A Caregiver You Know Might Need This Book

Dr. Bengtson Releases a Hope Prevails Bible Study Guide

BengtsonNot Knowing That I Stood in Need

When my husband miraculously recovered from non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma with Central Nervous System involvement I knew I should feel grateful and blessed. I did, mostly. But a heavy blanket of depression crept over me and sucked the color out of my days. I felt as if an angry monster lurked inside, ready to lash out at any moment. I had no idea that I needed something.

It took me awhile to acknowledge that perhaps I suffered from depression (after all, shouldn’t I feel blessed? Which just made me feel guiltier and more depressed). At the time, I found a good resource that helped me understand my feelings and start traveling out of the darkness.

I wish I would have had Hope Prevails Bible Study: Insights from a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression by Dr. Michelle Bengston. Not only has Dr. Bengston traveled through depression, she has experienced seasons of caregiving as well. In fact, her husband received a cancer diagnosis on the day her first book, Hope Prevails: Insights from a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression launched last year. Dr. Bengston knows first-hand how caregiving can wear a person down and how maintaining a positive attitude of hope plays an important role in a caregiver’s life.

Dr. Bengtson graciously answered a few questions about the unique challenges that caregivers face.

What lies do caregivers need to be aware of both during and after a loved one’s illness?

Dr. Bengtson: Caregivers need to be aware of the lie that somehow our loved-one’s well-being depends on us. It doesn’t. God has them in His hand and He cares for them so much better than we ever could. We just need to cooperate with Him.

We also need to be aware of the lie that will scream that their healing isn’t permanent. Only God knows. So, we rejoice in the promise that God says that by His stripes we are healed. We don’t know if that will be this side of heaven or not, but we thank Him that God’s ways are best.

Caregivers also must be careful to guard against the lie that says that more we do, the better off they will be, or that no one can care for them as good as we can. We need to take time to rest ourselves so that we can care for them. And sometimes resting means delegating or allowing others to step in and help.

As a cancer caregiver yourself, what extra advice would you give a caregiver who struggles with hopelessness?

Dr. Bengtson: As a caregiver, we have to be careful to guard against hopelessness. We have to be careful not to let anxiety have a place in our mind. One of the best ways to do that is to repeat God’s promises out loud, such as Psalm 39:7 “”But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” and Isaiah 40:31 “but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Go to Him. Share your burdens. He wants to help you carry them. He wants to be your strength. You do not have to go through this alone. Even when friends and family do not understand, he does!

Who Needs Dr. Bengtson’s Book

If you act as a caregiver to someone, I strongly recommend that you read this book as preventative maintenance! Traveling through a caregiving journey calls for extra fortifications—something this book provides. If you know a caregiver, consider giving the book to them as a gift. Often times caregivers look fine on the outside, but inside they feel lost and abandoned. The easy-to-use and understand Bible study takes the reader on a journey of hope. I found the play lists of hope-filled songs especially helpful. Dr. Bengtson has curated a wide variety of Christian music artists to help lift the listener’s spirits throughout the day.

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your favorite posts from last week!

2. Visit TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

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Submersion or Submission: Which would you choose?

How a caregiver can prevent "drowning" or going under, when struggling to keep afloat

We have a choice as caregivers: accept help or drown!

In the fifth part of our series on how caregivers seem to experience the same reactions to circumstances that a drowning person experiences, we explore the options a drowning person has–submersion or submission.

“From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.” On Scene, The Journal of U.S. Coast Guard Search and Rescue

Drowning:

Overwhelmed. Depressed. Struggling. Devastated. Overpowered. Shocked. Overcome. Distressed. Swamped. Drained. Exhausted. Scared. Confused. Done in. At the end of the rope.

All caregivers know these words.

No matter how brave we want to be – no matter how brave we ARE, there comes a point in a caregiver’s journey where we just feel like we can’t go on. We KNOW we must be going under.

For some, that point might come out of the nowhere and smack us when we think we’re doing great. For others, that point might creep up on us; we know it’s coming, but we don’t know what to do about it—except just tread water for all we’re worth until we cannot struggle any longer. For some, “the point” might last for a few moments of desperation. For others, that point might become a new way of life that terrifies us with it’s ceaseless reality.

The point of submersion hits us all.

The waters will close over our heads: Unless a “trained lifeguard” comes to our rescue.
A caregiver’s network of ‘trained lifeguards’ includes caring people who know how to spot signs of distress. Many of us cling to a Higher Power. Most of us receive offers of help, but we feel unsure of how to balance things. Some of us feel that we wouldn’t be doing a great job as caregiver if we relinquished responsibilities.

I am a trained lifeguard. In our training and practice for water rescues (especially deep water or water with currents), the most important training involves knowing what to do with those drowning victims who resist rescue efforts—the people that fight (out of sheer panic) our efforts to help.

Lifeguards learn to approach with words, so that the drowning person knows we want to help. We practice gripping the victim firmly and continuing to talk, if we can, so that the victim understands what we are trying to do. But often people panic anyway, sure that both rescuer and victim will drown in the overwhelming waters.

Lifeguards learn that sometimes we will have to keep our distance and let the victim lose energy so that we can rescue them.

Carol dries out after rescuing a girl from drowning in Trujillo, Peru in 2010.

I rescued a child once, in a pool I was not familiar with and therefore did not know the water’s depth. At first, the frightened girl struggled in my arms and tried to “help” me kick, but her futile efforts took us both under water several times. I ordered her, in a rather stern manner, to lay back and let me carry her—to let me do the work—and I promised to get her over to the edge. For me, the edge was only about 10 feet away and I knew I could get her there with no difficulty. For her, the distance seemed insurmountable, and she had no idea of my swimming ability.

In the end, she clung to my arm, which I held firmly around her, and she relaxed, until I boosted her onto the edge of the pool. Her mother thanked me with tears while I sat in the sun, drying my clothing so I could continue my day.

I felt blessed; I had been able to use my training to help someone survive.

While I was a struggling caregiver, desperately trying to hold my head above water, but feeling that with each submersion it took me longer and longer to reach the surface, a friend told me that I was depriving others of the blessing of helping me, by trying to be so strong and to do everything myself. I was a good “swimmer”, but even the best can only swim for so long before they need a helping hand.

Don’t keep “struggling on the surface until submersion occurs”:

Let others around you gain a blessing by helping. #caregiver #caregiving #blessedbutstressed Click To TweetSubmit to the lifeguards that hover nearby. Don’t submit to submersion!

If you’re a caregiver, have you ever had to submit?  How did it make you feel?

If you’re someone who loves a caregiver, do you have any tips on helping out a frantic ‘drowning’ caregiver?

 

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your favorite posts from last week!

2. Visit TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Don’t forget to visit the other #InspireMeMonday host site: www.anitaojeda.com

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31 Ways to Nurture Yourself for Caregivers

nurture

The Importance of Self-Care Increases with Caregiving

If you spend time caring for someone else, you need to make sure that you spend thoughtful time caring for yourself. This month on my other blog, I’m writing a series on 31 Ways to Nurture Yourself. So often people tell caregivers, “Take time to take care of yourself,” but in the stress of caring for someone else, caregivers can’t figure out what exactly that means.

You can find ideas, as well as the psychology behind self-care and self-nurturing over at www.anitaojeda.com.

A fellow caregiver, Karen Sebastian, also has a great series (this one designed especially for caregivers), called the ABCs of Self-Nurture for Caregivers.

Julie Steele has a series about mothering one’s self. You’ll find great ideas for self-care.

Tammy McDonald has a series on grief that might interest you, too.

If you do nothing else today to care for yourself, take the time to visit one of these series and glean some great ideas on how to take care of yourself! Remember, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t have the energy and patience to take care of someone else!

If you don't take time to care for yourself, you won't have the energy and patience to care for… Click To Tweet

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your favorite posts from last week!

2. Visit TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Don’t forget to visit the other #InspireMeMonday host site: www.anitaojeda.com

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You Might be Drowning in Plain Sight

Drowning and Caregiving

Sometimes caregivers are drowning in plain sight!

Drowning victims and caregivers share more than one might think. In this five-part series we explore the phenomena of “Drowning in Plain Sight.”

As you read, whether you’re a caregiver or someone who loves a caregiver, think about the people in your ‘pool’–is anyone drowning?

“Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled before speech occurs.” Characteristics of the Instinctive Drowning Response–On Scene, The Journal of U.S. Coast Guard Search and Rescue

The doctor adjusted his stethoscope on my back and told me to take a deep breath. I breathed in, and sat, not paying much attention to what was happening. The stethoscope didn’t move. “Again,” he ordered softly.

I let out the air I’d been holding and took another breath while my mind skipped to what I needed to grab from the store before I headed home from this appointment.
The stethoscope still had not journeyed to a new spot.

“Carol,” he reprimanded, “take a de-e-e-p breath!”

I reached deep and breathed properly. This I could do. My life might be falling apart and things running out of control, but I could breathe deep. I’m a flute player. My flute teacher used to make me practice breathing and taught me how to breathe deeply from the abdomen. I drew a deep breath and found that my air seemed to have nowhere to go.

I pretended to myself that all was normal and waited for the stethoscope to go to the next spot.

The stethoscope dropped while the doctor felt along my back.

What was the deal? He’d only listened to my breaths at the top of my back, that wasn’t normal, was it? Oh really. Who cares? I wonder if I mixed Andrew’s nasty medicine with chocolate pudding, would that help him get it down? Swallowing posed the problems…pudding is soft, maybe he could get it down that way. Oh, and besides the pudding, I should get some shaving cream. Karina needed to study her spelling words and writing in shaving cream is a fun way. Yeah, and my grades are due next week, so while she’s practicing spelling, I should get those tests graded. Man, I wish this headache would go away.

“Have you ever had asthma?” the question came out of nowhere.

“Asthma?” Was he kidding? “No, I’ve never had asthma. My breathing is fine—I’ve never had any problem.”

Silence.

“Why, is there a problem?” I finally thought to ask.

“Well, Carol. If you don’t have asthma…then…you’re not breathing.”

I laughed out loud. “I assure you I’m breathing. I’m alive.”

He smiled kindly and explained to me that the muscles in my back felt like the slightly atrophied muscles of an asthmatic patient; showing signs of not breathing deeply enough. I sighed and the very act of doing so proved to me that this doctor was way off.
Not breathing – who ever heard of that. Of COURSE I was breathing.

One has to breathe to live.

The beautiful water belies the silent drama…

He explained more fully that while he was listening, I took a decent breath, but then half the time forgot to let it back out. I needed to practice breathing by taking in big breaths, holding it to the count of three and blowing it – hard – all the way out. Then push even more out if I could. I was holding too much in.

Brother! I’m holding too much in, all right, but it’s not air. It’s panic, it’s fear, it’s responsibilities, it’s life.

But breaths? I was doing fine!

I left the doctor’s office slightly miffed that I hadn’t gone in for breathing issues at all, yet he’d spent valuable time obsessing about my breathing.  Frankly, the doctor had scared me a little bit with his pronouncement about my back. This was the same doctor who kept telling me I needed to get some help; to stop carrying things on my own and to allow people to give me some relief. The same doctor who had, just the week before, reminded me that in order to keep caring for my leukemic boy I would need to eat a little better, drink more water and maybe begin exercising.

Again I snorted with disgust. Like I have time to exercise and eat better…I’d like to see him get up at 3 to get to chemo and return home after dark and still get Larissa to her club meeting and read with Karina and get papers graded. Drink more water? That’d be great, but who has time to count drinks and really, I’d just have to use the bathroom more often. But yeah…we all know those health rules and just as soon as I could, I would follow them like I used to do.

All the way along the one-hour highway route my mind berated that silly doctor who could never just treat what I was asking for, but continually reminded me of taking care of not just my sick boy, but me. My thoughts bounced around wildly like they had come into the habit of doing, and I drove steadily onward. Suddenly breath gusted out of my mouth as dizziness hit.

Whoa. That was weird. I think maybe I was holding my breath while I was thinking!

No, one doesn’t just hold a breath – no one thinks about breathing, they just do it and it works! It’s natural! I continued homeward, thoughts flying in a different direction. Out of nowhere another breath blew out. Oh my goodness, my shoulders are up and I had been holding my breath!

Catching myself holding my breath three more times on the way home convinced me that, indeed, my life had become so crazy that I was now holding my breath, along with my shoulders and my fears, in an effort to accomplish more than I could handle.
I had quit reaching out to friends, feeling that I didn’t have time.
All the things I most enjoyed doing I had given up in an effort to help my kids be “normal”.
I had quit walking in the morning, using that time to get a head start to my day.
I was no longer doing all the things to take care of myself, in order to care for my family.

And I was no longer breathing. 

Have you ever found yourself ‘not breathing’ and unable to communicate with others about your inability to breathe?

The series continues with Breathing Lessons.

Have you ever found yourself not breathing? #blessedbutstressed #caregiver Click To Tweet

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your favorite posts from last week!

2. Visit TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Don’t forget to visit the other #InspireMeMonday host site: www.anitaojeda.com

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Take Care of Yourself: Six Ways to Avoid Caregiver Burnout

While still caring for your patient

In the middle of taking care of our loved one, we often don’t take care of ourselves.

Cancer Caregiving 101: Take Care of Yourself and Prevent Caregiver Burnout

When others offer to entertain your loved one, take time to go for a walk or relax by yourself–DON’T do housework!

“Now you must realize,” the doctor straightened the papers into the already thick folder as he finished summarizing the diagnosis, treatment protocol and prognosis, “with a best-case scenario, we’re in for a long haul. You two must take care of yourselves, too. This is not easy on parents, either, and you can’t let yourselves get run down.”

The nurse bustled into the room, loaded with scary looking objects which she unloaded in the room’s small bathroom. “So, you cannot touch this hat in the toilet, we can’t have his samples contaminated. Also, be sure you don’t let any urine touch you when you help your little guy go – because it will burn a hole in your skin.” There followed some more directions of what not to touch in the room and what not to do and what I needed to help Andrew with and what I needed to remember. As she breezed back out the door, having set these little traps all over the room, she paused in the doorway, “Mrs. Bovee, you need to remember to take care of yourself through this…this will be a long, tough road.”

After a two-week stint in the hospital with a feverish and neutropenic boy, I was home, frantically trying to

recuperate the family from separation, restore the house from chaos and prevent the laundry piles from taking over the world. As I sorted and started a load, a neighbor followed me from washing machine to dryer, not helping, but faithfully entreating me that I needed to “take care of yourself! Carol, you are just working too hard! You need to let go!”

I stumbled along beside the gurney as we returned from the spinal tap, wiping my tired eyes and unsuccessfully hiding a yawn behind my hand. The nurse, pushing a dopey Andrew, smiled sympathetically at me. “Carol, I hope you’re taking care of yourself. We see so many parents pushing so hard. You’ve got to take time out. Don’t forget you’ll need to recharge your batteries too.”

We received that advice throughout Andrew’s treatment. “You parents need to take care of yourselves too.” “Remember that you can help your boy best if you’re taking care of yourself too.” “Take some time for you!”

Great advice.
Perfect!
Ideal.
Laudable recommendations from caring souls.

“Don’t lift that boy – he’s too heavy for your back!” – OK, but he’s four, sick to his stomach, neutropenic, tired…I’m supposed to tell him he’s on his own?

“Don’t worry about the housework, take care of yourself.” – OK, but I cannot have a sick boy around dirt…is someone going to clean it for me?

“Make sure you eat regular and healthy meals!” – Ok. But the procedures are always during breakfast time, recuperation through lunch, driving through supper and falling into bed. When was I supposed to eat? And what in the world is a ‘regular time’?

The job needs to be kept, the house needs to be clean, the kids need to be loved, the meals need to be fixed, the sick one needs to be cared for – when, exactly, was I supposed to “take care of me”?

Truly, all I could concentrate on, throughout my son’s illness, was him! It wasn’t until it was too late, and I was in trouble, that I realized what I had done to myself. So the question I hear, from so many caregivers, is this:

HOW do I take care of myself, when my primary job is to take care of him/her? (tweet this)
I’m probably the last person to take advice from, as I did not necessarily do it right. On the other hand, maybe I’m a good person to listen to—I can honestly look back over my journey and say that there are things I would do no differently even if I could have known exactly what I know now. I would still give 150% to my child and my family.

However, there are some things that I wish I could go back and change, or do better:

1. Delegate the little things as much as you can: you cannot delegate the worry, no one else can carry your pain and your patient might not want you to delegate personal care. So delegate the windows being washed, the lawn getting mown, handing someone your money and your shopping list, etc. Delegate as much as you can. Sometimes that means swallowing your pride, but it might help you avoid swallowing medication later! ☺

2. Make lists. If someone offers to help – have a list ready of things they might be able to help with. If you have nothing you can think of right that moment (I remember someone offering to help while we were waiting for Andrew to come out of a procedure – nice, but not where my brain was right that moment), then write their offer down and get contact information and ask if you could call on them sometimes.

3. Ask. Don’t be afraid to call your pastor or a neighbor or a co-worker and let him/her know of a need. A lot of people think we caregivers have it all under control and don’t think to even ask if there’s a need. But many would help if they knew of a need. One person said to me, “It’s OK to allow someone else to have the blessing of helping you.” I had never thought about it that way before, and that was releasing to me.

4. Be willing to let go: sometimes, we caregivers think we need to be superman and wonder woman all rolled into one. We can’t. Or maybe, like in my case, I could for a while, but sustaining that after a while becomes impossible. Take the help that’s offered. And also let go of how that help is done. It might not measure up to your standards – but it will probably work!

5. Search out quiet moments. The days of caregiving are often busy and hectic, and when they are quiet, they can be scary. Grab moments of quiet to journal or to process some of what’s been going on. Take those moments to evaluate how you’re doing and how you’re feeling. Is it time to get some help? Do you need to find someone to talk to?

6. Expect less of yourself. This one has nothing to do with others’ helping, and everything to do with you deciding that it might be OK if you don’t get things done. Maybe you need to say no to some things you used to do. A caregiver has to re-examine priorities; and in that re-examination, one of those priorities has to be you. Your sanity, your health, your ability to keep on going.

It IS possible to take care of yourself, even while taking care of your loved one!… Click To Tweet

What ways have you found to take care of yourself?

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your favorite posts from last week!

2. Visit TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Don’t forget to visit the other #InspireMeMonday host site: www.anitaojeda.com

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What You don’t Know About Breathing Can Really Hurt You

breathingLosing My Ability to Breathe

Somewhere, between diagnosis and deliverance, I forgot how to breathe. I find myself, at odd moments, holding my breath, not in anticipation or fright, but simply because I have forgotten the rhythm of breathing.

I didn’t even know about my loss until I started experiencing horrible, unexplainable pain in the middle of my chest that isn’t a heart problem (checked that), isn’t a nerve problem (checked that too), or even a lung problem (checked the bellows out and they’re fine).

“You’re as healthy as a person half your age,” the cardiologist told me. If that’s true, why does it hurt to breathe or have my heart beat strong and deep?  Why does my left side swell up?  It hurts to lie down, or stand up?  Why does it happen over and over again?

“Your breathing function is normal,” the internist told me. “In fact, your lung capacity is superior.”  Than why does it hurt to breathe?  Why can’t I take a deep breath without agony?  Walking up stairs is a cruel form of torture.

“Have you ever considered acupuncture?” my family practitioner asked me. Really?  Alternative therapy?  I couldn’t believe a physician was suggestion alternative therapy.

“Well, I do go to a chiropractor and a massage therapist,” I admitted.

“Does it help?” she asked.

“I’m not sure.”  I shrugged. “Sometimes it helps the pain go away if I go in early, sometimes it doesn’t. My massage therapist claims that I have incredibly tight muscles on my left side. It takes her an hour to work through the knots.”

A Different Kind of Specialist

“Do you know how to breathe?” my neighbor and friend asked me. She’s a life coach, and helps people with chronic pain—she’s also a person in chronic pain. “I can teach you how to breathe.”  I reluctantly agreed to go over to her house after work one evening (after my second job–I much rather would have been in bed).

“It’s called diaphragmatic breathing,” she told me. “Put your hand right below your rib cage and try to push your hand out when you breathe.”  I felt silly, but I tried it. “When you breathe shallowly, you decrease your body’s ability handle pain.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”  She launched into the technical reasons why shallow breathing keeps a person from processing pain and releasing endorphins that help the body take care of pain. I thanked her and wandered out of her house, hand on stomach, practicing my breathing while thinking of breathing in general.

Over the next few weeks, while I waited for my pain to go away, I caught myself not breathing. The computer didn’t load fast enough—I clenched my teeth and my breathing ceased its regular, steady rhythm. Three family members with perfectly good hands and arms and backs failed to put their own dishes in the dishwasher—how hard can it be to bend slightly and put a dish in the dishwasher?  I got cut off on the highway—have they stopped giving driving tests?!  Ooops!  My teeth were clenched and I had been holding my breath for who-knows-how-long.

Caregiver, Beware Your Breathing

Somewhere, between diagnosis and deliverance, I had started holding my breath—in fright, in anticipation of the next piece of bad news, in mental pain and agony, in emotional stress. No one ever warned me that a side effect of all that stress would be a loss of breathing. In fact, no one warned me about any of the side effects of a cancer diagnosis. Slowly, every so slowly, I’m putting a name on them and dealing with them. For now, I’ll start with breathing lessons.

 

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your favorite posts from last week!

2. Visit TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Don’t forget to visit the other #InspireMeMonday host site: www.anitaojeda.com

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Self-Care for Caregivers Involves Learning How to Breathe

breatheSelf-Care for Caregivers Involves Learning How to Breathe

To breathe or not to breathe, this is the question. I know, we all breathe, all the time; otherwise, we would be dead. But did you know that HOW we breathe plays a huge role in our health?

During Pedro’s cancer year, I forgot how to breathe. It took me several years after his stem-cell transplant to actually learn how to breathe again. Unfortunately, my health (both mental and physical) suffered greatly during my years of forgetting how to breathe.

Fear and pain cause shallow breathing—our bodies naturally respond to threats by changes in breathing patterns. The problem occurs when we find ourselves in a constant state of stress—which disrupts our normal breathing.

According to Alan Fogel, Ph.d., in an online article for Psychology Today, “Chronic breath holding and effortful breathing are not healthy because the muscular effort, coupled with the effects of stress on the nervous, hormonal, and immune systems, can impair both physical and psychological function.”

Caregivers can live in a constant state of fright, flight, or freeze. When I thought Pedro might die any given day, I struggled to assure our children that everything would be ok (regardless of the outcome). I struggled to assure myself that things would get better. Seeing a doctor walk out of Pedro’s room (or into it) at an unscheduled time sent my heart racing.

If I would have known more about the importance of the way that I breathed, I could have avoided a lot of pain and agony later on—when all those months of bad breathing turned into a bad habit that chiseled away at my health.

So, if you care for someone, the number one thing you can do for yourself involves learning how to breathe.

Four Steps to Healthy Breathing

1. Remember the numbers. Four-seven-eight. 4-7-8. Breathe in for four seconds. Hold it for seven seconds. Breathe out for eight seconds.Rescue breathing for #caregivers. http://wp.me/p2UZoK-1C3
2. Breathe in through your nose. If you feel like you suffer from chemo-brain by proxy, it probably means you suffer from stress. To regain your ability to remember things, breathe in through your nose when you want to remember something. Scientists recently discovered that breathing in through the nose enhances memory.
3. Breathe to fall asleep. If you struggle with insomnia, try the 4-7-8 breathing technique as you lie in bed at night.
4. Exercise hard on a regular basis. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular aerobic exercise can ward off viral illnesses, reduce your health risks, and keep excess pounds at bay.

Keeping pounds off is vital for caregivers because caregiving takes a big enough toll on our mental health without having to deal with weight gain. Aerobic exercise doesn’t mean you have to join an aerobic dance class (thank goodness—I have two left feet).

Simply engage your large muscle groups, make sure your heart rate increases, and your feel your body start breathing more deeply. I finally purchased a fitness tracker to keep me honest about my effort. You can do this by walking briskly, climbing flights of stairs, running, bicycling, or dancing like a crazy person in your living room.

What other ways have you discovered to relieve caregiver stress?

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your favorite posts from last week!

2. Visit TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Don’t forget to visit the other #InspireMeMonday host site: www.anitaojeda.com

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Six Tips for Family Caregivers During a Catastrophe

Baby Steps at the Hospital

catastropheThe Family Caregiver’s Guide to Self-Care at the Hospital

“Excuse me,” I interrupted the nurse as she stood at the desk working on charts. “I don’t think Pedro received his pain meds.”

“Let me check,” she replied with a busy frown. “Yes, it says right here that he had his meds an hour ago.”

“If you check your supply, I’m sure you’ll see that he didn’t receive them,” I insisted. I couldn’t believe my bravery—normally, I avoid conflicts at all cost. “The last nurse came in and said she would bring the meds, and then something came up. After that, the shifts changed.”

With a dubious, harried look, the nurse took off down the hallway towards the pharmacy dispensing room. I trailed behind.

Two minutes later, the chagrinned nurse came out of the room with a paper cup full of meds in her hand. “You’re right,” she said, and headed to Pedro’s room.

THIS was why I spent every spare minute in the hospital—to prevent human error from harming my husband. I might not be able to cure his cancer, but I could make sure he didn’t suffer because overworked and underpaid nurses forgot to dispense his meds.

The Slippery Slope of Caregiving

When a family member gets launched into a health crisis, primary caregivers get launched into a tandem trajectory of life changes. Our bodies enter the fright, flight, or freeze state—usually choosing to fight for our loved one.

Within hours, we go through a mental list of everything we will give up or reschedule in order to remain by our loved one’s side until the crisis resolves. All too often, we slip into a state of mind where we believe our presence and participation are indispensible.

Within hours, days, or weeks (depending on the severity of the circumstances) a firm conviction grows in our minds that if we step outside the hospital room, something worse will happen. Our fear keeps us tethered to the bedside of our loved one. Friends or other family members might encourage us to step away and take a break, but we KNOW that if we do, something bad will happen.

I fell into that trap during Pedro’s cancer year. It didn’t help that partway through the year, his early remission turned into a catastrophic relapse. It also didn’t help that he needed specialized treatment a thousand miles away. To make things worse, other family members lived closer to Pedro’s new hospital—and they, too, felt that their presence provided the only barrier between Pedro’s recovery and certain death.

We came to an uneasy compromise (neither of us fully trusted the other to do the right thing) about caregivers in Pedro’s hospital room. For his entire hospital stay during the worst of his illness, a family member spent the night (and often all of the day) with him.

Of course, my single-minded, hyper-focused dedication ended up harming me. In order to achieve balance and not endanger my own health, I finally made some changes.

Six Tips for Family Caregivers at the Hospital

1. Learn the schedule. Know the daily routine—when the nurses dispense meds and when the doctor makes rounds. Use an app on your phone or a good old-fashioned notebook that gets passed from caregiver to caregiver.Six tips for finding balance as a #caregiver when catastrope strikes. http://wp.me/p2UZoK-1BZ

2. Keep track of meds and adverse drug interactions. Pedro figured out that Zofran (a drug to prevent nausea) actually made him vomit. More than once, family caregivers had to point out to medical staff that he had a reaction and shouldn’t be given the medicine.

3. Take breaks! Every morning I would walk down the street to the local Starbucks. I always went before the shift change and well before rounds or meds (see #1 and #2). The brisk walk and change of scenery did me a world of good.

4. Take the stairs. Walking up 11 flights of stairs several times a day might not seem like self-care. But believe me, the endorphins helped counteract the stress-induced cortisol. Sneak in as much vigorous exercise as possible.

5. Share the burden. I came to really appreciate the family members who spent time with Pedro so that I could keep my job. Their love and participation in the duties made my life easier.

6. Breathe deeply. I know, it sounds self-explanatory. But throughout Pedro’s crisis, I resorted to shallow breathing—which harmed my health. Take time-outs throughout the day to breath deeply and think of things that bring you peace.

I know these all seem like baby steps. When a loved one experiences a catastrophe, baby steps might be all a family caregiver can take. Remember, survival mode takes precedence—and that actually helps you through the initial crisis.

These small steps will help you maintain balance and a sense of control when the world seems horribly out of the control.

 

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your favorite posts from last week!

2. Visit TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Don’t forget to visit the other #InspireMeMonday host site: www.anitaojeda.com

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Screaming – Five Tips for NOT Screaming

When you feel like you really need to!

While tempting, screaming seldom solves anything.

“Get out of my way!” I screamed at the driver who cut me off. “Where could you possibly have to go that’s more important than me taking my son to the ER?”

“I don’t have time for this!” I screamed in my classroom at the mountain of papers the substitute had piled up for me to grade.

“You can’t have him, we’re busy!” I screamed at the people wanting to talk to my husband about stupid mundane problems at school. “Can’t you see my son is hurting?  Who cares about your trifling issues?”

“Don’t talk to me about your over-active son’s problems!” I screamed at the couple in the elevator. “My son used to be active, but now he might not even live!”

“Don’t joke about me ‘moving in’ when you see me carrying a suitcase into the hospital!” I screamed at the janitor. “This has become my life overnight, and it’s NOT a joke!”

“How can you all keep going on as though nothing is happening?”  I screamed at the world.

“How can you go snowboarding when my son is fighting so hard to live?  Why do you go shopping when my son is being poked over and over?  Why are you renting movies and cracking jokes when my son is in so much pain?  How can you go to school when my son is going through torture?”

I screamed at everyone!

My son. My only son. Fighting for his life while the world keeps going. My precious, precious son.

Wait a minute.

God’s son. His only son. His precious, precious son.

Does God want to scream at us?  “How can you keep going?  How can you keep doing those mundane useless things?  Don’t you realize my son was tortured, poked and suffering?  My only son?!”

But that’s not the kind of God He is. He doesn’t scream at people, just like I wasn’t really screaming at anyone. But I wanted to.

I wonder if God ever wants to scream.

Five things to do when you feel like screaming (but can’t):

  1. Breathe deeply from your diaphragm.  Seriously, it sounds too simple to be real, but breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth can change your mindset.
  2. Vent to a journal.
  3. Pray—if all you can say is, “Dear God!” it’s okay. He understands the groaning of our heart (Romans 8:26-28).
  4. Praise God—it sounds counter-intuitive, but praise wins over rage, every time.
  5. Phone a friend (a safe friend) and ask if you can vent out loud.
Five tips to prevent you from screaming, even when you feel like it! #caregiving #stress Click To Tweet

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your favorite posts from last week!

2. Visit TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Don’t forget to visit the other #InspireMeMonday host site: www.anitaojeda.com

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What DO Caregivers Crave?

The Answer Might Surprise You!

caregiver-craveWhat DO Caregivers Crave?

I locked the bathroom door behind me and hurried through my morning routine, keeping a wary eye on my watch. I had just five minutes until the room outside would fill with doctors and interns on their morning ‘rounds’ of the cancer ward. They didn’t actually go anywhere—they met in the repurposed patient room that doubled as a family hangout and place to grab a quick shower.

With three minutes left, I gazed longingly at the bathtub and the clean towel I had grabbed from the laundry cart. Not enough time. Pedro had had a rough night and I had cat napped much later than usual. A fresh layer of deodorant would have to do.

I grabbed my toiletries bag and swung the door open…20 pairs of dignified eyes swiveled in my direction. Mumbling mortified apologies, I scurried through the door into the hallway.

More than anything else, I craved a long soak in a hot bath without the guilt of knowing some other patient’s family member might need the bathroom, too. I craved a night of sleep without the beeps and blips, alarms and nurses checking on Pedro.

Of course, I wanted Pedro healthy and whole again. But nothing in my life up to that point had prepared me for the life of a caregiver. If you know a family caregiver, this list might help you understand what they may crave the most.

Five Things Caregivers Crave

1. Affirmation. Take time to speak words of appreciation for the job that they do—even if they don’t take care of YOUR family member. A simple, “Caregiving is difficult. Your ________ (fill in the blank) is so lucky to have you on their side during this difficult time.”

2. Acts of kindness. Caregivers may not have time in the moment to properly thank you for your deed, but believe me, each act of kindness helps fill the hole of loneliness and isolation. Buy a gift card. Send a note. Reach out on social media. Let the caregiver know that you care.

caregiver-crave3. An hour of worry-free time. At one point in Pedro’s illness, a family friend flew from Montana to California just to spend 18 hours with Pedro. He encouraged me to find a hotel room and to relax. It wasn’t easy for me to step away, but after a long soak in a hot tub and an uninterrupted night’s sleep, I felt ready to take on caregiving again.

4. Activity. The mind-numbing boredom and fear of sitting in a hospital room with a critically ill person can threaten to drown out reason. I entertained myself by bidding for things on eBay with money I didn’t have. Anything to stimulate the mind or the body. Gift a membership to Audible (the patient and caregiver could even listen to books together). Offer to go for a walk with the caregiver.

5. A hug. A virtual hug works, too, if the caregiver lives a long ways away. I went for weeks at a time without receiving a hug from anyone. Pedro’s life hung in the balance and we were a thousand miles from friends and family.

Other Ideas?

Q4U: What can you add to the list if you are or have been a caregiver? Do you know a caregiver that you can reach out to?