Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Care Partner Wednesday--The "How" of Boundaries

Some people are good at the boundaries thing.

When you approach them about doing something, you know they will carefully consider it.They will look at their schedule, the demands of their family time and whether they are actually drawn to an activity. They may pray about it. When they come back to you with an answer, you have the confidence that they have thoroughly considered it. If the answer is "no" there is no sting, because you know it was given careful consideration. If they say "yes," they are there for you in that activity one hundred percent. They know how to put up boundaries, and how to function well within them.

I am not that person.

As a people pleaser, I have taken on far too much over the years, and driven myself to exhaustion trying to fulfil my obligations. Then I have gone to the other extreme, and said "no" to everything because I was recovering from my over-extension. I have gotten involved in activites that weren't my gift at all, and missed out on opportunities I should have taken.

I'm not good at boundaries.

Healthy boundaries are not walls, but gates that allow you to enjoy the beauty of your own garden.Lydia H. Hall

Because the role of care partner can be so demanding, learning how to set boundaries can literally save your life. This is especially true for full-time care partners,  but even if you are being a friend and visiting an elderly person, boundaries are important. Without them, no one is benefiting.

How do you set a boundary? Here are a few suggestions from someone who has struggled with this.

1) Spend some time at a quiet moment assessing the situation. What are you doing now? What is being asked? How is what you are doing affecting the other relationships in your life?

2) Think about the person you are serving. Is what they are asking coming from a practical need ("I need help to get to my doctor's appointment.") or are they expressing something else? ("I wish you'd visit more often." may mean something like "I'm lonely.")

3) Is this something that you should be doing, or should it come from someone else? Sometimes what you need to do is not what is requested, but to find more people to help.

4) Listen to what is not being said. Complaints and demands may come from actual need, or may  be an indication of someone dealing with the challenges of many losses. Maybe what you need to give is a listening ear and understanding.

5) Come with your speech prepared. If you need to say "no", think through your reasons and have alternative suggestions. Listen. But don't be manipulated into changing your mind.

6) It bears repeating--Good fences make good neighbours. If you don't set boundaries in a care partner situation, it can lead to an unhealthy, co-dependant relationship. If that happens, no one is happy, or is properly served. It can also lead to burn-out on your part, which can affect you physically, emotionally and in every other way. You will have nothing to give if you burn out.

7) Be prepared for fall-out. Your loved one may not be happy with what you have said. You may have to live with that for a while.

8) Pray. While you are assessing the situation, before talking to the person, while talking to them and after. God will give you wisdom and backbone and patience to endure.

I know this is possible, because I have gotten better at this. You can, too.

CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION: How has setting a boundary made your relationship better in the long run with your loved one?

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Care Partner Wednesday--Should Care Partners Have Boundaries?

Isn't talking about boundaries and care in the same breath an oxymoron? Like jumbo shrimp or original copy, it seems contradictory.

If you think that is true, I've learned two things about you. You don't understand care, and you're not clear about boundaries, either.

Caring for an elderly person involves their physical care, emotional support and sometimes ensuring social needs are met. It's giving beyond what is considered normal or easy. There are times when it involves dealing with anxiety, repetition and downright crankiness. This is not a comprehensive definition, just a few aspects of the job. It also involves incredible love, satisfaction and times of wonder, but that's another discussion.

A boundary isn't a line in the sand, or something that is cruel or mean. A boundary says, "I can do this, this and this, but for the health of both of us, I can't do that." OR, "You can do this, but that isn't safe for you."

Why do we establish boundaries? The reason is simple--they are best for both parties involved, even if one party might not feel that way.

Here is an example. Greta got in touch with an old friend. She hadn't seen her for many years and wanted to spend some time with her. When she came and told me she was going out with this friend, I was concerned.  I'd never heard this lady's name before, although I  knew all Greta's other friends. I wanted her to have a good time, but I was also concerned that she was safe. I emailed Greta's son and asked if he knew this person, and he replied that he did, but he would prefer that, for their first meeting in so many years,  they met and have dinner where Greta lived. Greta had changed a lot in the last several years, and he wanted to be sure the friend knew how best to help her.

When I conveyed this to Greta, she was not happy with me. She railed at her lack of independence. For over an hour we talked and I explained the reason for the boundary.

That evening, our nurse talked to the friend, conveying the son's wishes (which were a boundary.) This friend railed at the injustice and said some inappropriate and unkind things. She later phoned the son and lit into him.

I realized my gut reaction was correct. A boundary was needed to keep Greta safe and all of us made the correct decisions.

Sometimes, a boundary is to keep the care partner sane. One of my mantras is, "In order to keep caring, you need to look after yourself."

Barbara was at her wit's end. She had made the difficult decision to give up a job in finance to look after her mother. She knew she'd be alright financially, but wondered if she could really fulfil this role in her mother's life. She'd prayed about it, and it seemed the right thing to do.

But now, several months into it, she was frustrated. Beyond that, there were times she was angry at the demands her mother made on her. Then she felt guilty. Then she cried.

Barbara needs to build a fence. Remember: good fences make good neighbours. This applies to many relationships. Anyone in your life that starts knocking down fences and barging onto your lawn is  someone with whom you will have a strained relationship.

Think about personal space. Everyone has a boundary in how close you want other people to come. When I am on a packed subway and mushed against people I wouldn't normally get close to, I don't make eye contact. It's a way for both of us to create some kind of boundary.

Years ago, I knew someone who got closer to me than I was comfortable with. As she talked to me, I would subltly back up, until I felt the wall at my back. I asked a friend, "Why does she do that?" The answer was simple. Her personal space was closer than mine.

Back to boundaries. Someone like Barbara has to realize that even though she is full time caregiver for her mother, she can't, and shouldn't, try to meet all her mother's needs.


1) Barbara will go nuts.
2) It fosters an unhealthy relationship. Nobody should be at another person's beck and call. If her mother needs intensive physical care, Barbara should get professional help.
3) Mother requires other relationships in her life. She needs other people helping her and--radical thought--she can contribute to their lives, as well.
4) Both Barbara and her mother will be happier with some boundaries.

"You can't pour from an empty cup. Look after yourself." Unknown

Continue the conversation: Have you set a boundary is a care partner situation? How did it work out?

Next week...the how of boundaries.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

The Small Miracle of Being Still

"Be still and know that I am God." Ps. 46 10

I know that one by heart. I don't have to look it up. But I am seldom still.

Inside the house, chores scream at me to be completed. "I am dirty, clean me. I've been soaking all night, wash me. I am messy, tidy me up." There are other voices saying, "i am interesting, watch me. You need to know me, research me. This looks good, read me." Then there's the ever present, "I am a brilliant idea that will disappear if you don't write me." Among the cacophony of these external voices are the ones in my head. "You are slob because you aren't cleaning and washing and tidying up right now. You are missing out because you aren't watching or researching or reading. You've already missed the brilliant idea, and you call yourself a writer?" The voices are relentless.

I step outside onto the deck. It's quiet, which is unusual. I live in a townhouse complex with multiple neighbours, beside a busy park. But at this moment, peace prevails.

Yet, is it quiet? I have developed a skill that helps me focus on the task at hand, where extraneous noises don't hit my consciousness. I don't hear them. If I concentrate on them, they are there, but when I am focusing on a task, they don't break through. It helps me accomplish all kinds of tasks.

Today, I remove the filter. I listen to how the breeze rustles the leaves of a tree two doors down. I hear the birds calling to each other--the insistent blue jay and the lovely trill of several other birds I can't identify. I watch the wispy clouds drift across the sky. I smile at the grass seed I put down a few weeks ago, which has sprouted lush green and filled in the barren spots in my lawn. There are a few spots that need some more help though. I really should get some more seed today STOP!

You see how easily it happens? Even out here, it is difficult for someone like me to be still. I love accomplishing things. I feel like a whole, important, productive person when I do.

God doesn't see me that way, though. He calls me to be still.


Because when I am still, I listen. He talks to me. My soul is nourished. When I am still, my crooked, twisted world rights itself, and I know He is God. I see His creation, His order, His control. I hear His peace. I feel His love. When I am still, I am the me He wants me to be.

The task are not evil, and they will be completed. But not by a harried, guilt-ridden, worn-out me. I am nourished. I have been still and listened to my Father, and I can accomplish them with purpose and joy. Those other, negative voices in my head? I know where they come from, and the funny thing is, I can't hear them any more.

Today, in the peace of a Saturday morning, God drew me out to my deck, sat me in a chair with a coffee and spoke to me.

I bet he wants to speak to you, too. Be still...


“God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work.”A.W. Tozer

CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION: How has God broken through your busy-ness and spoken to you today?

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Care Partner Wednesday--The Beauty of Fences

"Good fences make good neighbours." said the poet. Maybe his neighbour said it, too.

I have no fence on my front yard, and my neighbour and I share the space. I walk across her side to get to the road. She walks across mine to get to the park.  We both make it work, and it's not a big deal. Why? Because we spend very little time in the front yard. We use it to come and go, but seldom sit out there.

The back yard--now that's another story. In the back yard, we barbecue, and they have parties and we sit and watch the stars. The back yard has a solid, six-foot fence, Good fences make good neighbours.

Care partners need to learn about boundaries.

I've never been good at boundaries. Boundaries can mean confrontation, and I hate confrontation. But in a care partner relationship, boundaries can mean the difference between being able to continue at this demanding task, or falling apart. There are times when it's appropriate to say "no" or to ask someone to help or to look for other ways of doing something. The subject of boundaries is closely related to care partner stress. The  care partner who hasn't learned when it is appropriate to establish a boundary is a stressed care partner. You can't do it all.

But there are no rules. That would make it so much easier.

Unlike fences, boundaries can move. They aren't the same for everyone, or every day. Care partners know that the situation changes--sometimes daily. Some days are better than others, and your loved one can do more. Boundaries have to be flexible.

But you must have them.

Vicki Racker, MD, in an article called Setting Limits as a Caregiver, says, "most caregivers are more effective and open-hearted when they know where their boundaries are, and they protect them. With boundaries, we can find personal renewal while caregiving, and find the strength to cope when life gets chaotic."

In other words, if I build a good, strong fence, I can function well within my own yard.

How do you know when to set a boundary? What might it look like? How do I know if it needs to change? How do I deal with the guilt I feel?

'You can do anything, but not everything."Unknown

These are all topics I will explore in the coming weeks, but for today, I will end with this story, which illustrates that there are no absolutes.

When I was caring for my husband, it got intense at the end. He was in hospital, sometimes for weeks at a time, and I had to keep working. We needed my income. During his last hospital stay, he was moved to the city. I worked all day, then went to the hospital. I picked up something to eat and took it to his room, where we shared the next few hours. When it was time to leave, I would take transit for an hour to get home, home and begin it all again the next day. Up at 5:00 am, commute to work, work all day, to the hospital, visit and home. Obviously, I couldn't keep that up forever.

During that time, I had the strong sense that I needed to be at the hospital every night. He was alone all day, and those few hours were his oasis. Even when the kids came to visit, I still wanted to be there. I was exhausted. Wisdom would say I needed to set a boundary. My heart said I needed to keep going. What I didn't know was that we were experiencing the last few weeks of his life. Those moments together were precious and important, and I'm glad I did it.

Set boundaries, but listen to your heart.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Care Partner Wednesday--Don't Carry the Load of Stress Alone

Everyone has things they are famous for among their friends. If you need a card at the last minute, go to this friend--she always has the best cards. That co-worker is well-known for driving her kids and everyone else in her family--everywhere. Someone else will go shopping, anytime, anyplace. I am famous for carrying stuff to work. Crazy, impossible, heavy bags.

My daily commute involves the train, subway and bus. If I need to shop for grocery items for a summer barbecue, decorations, chocolate treats for Bingo prizes, wool for the knitting ladies--it all needs to be carried into work. All my shopping comes to work in bags and satchels and once, a suitcase. My most notorious journey involved a suitcase containing the entire ingredients for Irish stew for 50 people.

In the last several months, I have learned that all this carrying of heavy loads has done some damage and it has to stop. I'm trying to buy things at work, order online or split up the loads.

Carrying a heavy load weighs you down. It can make you sick. A wise person will get help.

Muriel was caregiver for her husband, who had Parkinson's disease. At this point, he needed minimal help, but in the last year, she saw a lot of changes, and they haunted her. She did extensive reading, and knew the disease was progressing more quickly than it did in some people. The drugs weren't improving his health much, and she was terrified of the future. Her fear kept her up at night, listening to her husband's breathing. It caused panic attacks when he was out of the house. She burst into tears one day while doing the grocery shopping, and had to leave her cart in the middle of the store. The next week, it happened in the dentist's chair.

Her husband was concerned. He saw her slowly drowning in her fears, and he felt responsible. He had his own fears, and grappled with depression every day. They were starting to bicker, and he was afraid it was affecting their relationship--a relationship they desperately needed to be strong for the road ahead.

"It's not the heavy load that breaks you. It's the way you carry it." Lena Horne

Muriel and her husband need someone to help carry their heavy load. They need professional help.

Everyone's situation is different, and people struggle in different ways. Circumstances that are difficult but possible for one person might be overwhelming and incredibly distressing for someone else. It doesn't mean that one person is weaker than another. Wisdom recognizes when the load is becoming too heavy, and looks for help.

Professional help comes in diverse forms. A priest, rabbi, minister or pastor. A counsellor, social worker, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. A doctor, nurse or other specialist. Everyone's pain is different and may require more than one form of help, or different kind of help along the way.

Professionals can lighten your load in so many ways. Here is someone who may have perspective and wisdom about your situation. You may be too close to see it. They may suggest resources that you can access. You may need other help, such as medication, for a short period, and certain professionals can help you access this.

Most people, at some point in their care journey, need some kind of professional help. The wise ones realize it.