Powerful tools for caregivers

With co-instructor Hannah Linden of UNR I am teaching a class to benefit the well-being of caregivers of any and every type. While some might think that the focus is on aging adults with memory lapses, I believe that everyone is a caregiver, whether for children or grandchildren, parents or other relatives, a spouse or sibling, or even for a new family pet. I did place “pet” at the end of the list, however, if you have a puppy as we do, the first few weeks are 24/7 care from housetraining to avoiding chewed shoes and furniture and constantly satisfying the lonely needs of a pup. 

Our first session included many ideas, but a few items resonated: having realistic expectations, dealing with emotions (and burn-out), and designing an action plan based on something that I really want to do. To begin, whether it is child or adult, being reasonable with expectations is vital. If someone does not want to wear a coat even though there is inclement weather, what degree of importance needs to be placed on the upcoming fight? My choices include arguing, forcing, cancelling plans, or grabbing a blanket and proceeding with the outing. What I must decide is which decision will provide the necessary safety of the one I care for and for myself. If I feel like screaming, it’s OK, as long as I step out of ear-shot, screech my frustration, breathe deeply, and return to calm. When the going out and my nasty sentiments come under control, I must promise myself to fit in daily time just for me.

Asked to create an Action Plan, I decided I’d give myself 5 minutes each day, after 4pm, to sit quietly and contemplate being positive and serene. I felt 5 minutes is doable, and while I am usually positive, I sometimes dwell on negative thoughts. Day 1 rolled out quite well; Day 2 I discovered a complete disaster at our rental home. After a day of arduous labor, I headed to pick up dinner at Pub and Sub. Detecting a looming explosion, when the cashier casually asked, “How’s your day going?” a fuse lit. “You can’t imagine!” I snapped to which he responded kindly, not condescendingly, “I sense a brewing pot here, but I know you can handle anything.” This confident sizing-up of my temper, did make me feel better. I knew I could handle the disgusting mess.

Days 3-7 held more hard work and incredulity over the slovenliness of some people   - “friends of friends of friends”. I accepted due blame for lousy vetting, and gently forced myself to release anger and inhale goodness. It helped. As for my vow, I knew I had slipped until I began to write this article. Then I realized that consciously I had not dedicated myself meditatively, but my subconscious had taken me down many wonderous roads of kindness and thoughtfulness. These encounters, in turn, reversed my mind from discouraging reflections to pleasant peace. When a blinding headache produced nausea and incapacity, the employee at a nearby Quik Stop acknowledged my pain and guided me directly to an ideal product. After realizing many days would be required to complete the house revitalization, I shopped for groceries and when I checked out the clerk smiled and delivered sincere words far beyond “Did you find everything?” Of course not, because I had no idea how many more days we had to commit to our home plus in a different venue, I had struggled to find anything. Instead we discussed the beautiful dawn breaking and the lovely panorama of Reno. Neighbors offered “condolences”; friends dropped by with encouraging comments and an occasional cool beverage; some offered to haul trash. 

Finally, Home Depot – our home away from home. One worker appeared to recognize me each time we entered. Knowing that I’d be wandering blindly, searching for miscellaneous necessities from light bulbs (most were burned out), cleaners (restocked periodically), wood, paint, stain, saws, garbage bags…, he frequently popped into view to guide me to the next item on my disorganized list.

Overall, I reached my positivity goal. Thanks to compassionate strangers, people who identified my suffering and rescued me from despair by exemplifying goodness, I survived our 6-day ordeal flanked by my 7-day pledge to think good thoughts. Affirmative action to support my mental outlook helped me retain and even augment an agreeable perception of the world. Caregiving also translates to caring for me.