folks who have studied physics and you can probably call them and ask some questions, but for the most part, you're on your own.

How would you react?! Would you simply say, "Sorry, Mike...but, I'm not taking the test"?

Here's the problem, for most people the physics example is EXACTLY how they come to the caregiving experience. Something happens to a loved one...stroke, heart attack, auto accident, you name the event, and a doctor walks into the waiting room and offers the diagnosis and what the future looks like. And all of a sudden they're a caregiver.

No preparation, no warning.

Believe me, in February, 2012, when my brother and I were standing in the darkness on the cold steps of our mother's house looking through the door's window and seeing her walking around, half-dressed, lost in her own house with us trying to call to her and get her to unlock the door, we looked at each other and knew that life as we had known it was over. It was now physics test time.

Recently, I was talking with a woman whose mother had passed away a few weeks ago. She is struggling with the loss and what to do about her dad who is in the early stages of Alzhemier's. She has two step-siblings and she has simply walked away from her father's care. She called her step-siblings and simply said, "I can't do this, you'll have to take care of him."

Not all of us have the "luxury" of having help who will step up and deal with the situation. For many of us it's us or no one. The pressure can be/is overwhelming.

In the next day or two I'll offer a simple questioning strategy that not only helps you figure out what to ask/do, but literally makes you smarter.

Good luck, and don't let caregiving make you crazy!