Respecting the Heart

When I reflect on my time care giving, more “case management”, for my parents or observe family and friends in a similar role, the one consistent lesson for me is “respecting the heart”.  That seems to be the phrase that captures what I have learned and feel as time has passed and the experiences are internalized.

For my own experience with my parents, this was demonstrated by my father.  Even though he was years older than his partner, he was cognitively and physically capable and did not need to be in a care facility.  I suggested that he did not need to leave his cherished home on the Gulf Islands but rather could be near to her and visit.  He would not hear of this and, even though it likely took years off his health and life to be in institutional care, he had to follow his heart and his heart was with her.

Managing care meant contending with a variety of perspectives from siblings, both in how to proceed and in the emotional responses to dementia and declining health.  It appeared to me that emotions such as grief and helplessness seemed to limit engagement and support. Though I did not speak up much at the time, I had strong views then about what I felt was appropriate or not.  My gut, and some helpful resources, told me that sibling cooperation took priority over my views.  In retrospect, I am more empathetic to individuals and how they must protect their heart in how they perceive care and interact as care givers with loved ones. I see this too as I observe friends and family deal with this in different ways.  I might not agree but have to respect it. It makes me think back to ways I tried to protect and cope myself: varying visiting times so as not to create an expectation and possible disappointment, modifying explanations of my schedule, and needing essential time alone in transition between visits and other demands in my life.

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It is hard sometimes when the person needing care is cognitively competent and chooses a situation of risk, such as being physically frail but refusing needed assistance, fully knowing the possible consequences.  It is tempting to want to take control and minimize or eliminate that risk.  However, sometimes caregivers just need to, with great difficulty, step back and respect the choice that a loved one they have has made.  Often the person has they have knowingly made this choice as one of control and dignity of self over safety or even longevity.

I have watched a dear friend care for his partner who has early onset dementia.  He has chosen years of personal care, finely tuned travel, and difficult decisions.  I have seen this bring both the joy and stress of added time together.  The clear message being that his heart dictated his path and he would not have chosen any other way for as long as this was possible.

“Respect for the heart”.  It can be admirable, a heartache, hard to observe, and difficult to accept but it might too, be the “heart” of the situation or decision and, if so, must be considered and acknowledged.

-June Maynard
Former Caregiver

 

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Moving from Guilt to Resilience

When your vehicle’s engine light comes, it’s an important indicator to get to the garage to find the problem. Guilt is no different; it’s a big, flashing indicator that something needs to change. Avoidance or delay can cause serious problems and major emotional expense to us as caregivers and our loved ones.

The upside of guilt

Guilt alerts us to inappropriate solutions to real problems; used effectively, it’s a sign for us to find that better solution. When we do, guilt falls away. Just as gas filters in our vehicles get clogged over time, guilt is like a “perspective filter.” It can be alerting us to compassion fatigue – the guilt of lashing out at our loved ones can point to the real problem of not taking care of our own needs.

The downside of guilt is much worse than its benefits:
It’s a noble gesture to think feeling badly about a mistake somehow atones for it, but research shows that it’s not the best way to motivate us or help us feel better, in fact it feeling badly can do the opposite:

  • It can prevent us from fixing the situation, by making us feel so badly that we can’t think clearly which leads to more guilt-provoking behaviour
  • Extended or excessive guilt is one of the single biggest predictors of depression
  • The emotional impact of irrational guilt slams our nervous systems, lowering our motivation and self-control (the fire of desire “I want” and the passion of action “I will”)
  • Unchecked guilt creates victim/martyr roles and their opposites of over-zealous and bossy caretaker

How to Break Free from the Guilt Cycle and Feel Better NOW! Drop the irrational beliefs that make perfectionism more important than being more present in your life. What is needed to bust the guilt cycle is not more self-recrimination, but more self-compassion.

  • Drop the past! Guilt always needs a focus on the past, and the past is gone. It doesn’t exist except in the mind that actively chooses to focus on it – the energy you want and need for yourself and your loved ones is only available in the present

Leverage guilt feelings as they come up; remember that they are flashing indicators that something has to change… take this energy and transform it from “drain to gain” by using a “key word” with strong emotion and physical movement to anchor this positive change into your physiology – It’s a powerful tool for staying more centred because it’s firing new behaviour patterns in the brain

  • Practice the art of feeling more alive, more often… be gritty and tenacious with a clear mental image of yourself having a more positive experience. The sub-conscious cannot tell the difference between a real experience or an imagined one. With repeated self-nurturing and regenerative thoughts, feelings and images, we reclaim our lost vitality
  • Learn and practice assertive communication skills to improve conflict resolution
  • Include more awe, wonder and beauty in your life… enjoy the simple pleasures more often

By seeing the productive in purpose in guilt, over time this “perspective filter,” becomes a “re-set button.” We get better and better at remembering to use it. We fill our resiliency tanks before the empty light comes on. We look for new solutions. We use the high octane gas of self-compassion rather than self-recrimination for the ultimate driving experience. We transform pain to power, worry to hope, and overwhelm to empowerment.

-Cheryl Brewster, B.Msc, Intuitive Consultant, Life Coach and Celebrant. Cheryl is facilitating a 2-hour workshop on “Moving from guilt to Resilience” for our Caregivers. Please join us on September 27th! 

In addition to intuitive consultations and coaching, she holds regular workshops each 4th Wednesday on the North Shore:  www.TheIntuitiveLife.com

Boating and Baking : My Two Energy Boosters

My first energy booster is travel. Lately I’ve enjoyed taking a cruise with the Star Princess, whose motto is, appropriately,  ‘come back new.’

I spent a deliciously peaceful afternoon on the top deck Sanctuary. I chose my deckchair facing out towards the ocean, a bit behind the front row of deckchairs.  There, at the bow of the ship, was a row of women sleeping, being rocked gently to and fro. The sea is calm, I can see it’s gentle undulation, ripples extending outwards. The air is cool, almost too much, so I cover myself with blankets. This, I’ve decided, is my long-awaited ‘parenthesis’, I realize all these women’s too. No cell phones, nothing to interrupt the flow of my thoughts.

 

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How often do women get to enjoy this kind of escape, I wonder, in their overcrowded lives? This Sanctuary is like a balm to my soul. A sense of peace, timelessness, the fathomless depths beneath, containing creatures, sea creatures, teeming with life. Time to sit and sip afternoon tea, nibble on a scone, then gaze out at the sea, as if it contained all my secrets, my hopes and dreams–everywhere it seems, life abounds.

And then there is baking, not only relaxing, but scrumptuous edible art! Recently I made a ‘clafoutis’ which is a French cherry tart. For Christmas one year I received some bread molds, and I’d like to try them out. I love the gentle aroma of baking bread, often while the bread is baking I just take a break for a while and relax. My thoughts come and go. Just kneading dough can be comforting, and can relieve tension.

Calm Pond

Fresh Starts

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Am I the only one who feels a greater need to hit “reset” in September than in January? The change in seasons seems to come abruptly, as leaves fall and September’s breeze chills. Children go back to school, and it seems like everyone settles in for the colder months, leaving behind the whimsy of summer. For me, this feels like the time to reflect, reset, and get organized. Although this can be a physical task – cleaning and rearranging rooms and purging belongings that no longer serve me, it can also be a deeply emotional one. I find myself reflecting on relationships that nourish me deeply, and others that leave me drained. I look at the ways that I’m treating myself well, and also how I’m not. I ask myself what I can change to ensure I’m taking better care of myself, so in turn I can care for and be present with my loved ones.

Fresh starts, for me, are not about drastically changing my life or setting (often unrealistic) goals. When I feel the need to make changes in my life, I first ask myself the following, very important, question:

Am I being kind to myself?

Goals or changes that are not kind often stem from shame. For example, wanting to lose weight because you feel like you’re unattractive, or hoping to never miss an important event with your care partner because you think you’re unreliable. Ask yourself if the goal feels like a punishment, or a reward, and proceed from there. If the shift feels like a punishment, this reflection might encourage you to get some support for what you’re going through, which can help shift your perspective.

If you need some more ideas for how to get the fresh start you’re craving, read these previous blog posts:

Re-Discovering Gentleness

Setting Intentions

Exploring Hope

Do you find ways to reset in September? How does it impact your caregiving role? We’d love to hear from you in our comments. 

Cassandra Van Dyck

Scam Prevention for Seniors

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One day this past spring, I answered a call from an unfamiliar, long-distance phone number. On the other end of the line was a man in a very abrupt voice telling me that there was an issue with my tax return and I owed the government of Canada money. He told me that if I did not pay the money within the next 24 hours that I would be arrested and charged. I furrowed my brow, and hung up the phone. I knew enough about scams to realize this was one straight away. I knew that the Canadian government would never call me to tell me I’d be arrested if I didn’t pay them money within 24 hours. But still, I was a bit rattled. Having anyone call you and threaten your arrest, no matter how innocent you may be, is unsettling. I couldn’t help but think about vulnerable adults out there who may receive similar phone calls and not be able to discern their validity.

Knowing how to protect yourself and your loved one from scams is important. It can prevent you from losing great sums of money, and perhaps even your identity. Con-artists are not always as transparent as the man who phoned me this past spring – they can be quite sneaky and hard to recognise. Educating yourself and your loved one on the ways you might be targeted can help you and your loved one stay safe.

Some Types of Scams

Grandparent scams (also called grandchild scams) are common scams that target seniors. These scams usually involve a phone call from someone who pretends to be your grandchild. If you get a call like this, be prepared: the scammer may already know your grandchild’s name and what your grandchild calls you (for example, a nickname like Nona or Grampy).

Acting as your grandchild, the scammer claims to be in trouble and asks for your help. The scammer may try to convince you that your grandchild was in a car accident or has been arrested. You may be asked to wire money right away, without telling anyone.What to do: If you receive a call like this, DON’T wire the money or give the caller any further information. Hang up and call your grandchild, or another family member, to find out what’s really going on. Then report the scam to:

Charity Scams: Because many seniors donate to charity, older people are often the targets of charity scams. Legitimate organizations may ask for donations in person, over the phone, by mail or via email. Unfortunately, many scams operate this way as well. It can be hard to tell the difference. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • You don’t have to make a donation. Don’t let anyone pressure you. If you’re not sure or feel uncomfortable, just say, “No thanks, I’m not interested.” A legitimate organization will respect your wishes.
  • Be assertive. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions.
  • Never send cash, and don’t give your personal information, social insurance number, credit card, or banking information to a stranger.
  • If you want to support a particular organization, consider planned giving. You can decide how much you can afford to give, and contact the organization directly to set up a monthly or one-time donation.

Not all non-profit organizations are registered charities. If you donate to an organization that is not a registered charity, you won’t get a receipt for income tax purposes.

Resources:

Use the Charities Listings to confirm whether a charity is registered under the Income Tax Act and is therefore eligible to issue official donation receipts; view a charity’s contact information; and view a charity’s Registered Charity Information Return, which includes:financial information (assets, liabilities, income, and expenditures); and activities.

CRA Scam: A fraudster will call you claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency, saying that there is a problem with your taxes and that you owe money. They may say that there is a warrant for your arrest or that you are facing deportation. They demand payment to cancel the warrant or stop deportation proceedings. You are instructed to buy pre-paid gift cards or iTunes cards, and then tell them the codes over the phone.The CRA will never call you threatening arrest or deportation or demanding payment by credit card, pre-paid gift cards or iTunes cards.

Romance Scams – Many seniors have turned to the internet looking for companionship, only to be victimized by fraudsters. They will “meet” someone online who seems very nice and decent, and will develop strong feelings for that person based on email correspondence and photos the fraudster has exchanged with them. Invariably, the fraudster will ask for money as they need an emergency loan to secure a business deal or get them out of trouble, and they will promise quick repayment once the crisis passes. Unfortunately, many seniors have lost significant sums of money, which cannot be recovered from fraudsters who can’t be located or identified.

Email phishing – You will receive an email that appears to be from a well-known Canadian bank asking you to confirm your personal details and account information. This is always a scam. No reputable business or bank will send you emails asking you to confirm information they already have. Fraudsters are trying to get this information from you in order to steal your identity and commit fraud in your name.

For more information on scams, visit VPD, BC Gov, or get up-to-date information on the latest scams from the Better Business Bureau.

Sources: VPD, BC Gov

Cassandra Van Dyck

Anxiety and Caregiving: A Resource to Help

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Anxiety is overwhelming. If not managed, it can feel like it’s taking over your whole body – every thought that comes in to your mind might feel negative. Your heart races, your palms sweat and shake, you might feel constantly on the verge of tears. Anxiety can be debilitating, and effect your relationships, your job, and your ability to feel and experience joy.

Everyone will experience anxiety at some point in their life. It can come and go, and many people who battle it will learn tools to cope and lessen the severity of anxious thoughts when it bubbles up. Caregivers may be especially susceptible to anxiety, due to the stress, worries, and tasks that must be addressed. Having support and resources to work through anxiety, even if you’re not currently experiencing the difficult emotion, can help you to work through it, if and when it comes up.

Today I stumbled on a wealth of resources that Anxiety BC offers for free on their website. They provide information on the various ways that anxiety can come up for a person and tips on how to handle it, worksheets, and a free app to help you track and manage anxiety. The website will help you create an anxiety MAP (My Anxiety Plan) to help you get support for your individualised concerns. If you, or anyone you know, struggles with anxiety, this is a fantastic resource.

Have you been faced with anxiety on your caregiving journey? How do you manage it? We’d love to hear from you.

 

Cassandra Van Dyck

How to Laugh Away Your Stress

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Think about a time when you’ve had the giggles. You know… that feeling you get when it seems like no matter what you do, you can’t stop laughing. Your eyes might water and your cheeks and belly might hurt from laughing so hard. That kind of joy seems to wash all of the pain away – if only temporarily. These bouts of laughter are usually unplanned, but what if you could schedule them in to your week? Enter: Laughter Yoga.

Laughter Yoga was created in 1995 in India by Dr. Madan Kataria, who wanted to create an alternative treatment for his patients suffering from stress-related illnesses. This very unique type of yoga invites participants to laugh through exercises, stretches, games and activities. Watch the video below for a sample class.

Dr. Kasim Al-Mashat offers free Laughter Yoga classes on the fourth Monday of every month, from 6-6:30PM at the Centre for Mindfulness Canada (CFMC). It is open to everyone. To register, visit Dr. Kasim Al-Mashat. 

 

 

Coping with sadness

Caregivers are responsible for so much, that they sometimes are unable to address the underlying sadness of their situation. Read Karyn’s post from the archives to learn ways to connect with and work through sadness.

North Van Caregivers

When you’re on duty all of the time, making sure your spouse’s or aging parent’s needs are looked after, the reality may be that you’re often feeling exhausted and over-stretched. Being in a state of constant responsibility and vigilance can leave little room to acknowledge the sadness that is likely there beneath the surface.
Sadness. This can be an uncomfortable emotion to name and acknowledge, even with close friends and family; and a hard one to simply be with- yet feelings of sadness and sorrow are commonly felt by caregivers.

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Why sadness can be present:
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You likely don’t feel connected with your loved one in exactly the same way as before. You probably miss the closeness of having honest conversations, relying on eachother for back-up, and enjoying simple activities together.

Feeling alone.
When you’re the main person in charge of a spouse or parent’s care, you’re at the…

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CFS : The Invisible Syndrome

CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) also known as ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) is what I call an ‘invisible’ syndrome, because there is no blood test or other test to diagnose and patients with CFS often look well, thus, it is often a ‘misunderstood’ syndrome and merely dismissed as depression or malingering by doctors.

There are quite a few criteria for diagnosis, which I will list below, onset can be due to some sort of trauma or a bad case of flu, which is, in fact, what CFS feels like.  Diagnosis is based on history, pattern of symptoms and the exclusion of other diseases, such as anemia (low iron).  Often primary psychiatric disorders are an exclusionary factor, however, it is not at all unusual for depression and/or anxiety to be present in CFS sufferers.

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Some of the main symptoms of CFS are:

-heat/cold intolerance
-reduced stress tolerance
-slowed-down thinking
-Sensitivity to noise/light
-Severe long-lasting fatigue not improved by rest (this is crucial for diagnosis)
-flu-like symptoms (sore throat/headaches)

(Unexplained prolonged fatigue with insufficient number of symptoms to meet criteria for ME/CFS illness is classified as ‘ideopathic’ (no known cause) chronic fatigue.

Treatment and Coping
The most frustrating thing, as previously mentioned, is that people with CFS don’t necessarily look ill, so physicians tend to be skeptical about the seriousness.

Some recommendations for coping with CFS are:
-pacing yourself (spreading out activities throughout the week or month)
-reducing caffeine
-better sleep hygiene
-gentle exercise (‘gentle’ is the key here so as not to overtire the patient and cause PEM (post-exertional malaise, a key symptom of CFS)
Limit duration of cognitive efforts (use a memory book to write things down)
-find useful, low effort pleasurable activities
-CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) may help, but is not a cure
-B12 injections, B Complex, Vitamin D, magnesium are recommended
-Medications such as anti-depressants can be helpful

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Other Possibilities for Fatigue:
Fibromyalgia (tender spots, debilitating fatigue)
Anemia: low-energy, low iron, treatable with iron pills
Burnout is also a possibility (see previous post on burnout, just to re-cap, the 5 symptoms of burnout are: chronic fatigue, impaired concentration, forgetfulness, anxiety, anger, increased illness or headaches). https://northvancaregivers.wordpress.com/2018/01/08/5-symptoms-of-burnout-and-how-to-prevent-it/
General Fatigue Syndrome  (you get tired easily, but unlike CFS you feel better after you rest)

My personal journey
Diagnosed CFS in early ‘90s, then anemia, and now burnout.

Useful websites:
Go to BC Women’s (www.bcwomens.ca) navigate to BC Women’s Complex Diseases Program and download the form to access diagnosis/treatment. Be aware that there is a 1-2 year waiting list for this service.

-Calm Pond

An Invitation to Surrender

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“Sweet surrender, is all that I have to give.” – Sarah McLachlan

Have you ever resisted feeling an uncomfortable emotion, like sadness? How did that feel – in your throat, your limbs, your heart?

Have you ever felt sadness, and then just really let yourself cry? How did you feel then?

Surrendering to emotions or situations that you had not anticipated or hoped for can feel impossible at times, but it’s often just what you need. Accepting and allowing yourself to feel all of the uncomfortable feelings that can come with the caregiving journey will enable you to work through your feelings in a much gentler way.

When you first realized you were a caregiver, you might have felt any number of difficult emotions: frustrated, angry, sad, and even resentful. These are common emotions for caregivers to feel when you’re experiencing high levels of stress and a drastic shift in your way of living. It’s important to get support for these feelings and work through them. Surrendering is not meant to flippantly wish away these feelings or an ending. It is a state of being where you admit that you cannot go on the way you are, so you must do things differently.

“Everyone of us, at some point in our lives, encounters a situation that rocks the foundation of who we are and what we think we can bear—is past our limits if you will.  Sometimes it’s a situation we’ve been living with for a long time and sometimes it’s a sudden event that overwhelms us and for which our usual coping strategies are useless. While the content may differ, what these experiences share is the power to bring us to our knees, figuratively and often literally as well. And, the power to change us.” – Nancy Colier

This is not a “how-to” post. It is an invitation to experience what it’s like to relinquish control and sink in to the present moment. It is a mindfulness experiment – not a set of a steps to follow.

Take some time for yourself in the next little while and try this guided meditation. Find a comfortable place to lie down, close your eyes, and listen.

Have you had moments of surrender in your caregiving journey? We’d love to hear from you.

 

Cassandra Van Dyck