Thursday, 28 February 2013

The small miracle of beauty in the midst of crappiness

I'm tired of winter.
(I hear you cheering. I know I'm not alone.)

I'm tired of leaving early to clean off the car, worrying about digging myself out of the parking lot at the train station, and layers of clothes. I'm sick of "Oh nuts, I left my mitts drying at work." and "How can I get to work with my hair still looking somewhat reasonable?" I'm sick of the sheer energy it takes to cope with the weather every day.

I'm sick of white or grey/brown.

This time of year, I long for growing things. For buds, for pansies, for cilia and daffodils, the early risers of spring.

I long for light. It is getting lighter in the mornings, and daylight savings time is just a few weeks away, but I long for the extravagant days when the sun yawns at 9:00 and finally heads to bed just before 10:00. I long for the days when it doesn't feel like bedtime when I walk in the door.

I'm being crabby, I know. But don't we all get a little crabby this time of year? (Okay, I know you are out there, you skiers and other winter lovers. I'm ignoring you.)

The other night, I had to walk our puppy on a night when it had already been precipitating for over 24 hours. Rain, snow, rain/snow mix. When I was walking, it was back to snow, with thick layers of slush on the ground. I was ready to shake my fist at the sky and yell, "Enough already!"

Two things happened.

Bailey, blissfully oblivious to my crabbiness, was having a blast. The snow was higher than his belly in places, and he hopped like a bunny, coming up with his nose covered in snow and looking indignant. I had to laugh.

I looked around me. The trees were covered with snow as trees have been for centuries in this kind of storm. I was struck again with the beauty of it.

Beauty in the midst of crappiness.

I need to look for it. Most days bring some crappiness. That's how life is.

Look for the beauty, Ann. And be thankful.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Caregiver stress- What do I do about it- pt. 2

The thing about caregiving, is that even when the physical demands aren't difficult (such as when someone else is doing the physical care) the emotional demands are huge. How do you deal with watching deterioration in someone you love? How do you keep up with a constantly changing situation? How do you do this without falling apart inside?

There's no perfect answer to this, but many strategies. Everyone needs to find their own road.

4. Stay in touch with family and friends

One of the aspects of caregiving can be that your world shrinks. Part of it is the time that caring for your loved one takes, whether it's visiting, transporting to appointments, arranging legal and financial matters or hands-on care. It just takes time, and that it time you aren't available for other pursuits. Because of the time commitment, there is less energy and it is so easy to turn down opportunities to be with family (especially extended family) or friends. It's so tempting to say, "I can't right now. Mother needs me."

Don't do it. Those people you are turning down are your support system. They are the ones who, even though they may not totally understand, will listen and be a sounding board. They are the ones to take you away for a day or an evening, and give you the opportunity to laugh. Some of them are long-term relationships, and you need to find a time to nurture them. There may be times when your friend or family member can visit your loved one with you. (Another person in the room can give the visit a whole different dynamic, and take some pressure off you.)

I have friends who have cared for me in various ways when I was caregiver for my husband, and later when I was a widow. Two friends took me out to Swiss Chalet on every significant date during the first year--Father's Day, his birthday etc.) At the end of that year, we realised we'd become a support group for each other, and we still meet every few months. Another friend invited me to knit and chat on a regular basis. Sometimes we talked about nothing of significance, and sometimes I shared my jouney, but it was a delightful connection that supported me through a rough time. We still get together today.

Keep connected. You need your friends and family.

5. Make healthy choices about nutrition, exercise and sleep.

This isn't rocket science, but it can be incredibly hard. Again, it's a time issue. If your time is taken with caregiving, it's easy to grab something quick rather than make a proper meal. Fast food is the answer too often.

When my husband was in the hospital, I would go there straight from work, and eat whatever I could pick up there. At about 9:00, I would come home, arriving after 10:00. I couldn't do anything about dinner, but tried to have a healthy breakfast and lunch. I walked to the subway to get a little exercise. And although I would at times sleep the sleep of the exhausted, and sometimes not sleep at all, I tried to rest when I could.

The bottom line is, you do what you can. Every choice you make that is healthy for you will make you stronger, and more able to continue your caregiving task.

Which is what it's all about, right?

More next week...

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The small miracle of listening

A few days ago, I went to my local drug store, which contains a post office. I needed a stamp.

I stood in a lineup of people waiting to mail parcels and pick up packages, and searched in vain for the express aisle. I just needed a stamp. After five minutes with little movement, I noticed a tiny sign that told me there were stamps at the checkout. Bonus.

When I reached the front of the checkout line with my few parcels, I opened my mouth to ask for stamps, but the girls asked me if I wanted a bag. "Ummm, no thanks." I opened my mouth again, and she had my parcels checked through and was asking for the points card.  I found it for her. On the third try, she said, "Will that be credit or debit?" In frustration, I made a gesture of impatience and said (rather louder than necessary) "I need stamps."

"You need stamps." She opened the drawer in front of her and produced the stamps. "Just trying to get the questions out."

What happened to listening?

If she had stopped for a fraction of a second, I could have asked my question, but she had been trained to ask a series of questions as quickly as possible in the interest of providing good service. Also, her break was the next thing on her agenda, as soon as she was done with me.

I've never been good at rapid-fire anything. Pepper me with questions, and I shut down. I have a good brain, but it doesn't work that way. That's why mental arithmetic and multiplication drills left me in the dust. (Okay, anything to do with math left me in the dust, but you get my drift.) That's why I don't go into a popular coffee shop. As soon as I walk in the door, I am accosted by an enormous menu of drink options, with various sizes and flavours. In front of it is someone who wants to know your order. Now

I'm not the only one like this. I used to decorate cakes at an ice cream shop, and I'd see people leaving with a glazed expression. All they wanted was ice cream, but they had to decide between cone or cup, waffle cone or regular, plain or chocolate dipped cone, a counter full of flavours, and then there were the toppings. I felt sorry for them.

Maybe it's not just the service industry. How many times do I ask someone, "How are you?" and not listen for the answer? Do I stop to look at their face and take a few minutes to hear what might behind their glib response?

James has it pinned down. "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." James 1:19. It's not just about shutting up (although  that's a start) but actively listening, and responding only with thoughtful care. Think about what is behind what the person is saying. 

God, now He's the ultimate listener. "The Lord hears when I call to Him."Psalm 3:4 He listens, He cares, He loves me, He answers.

You, too.

"Lord, remind me. Quiet my heart; help me to set aside my agenda. Make me into the kind of listener who really cares. Make me like You.

Do you remember a time when someone really listened, and it made a difference?

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Caregiver stress- What do I do about it?- pt. 1

Just like there are all kinds of caregivers, there are many forms of caregiver stress.

You may be experiencing only some of the symptoms. Perhaps your stress is more emotional than physical. You worry about the future, you wonder how this is affecting your family. You want to scream when the same question is asked yet again. You feel guilty about your feelings, but wish you could share them. You are not physically caring for your loved one--he is still able to do that for himself. But you are living with caregiver stress.

Much of what I am going to share isn't rocket science. But when you are being constantly bombarded by a stressful situation, sometimes another perspective helps.

There is also an aspect of giving yourself permission. Permission to take a break. Permission to laugh. Permission to not feel guilty. You may be too close to the situation to grant that permission, so I am going to give it to you.

These suggestions are in no particular order:

1. Get help.

There's no denying that being a caregiver makes the tasks that were routine, more challenging. Perhaps you can't get your house clean. Perhaps getting to appointments is challenging. Perhaps you need a day off. Asking for help is probably the hardest thing that you will do. But the fact is, there are often family and friends wondering how they can help you, who would be delighted to know something specific they can do. And if you need to pay for help, then do it. Having your house cleaned professionally even once a month to preserve your sanity is a good use of funds. You may also qualify for some government assistance in this area, depending on the severity of your loved one's needs.

I will confess--I was terrible at this. I didn't ask enough. I know it's hard. I had a terrible fear of rejection (what if they say, "no?") But the bottom line is, if your family and friends see your need, most of the time they are willing to help in some way.

2. Don't give in to guilt.

Guilt is like the worm in the apple. At first, no one can tell it's there, until you see the whole apple has become rotten. Guilt bores into you in insidious ways, nibbles away at your thoughts and takes away your joy. Guilt has all kinds of languages.

  • The language of the loved one- "You never come and see me." (I was here two days ago.)
  • The language of family- "Why can't you come to this family event? We never see you any more."
  • The language of acquaintances- "My, you don't look well."
  • The language of church friends- "We haven't seen you for a while. Are you all right spiritually?"
  • The language of doctors- "You need to ensure he gets this medication on time."
  • The language of yourself- "I'm not doing enough. I'm not doing it right. I'm not ___________"
Most of the guilt comes from the last voice--your own. We are incredibly hard on ourselves.

I remember one night when Bill was in our local hospital, and I was on the bus on my way home from work to see him. I received a call from the hospital, telling me that he was in the process of being transferred to a hospital in the city. So he was heading in one direction, and I in the other. It was impossible for me to visit him that night--by the time I got there, it would be time to leave. I had a rush of joy, realising I could go home and put my feet up. This was followed immediately by a rush of guilt.
My husband was seriously ill, and I was thrilled to be able to have a hot bath and read a book. What kind of a terrible person was I?

I was a caregiver who needed a break.
Don't give in to guilt.

3. Look for a support group

One of the functions of being a comparatively young widow was that when I was going through my most intense caregiver times, none of my peers really understood. They loved me and cared about me, but they weren't in the same position. It would have been so valuable to me to have someone to talk to who actually understood. 

The Alzheimer's Society has all kinds of teaching group which give opportunity to talk with others who are going through the same experience. Many churches are recognising this need, and have groups for caregivers, as well. Check community centres and other resources within your area. Obviously, something close and convenient is important. Even check online, as internet caregiver support groups are available. 

It's a lonely road. Don't walk it alone.

More next week...

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Caregiver stress- pt. 2- How do I know if I have caregiver stress?

The Alzheimer Society is a great resource for caregivers, even if you aren't dealing with Alzheimer's. Their information about caregiver stress is excellent and practical, and I am going to borrow their bullet points, but add my own commentary.

* Denial

Denial of the disease and denial of the stress are both common. "She isn't that bad. She's just having a bad day. Everyone forgets things. He's sick, but I can see him getting better. He's much stronger today." OR "I can do this. I'm just being wimpy today. There's no one else so I'd better pull up my socks and get on with it."

Denial is pretending, because if I pretend, and I can make myself believe it, the horror of what I am facing won't be so great.


Anger can be directed at the disease, at doctors who don't show the level of compassion I would like, at family members who don't understand, and at the loved one, who can be incredibly frustrating. Anger erupts and is immediately followed by guilt.

*Social Isolation

It requires effort to get together with friends and family, and effort requires energy. "I just don't have the energy. I have to be here in case something happens. There is no one else."


"What does the future hold? How will I cope? What if I can't deal with this?"  I often felt frustrating circular fears. "I can't go on. I can't not go on." Social isolation (which leaves me with no one to talk over my fears) also escalates anxiety. When I have only my own thoughts, without the perspective of a friend, they  can get distorted.


"Nothing really matters. I don't really matter. I don't care any more."


The mental stress of what is happening in your mind can wear you out. Then there is the physical stress of trying to keep several balls in the air--family, job, caregiving and other responsibilities. You drag through the day, and all you can think of is how tired you are.

* Sleeplessness

Anxiety leads to sleeplessness, which leads to exhaustion. You drag through the day, but as soon as your head hits the pillow, you are wide awake, worrying about the many issues your caregiver role brings.


Irritability is anger in a grouchy mood. It's a result of all of the other factors, and can lead to hurt feelings and misunderstanding.

*Lack of Concentration

Your head is so full, you can't concentrate on the day-to-day. Every time you try to do a task, you find yourself staring into space, or forgetting what you were doing. You forget appointments although you wrote them down. You wonder if you are getting the disease.

*Health problems

The end result of all this stress is that the caregiver begins to need care. All kinds of physical issues, some of them crippling, begin to manifest.

Caregiver stress is overwhelming and devastating. It's also insidious. You may not feel these things today, or tomorrow, or even next week, but as the stress of the situation increases, you are less and less able to cope. Someone with caregiver stress may not experience all of these symptoms, but even a few of them can make life difficult.

The good news--there is help, and lots of it.

*bullet points from

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Caregiver stress pt. 1- What is Caregiver Stress?

Barb couldn't get a handle on her life.

Her three children were growing, but seemed to need her more than when they were little. Her oldest was in university, and the next in her last year of high school. Barb couldn't imagine paying for two in university. The youngest was into soccer and band and church activities, and seemed to always need a drive somewhere.

She worked full time, and did the books for husband's business. He worked long hours, and was seldom home to help with chauffering or housework.

Her parents were elderly, frail, and needed more of her time. Her father had his license taken a few months ago, and they needed her to take them shopping and arrange rides to church. Because they were becoming isolated, they called her several times a day.  It was becoming evident they needed to move somewhere where they could get more care. Barb was trying to look into places, but her parents were resistent to moving, and wouldn't go with her to look at any of the places she found. The thought of cleaning out her parent's house in order to sell it gave Barb a headache. Her siblings lived out of town and weren't much help.

Barb hadn't been sleeping well lately. She had been losing weight, and when her friends asked her out for a "girl's night", she declined. She was too busy, too tired, too stressed.

Barb has caregiver stress. You may think she is an extreme case, but the fact is, there are hundreds of "Barbs' out there. You may know one. You may be one.

We are all familiar with stress, and it's not always a bad thing. Stress keeps us alert, and there are times (such as meeting a deadline)
 when we function best under stress. I always study for exams best under stress. But stress, when it is unrelenting, can kill you.

Caregiver stress has many forms. It's the pressure of too many demands on your time. It's having to make difficult decisions, and the uncertainty of wondering if you made the right one. It's the nasty surprises that come without warning when there is a change in your loved one's health. It's the exhausting day-to-day sameness of a situation that is never going to get better.

How do you know if you are experiencing caregiver stress?

Stay tuned...