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!

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He Lives within my Heart

After-effects of a battle with Alzheimer's

 “He lives within my heart!”

You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart!

It’s amazing to stand in an auditorium filled with Christian pastors and teachers and have all 300 or so lifting their hearts to God together in song.  I loved every moment.  Until they introduced the hymn, “He Lives”.  The song leader motioned everyone to stand and I felt my heart sink even while it also rejoiced.

“He better not direct and have us hold out that note,” I whispered to my husband regarding the actions of the song leader.  I tried to sing, I really did.  But as soon as we hit the chorus, tears beat the words to my mouth.  Swiping my cheeks frantically, I leaned my head down so my hair could cover my face a bit.  The congregation sang mightily and the chorus sounded amazing echoing around that great hall.

They hit the last verse and I muttered to myself, “Don’t hold it…don’t hold it.”

I’m pretty sure that song leader attended the same university my dad did.  You know, that one where they teach you to hold your arms up and wave the audience into unison singing, where you learn to sing with emotion and emphasize certain notes.

This song leader entered the chorus with gusto and loudly sang the lines, “You ask me how I know He lives?”  He  took a deep breath, and just like my dad used to do, he directed all of us to a grand finale,

“He LI-i-i-i-i-i-i-VES, within my heart!”

“Amen!” shouted pastors and teachers.

“Oh dear!” I whispered.

He lives…

My dad’s been gone just over a year.  The pain and confusion is over for my dad. The caregiving days are over, for my mom.  I no longer wonder or worry about how dad is doing, but it’s worse not having him around.  When I hear those songs he loved so much, or read a verse he cherished, or see a new building being built or spy old blueprints: in those moments the loss of my hero smacks me so hard.  It blindsided me during that hymn and I hate that it did, yet I love that it does.  My dad sang that song out of pure unadulterated joy in his Savior.  He believed God had led in his life and he believed that Christ lived in his heart.  He believed it, he lived it and he sang it.

Watching my dad with Alzheimer’s was difficult, but getting the opportunity to see him cling to the love of his Jesus was beautiful.  I couldn’t sing “He Lives” with my fellow teachers very well.  The tears fell too freely.

But I have the song in my heart, where my dad taught me to place and hold the love of God.  “He Li-i-i-i-ives, within my heart!”

Alzheimer's cannot remove Jesus living in your heart! #HeLives #caregiving 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!

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What a Rubber Ducky Taught Me About Salvation

rubber duckyRubber Ducky Memories

I walked into the guest bathroom this morning and saw my grandson’s rubber ducky sitting on the edge of tub. Memories of a smaller tub and a similar rubber ducky floated into my head.

January 3, 2003—Pedro had eaten his breakfast one painstaking bite at a time. I had braved the San Francisco fog and walked to the local Starbucks for something better than hospital food. Neither one of us ate much, though, because anticipation ran through our veins faster than the IV pump could deliver Pedro’s morning meds.

Transplant day had arrived! For two torturous weeks in November and December, Pedro had given himself Neupogen shots in the stomach each night. In the morning, he would check in to the cancer ward on Eleven Long of the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Parnassus campus. For four hours he would sit in a chair hooked up to an apheresis machine that would collect stem cells from his blood and pass the blood back into his body.

In the late afternoon, the lab would count the number of stem cells collected, and the doctor’s office would call to let us know how whether or not Pedro would need to return the following day. We couldn’t leave San Francisco until they had collected enough stem cells. The process dragged on, day after day. While he sat in the apheresis chair, I would scramble to find another cheap hotel or change our plane tickets one more time.

Most people spend 4-5 days in the apheresis chairs. But after all Pedro had gone through to get to remission, his body took longer to produce stem cells. After a month of rest, we had returned to the hospital right after Christmas for one last round of chemo.

First, We Kill You

The doctors had explained the transplant process in simple terms. “First, we give you enough chemo to kill you,” the intern explained. “Then, right before the drugs kill you off, we infuse you with stem cells. They act like smart bombs and repair everything that’s wrong with you.”

Despite the high doses of chemo, Pedro’s energy remained high. He played his theme song each time a doctor came in to visit, and we watched funny movies to pass the time the day before the transplant. We also had our first visit from a hospital chaplain (awkward, to say the least). But nothing could contain our underlying river of joy.

Finally, the nurse pushed through the doorway with a strange cart that held an open tank of water on top. “Transplant time!” she chirped. A rubber ducky floated serenely in the pool of water as it sloshed with the cart’s movement. “Your stem cells are frozen,” the nurse explained, “and we thaw them out and warm them up a bit in this bath before we pump them into you.”

We bobbled our heads, too excited to say much.

“And now you’ll have TWO birthdays,” the nurse exclaimed. “Don’t forget this one, Pedro,” she cautioned. “Imagine, you can have two cakes per year!”

Within twenty minutes the room smelled like slightly rotten grapefruit. “I see you prepared for the day,” the nurse said with approval when she saw me give Pedro his first stick of gum.

The chemical used to preserve the stem cells (DMSO) left a grapefruit-garlicky taste in his mouth. Because of his facial paralysis, gum chewing (any kind of chewing) didn’t come easily. But it didn’t matter. Soon, the nightmare of cancer would end and Pedro would experience rebirth.

Three Birthdays

Of course, after the transplant, healing took time. Lots of time. Pedro didn’t pass from circling the drain to riding his mountain bike again within weeks. Each sniffle and ache sent us running back to the doctor to make sure the stem-cell transplant had worked.

We held our breath at each checkup, and for an entire year he received chemo treatments straight to his brain. He had to get immunized all over again, on the same schedule that babies and toddlers experience.Can a rubber ducky teach you something about #salvation? #BGBG2 http://wp.me/p2UZoK-1Bp via @blestbutstrest

Pedro studied up on super foods and antioxidants in an attempt to resist relapse. Only to discover the scary way that too much chocolate can act as a vaso-restrictor and mimic his original symptoms.

We celebrated each milestone with caution. But deep down, we knew that those stem cells had done their job. Pedro had received healing the day that rubber ducky floated into his hospital room.

The whole process reminded me of another kind of rebirth. The one where we confess our sins and ask Jesus to take control of our lives. The transformation from circling the drain in sin to mature Christian takes time, too.

We make mistakes. We have to go through a relearning process similar to the immunization process. We doubt the efficacy of our salvation. We want to wrest control from our Savior and do things our own way. Others might look at us and question whether or not we are really saved. But deep down, we know we have experienced rebirth.

The rebirthing and regrowth processes take place at a different rate for every patient sinner. We find the key to happiness when we dare to internalize Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a purse heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

The Message that’s Better than any Rubber Ducky

We don’t have to act as doctor, nor nurse, nor stem cell. All we do is ask, and God will do the recreating within us. I read The Message translation this morning, and it stuns me with its beauty:
Psalm 51:7-15

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I’ll let loose with your praise.

Transformation happens when we sign up for the process. The process might prove painful and have many dark nights of the soul. But transformation will take place.

New Year or New Every Morning

God's grace offers a fresh start every day

God's grace means we get a new start every day

God’s grace means we get a new start every day

On New Year’s Day, it’s natural to focus on the “new” part.  It’s a new day, a new week and a new year all in one, this year.  Today is a traditional time to make New Year’s Resolutions and a time when the entire country focuses on getting organized and healthy and cleaning up our acts.

For me personally, it’s even bigger than just the start of a year.  In the last few months I’ve switched houses twice, live in a different city and state and of course, I changed jobs. “New” has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve never been much for making Resolutions, mostly because I’m not good at keeping them, also, if I think about all the things I should be changing in my life it becomes overwhelming quickly.  Let’s face it – I have a lot I need to work on changing.  I should straighten out my diet and exercise more.  I should be more organized and more consistent.  I should spend more time in God’s word, I should…I should. The “should” list is pretty much endless.

Yeah.

I’ve never been much for the New Year’s Resolution thing.  In spite of that, I cannot help but think about how great the ability to start fresh feels to my soul.

Today I read this verse in Lamentations 3:22-24

Because of the Lord’s gracious love we are not consumed,
    since his compassions never end.
They are new every morning—
    great is your faithfulness!
 “The Lord is all I have,”[a] says my soul,
    “Therefore I will trust in him.”

God’s grace is new every morning!  Did you get that?  Every morning when you get up, you start new with Jesus.  New Year’s Resolutions?  Not necessary.  Every single day is a new start.  Through God’s grace we get to work on changing what we need to change every single day.

God's grace is new every single day. #godsgrace #newinchrist #blessedbutstressed Click To Tweet

 

My Christmas gang was so much fun. But now it's New Year's and new starts...

My Christmas gang was so much fun. But now it’s New Year’s and new starts…

I’m sitting in my quiet house, after a crazy busy Christmas break with all my kids home, plus other friends and family who visited.  It was wonderful – tiring but wonderful. I had a huge list of things to get done through the break and I completed a good portion, but still have lots to do. I should be…should do…should…

My plan is simple.

I’m going to cling to being new, every day, through the grace of Jesus Christ. God can change in me whatever He needs to change. He will give me the strength to do what I need to do. He provides whatever I need.  I will rest in Him and choose His grace each day.

New Year's Resolution or new start with God? #newinchrist #newyear2017 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 2016!

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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Tim Tebow’s New Book is Not Just for Sports Fans!

If you’re looking for a book of encouragement in a world that seems shaken, grab Tim Tebow’s new book, Shaken: Discovering Your True Identity in the Midst of Life’s Storms.

Sure, Tebow has never cared for an ill parent or child, but he does know a thing or two about caring for others (much to my surprise). He also knows a lot about living in a world that disappoints and learning to draw on God for support.

Read the full review of Shaken here.

Tim Tebow's new book, #Shaken will leave you feeling settled.

Don’t Judge People For Where They Park

You Don't Know Their Story!

parkHating on the Cheaters Who Park in Handicap Spots

I used to steam internally when I saw a perfectly healthy person park in a handicap spot. “What is WRONG with that person?” I would mumble. “Don’t they understand that they could get fined for parking there?”

Of course, what I really meant didn’t sound as nice, but I usually had kids in the car with me, so I filtered myself.

parkAll of that changed when Pedro had cancer. His weight dropped from a healthy 190 to an emaciated 130. My brother-in-law helped me get a temporary permit to park in handicap-designated spots.

I would hang the placard on my rearview mirror whenever I took Pedro to doctor’s appointments or the pharmacy. But twice, I felt deep shame because I became that healthy-looking person exiting or entering a car alone whilst parked in a handicap spot.

The first time occurred when I had to take Pedro to the emergency room at the hospital. He couldn’t even walk to the door without assistance. The doctors admitted him, and when I had to leave a day later, Pedro remained for further tests.

Because of my harsh internal attitude towards ‘cheaters’ who parked in handicap spots, I cringed when I got in my car. I wondered if people judged me, a perfectly healthy person with the temerity to park in a handicap spot.

The Weight of Guilt

The second time it happened, I said something. I had flown into San Francisco, rented a car and drove to a different hospital to pick Pedro up. This time, witnesses saw me park in the handicap spot, and my guilt compelled me to explain.

“I have to pick my husband up, and he can’t walk,” I said to the group of people walking past my car as I go out. They gave me odd looks and continued on their way—I doubt they even realized what I spoke of.

Ever since then, I have squashed my inner Judgy McJudgerton each time she squawks about the rudeness of healthy people who park in handicap spots. “You don’t know their story,” I remind her. I have learned to smile with compassion rather than scowl with condemnation.

After all, I don’t know the story of why they park where they do.

Calliope Hummingbirds Can Teach us to Trust

 

biblepromises-16

Calliope Hummingbirds are Migration Machines

The Calliope Hummingbirds drop by my feeders for brief visits during their very long migration.  The smallest breeding bird in North America, Calliopes weigh about the same as a dime and can reach 7-10 centimeters in length (that’s under four inches long!). During Spring and late Summer migration, they travel between western Canada and the northwestern parts of the United States to southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.

Whenever one lands on my feeder, I pull out my camera and try to snap a few photos. This summer I had the privledge of photographing several spectacular males over the period of three days. Some people have wondered about the white background in my hummingbird photos.  The feeder hangs about 18 inches from our sliding glass door.  In the early mornings, I go outside and leave the sliding glass door and screen open.  That leaves the white curtain as the perfect backdrop.

Each time I see a Calliope, I marvel at the Creator who built in the genetic navigation system for this tiny bird to travel 5,600 miles each year. Along the way, they play an important part in pollinating flowers. Hummingbirds not only migrate without getting lost, they memorize where to find food sources.  They rely on sap from trees (they take advantage of sap wells created by sapsuckers),small insects, and pollen. As their natural sources deplete, we can help by keeping feeders out for them. During peak migration, my ‘pets’ (I have four species that come by) go through 1-2 gallons of sugar water a day!

Second-Guessing God

Any time I worry that God won’t know what to do to help me in my present need (yeah, I actually think that at times), I just have to remember that he has promised to guide me.  He will teach me all I need to know to negotiate each situation that comes my way.  If he has a plan for the tiniest of birds, he has a plan for me.

If God has a plan for the #calliopehummingbird, I know he has a plan for me! #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 most inspirational post from the previous week.

2. Vist 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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An Open Letter to Those Who Sent Us Mail

mail

To all the kind people who sent us mail during Pedro’s struggle with cancer;

Thank you.

I’ve saved each letter and card in a bulging file folder that goes wherever we go. I haven’t reopened the mail since you sent it, back in 2002, but each piece holds a special place in my heart.

That mail represents the thoughts and prayers of countless people who prayed us through cancer.

Some of you were complete strangers, yet you took the time to write. Those cards always took me aback—that someone who had never met us would take the time to say, “I’m praying for you. I’m thinking about you.” You’ll never know how much those kind words of support meant to us.

The cards and letters from family and friends played a special role, too. Each card that said, “We love you. We care about you,” felt like a bear hug. Thank you for taking the time to reach out.

Back in the days before Facebook and Twitter, phone calls and the written word served as a tangible reminder that we didn’t battle alone.

And to those of you who took the time to leave a note for me, the caregiver, let me explain what you did. You validated MY need for prayers and support. You acknowledged that often times, taking care of someone with a catastrophic illness feels just as life-changing as the diagnosis does to the ill one.

I just wanted you to know how much your words of kindness meant to us, to me. I don’t think I had the presence of mind at the time to respond or acknowledge your gift.

Sincerely,

Anita Ojeda

P.S.

I hope this encourages you, the reader to take the time to send a card of encouragement to someone who struggles. Whether you write to a patient or a caregiver, know that your words will serve as a lifeline of hope.

God as Our Guide Helps Us Become a Reflection of Him

Lily

When we allow God to guide us, we discover that our life starts to reflect his beauty and love. It doesn’t happen overnight or automatically, it takes time. The inner beauty is worth the effort of letting God teach us..

Understanding Green Hope

green

Green Hope

The minute we crossed the creek that emptied into Ressurection Bay near Seward, Alaska, I fell in love with the green. Deep moss muffled each step, and Tonsina Creek babbled nearby. Our tour guide explained that the trees had fallen during the Great Alaskan Earthquake back in 1964.

The devestation has since turned into a cathedral of green. The color soothed my soul and the silence filled me with peace.  I could easily see why God is the God of green hope.