Five signs that you’ve crossed the line from caregiver to caretaker

Over 34 million people serve as unpaid caregivers for loved ones, helping them with the daily living and/or medical tasks they cannot navigate alone. One of the questions I frequently get from caregivers is how to cope better with the exhaustion and sense of helplessness that can come with managing the logistics of two lives—theirs and their loved one’s. When I speak with them, I’m always interested in how they’ve defined that precious boundary between themselves and the one that they are caring for. Healthy relationships require some separation of space—mentally, physically, and emotionally–but the frequent crises or watchfulness that caregiving often involves can make finding that line a bit difficult. It’s all too easy for people who care to become caretakers instead of caregivers. Consider these questions and decide if you’ve moved beyond your role of caregiver into the ultimately thankless one of caretaking. Do you think your loved should appreciate for what you are doing for him? Caretakers often believe that jumping in to help people will make those people love them more. After all, who doesn’t appreciate someone who has sacrificed for you? Many do, but hoping someone will value you more because of what you do for him or her can be a sign your sense of worth is too dependent on what others think—and that’s an bucket that can never stay full. Do you find yourself getting angry or resentful at your loved one? Frustration and irritation is common in many stressed out relationships but one early sign that you may be in a lopsided relationship can be recurring resentment. It’s is one of...

A Feather in My Path

  Unless you leave room for serendipity, how can the divine enter? Joseph Campbell I believe that Spirit is all around us, not just in the brick and mortar buildings of our established religions. Consequently, I have looked for and found messages in the sudden appearance of animals, birds, numbers, friends, songs, and many other forms of Divine media. One symbol of encouragement that has meant the most to me is feathers. There is a Native American belief that finding a feather directly in front of you means that you are on your path—your actions are in alignment with your Divine spirit. More times than I can count, during those three years that my husband and son were so ill, I would look down and find a feather on my path. Although the rational, skeptical side of me (admittedly, rather a small part) could argue a number of reasons for the placement of the feather, there were times that no reasonable explanation could suffice to explain why, at that moment when I was in the most need, a large white feather, in the middle of a hot Dallas parking lot or in the midst of a busy shopping mall, would appear in front of me. Sometimes I picked the feathers up, other times I just gave thanks for the reminder that I was not alone, that God,the Universe, the Divine was with me on this journey, I was doing something right, and that I was loved. Watching for Signs Marci Shimoff, author of Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out and The Chicken Soup...

Caregivers and Harleys: The Art of Letting Go

I had lunch yesterday with a woman I had met while her husband was going through an extremely rough recovery from cancer. They were a young married couple when he was diagnosed and she had been there, right by his side, throughout the rigorous protocol that ultimately saved his life. We spent lunch comparing notes about what we had both gone through and learned during the medical crises that devastated our families’ lives. We talked most about letting go—moving from patient advocate, decision-maker, head of household, and holder of hope to a time when our caregiving was no longer needed. Her husband had recovered, though with some ongoing medical issues. My son was thankfully healthy and cancer free, but my husband had not survived. Karen (not her name) and I talked about how surprisingly difficult it had been to shift from caregiver superwoman to just mom or wife. Though we admitted that we had never wanted to assume that heroine role, we both found it tough to give up the outfit. With that cape, those cool boots, and a clearly marked “S” on our chests we had discovered new strengths, resilience, and “grit” that had never been completely claimed in the past. And then there was the admiration we got, every time we jumped out of the phone booth in the service of our guys. It was hard, gut wrenching, scary work—pushing back when a treatment didn’t seem in their best interests, or sometimes just curling up next to them, trying to bring some comfort. Having people recognize both the difficulty and bravery we had to call on to...

Mind Monkeys, Sleepless Nights, Hyperventilation, Oh My!

If you don’t think your anxiety, depression, sadness and stress impact your physical health, think again. All of these emotions trigger chemical reactions in your body, which can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system. Learn how to cope, sweet friend. There will always be dark days. –Kris Carr Crises—personal, medical, financial, or spiritual—can be breeding grounds for anxious and scary thoughts. We are flooded with new information and potentially devastating scenarios, challenged to operate way out of our comfort zone, and generally put into a rough spot. No surprise, then, that our systems can react with anxiety. After all, our old brain is primed to respond to any potential threats—real or imagined. For the normally calm among us, anxiety feels like strange, new territory. Awakening at night, full of swirling thoughts, being unable to eat or stop eating, nervousness, or a rapidly beating heart–it can almost seem like you’ve become someone very different from your usual self. For those of us for whom anxiety is something that we have lived with for awhile, a crisis can take those symptoms to a whole new level that can feel almost impossible to manage. What are some of the classic symptoms of anxiety? The Mayo Clinic (http://mayocl.in/1zKzVKA) lists the following: Feeling nervous Feeling powerless Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom Having an increased heart rate Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation) Sweating Trembling Feeling weak or tired Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry What can you do? In order to slow down or stop the spiral into anxiety when those fears and negative thoughts threaten...

Resilience: A Pollyanna Ploy or Perseverance?

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue is what counts.” Resilience has, I think, a bit of a Pollyanna rap. For those of you who didn’t grow up with either the book or Disney movie version, Pollyanna was a young girl who was irrepressibly optimistic. Yet in a crisis or traumatic situation, always looking on the bright side-as Pollyanna found out-can feel unbearably hard. Sometimes, before you move on or bounce back, you might just need to throw a pity party first. I don’t believe that resilience means you never have a bad day or that you accept everything that comes your way with a blithe smile and a song on your lips. During the three year stretch that my family went through one life threatening illness after another, I hosted a few pity parties – some of them fairly spectacular. At the time, the extra glasses of wine or spirals into dark thoughts seemed a logical outcome, given the fact that two of the men I loved most in life both had cancer. The real question is, after you’ve had your pity party, then what? Do you stay stuck in victim thinking? It can be pretty cozy, snuggled up in the cold comfort of feeling mistreated by the world. But for me, staying in that gloomy spot didn’t seem to get me anywhere. And, frankly, I didn’t like my own company that much when I was dining on negative thoughts and crooning over my hurts. That’s when I would find just enough energy to rummage around in my heart and remembered...

Going From Bad to Better: The Gratitude Strategy

Focus on the positive. It’s hard to believe that a serious life crisis and the word “blessing” would come in the same sentence. When my son and husband had cancer, idea of looking for something positive in our family’s experiences probably seemed hyper-religious or Pollyanaish in the extreme to some people. Spiritually, I viewed it as a form of radical surrender to an organizing framework of my life; practically, it kept me sane. Tune down the victim thinking. Leaving behind the “poor me” mentality meant walking away from the norm. After all, my family was going through hell. Didn’t I deserve to throw myself a pity party and invite a few friends? Yet, as comforting as it seemed initially to wrap myself up in the cold comfort of victim thinking or anxiety, or as easy as it was to allow the fears take over my day, I always came away from those internal, negative conversations wearier than before. And I couldn’t afford to add to my exhaustion. So, logically, anything I could do to grow the positive in my life made more sense to me than focusing on the negative. I needed all the infusions of energy I could get and I found that looking for and counting my blessings filled me up. Gratitude turned out to be the best antidote I could find for fatigue, anxiety, self-doubt and dread. Cultivate gratitude. Research bears the importance of gratitude. The Greater Good Science Center, citing the research of more than 30 scientists and graduate students, has found that gratitude impacts not only our emotions with increased happiness, joy, optimism, compassion,...
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