Welcome to a new year for loving deeply! Traditionally, New Year’s Day is a day of new beginnings, of resolutions and intentions.
I’m a failure when it comes to keeping New Year resolutions! I’ve tried the “losing weight and exercising more” resolution more times than I care to admit. What I realize with each passing year is that “time” is a precious gift. “Today” is all we can really count on with any certainty. Although it’s not strictly a resolution, I strive now to make every day count, and to cherish the “small stuff” in life.
As caregivers, I hope you savor those moments when things go well for you and your loved one. I hope you mark your daily triumphs, not focus on what didn’t go well that day. If you don’t, you may begin to feel that your efforts are meaningless. You made it to another year, but at what cost to you? We want to do what is best for our loved ones, but often to the detriment of our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Tragically, statistics tell us that about one third of caregivers burn out, get sick, and die before the loved ones they are caring for do. (Agingcare.com) This was the case with my father.
The fourteenth century Sufi mystic and poet, Rumi, gives a marvelous poetic image to caring for ourselves and others: “Copper doesn’t know it’s copper, until it’s changed to gold. Your loving doesn’t know its majesty, until it knows its helplessness.” (Coleman Barks, trans., The Essential Rumi, 1995.) Turning copper into gold comes from the medieval tradition of alchemy.
Alchemists experimented with how to transform base metals into gold. Often the times when we feel so helpless against the disease of dementia is when we discover the deepest sources of our loving. But this discovery and staying power take strength, patience, resilience, and good health on the part of the caregiver.
Therefore, I’d like to put forward three resolutions for your consideration in 2016. One, be more gentle with yourself and explore befriending yourself this year. I like to call it developing “self-compassion.” Remove the personal barriers to self-care and self-compassion by identifying what is in your way. Do you think you are being selfish if you put yourself first? Do you have difficulty asking for what you need? If you ask for help, do you feel inadequate? If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.
Two, make your physical and mental health a priority, Make sure that you have your regular physical checkups. Find the time, even if it is a half hour or hour a day, just for your mental and social well-being. When I was caring for my mother, I learned that I needed to look after myself in order to give her my best self.
Three, seek respite care, and join a support group, if you don’t already have one. Chances are you find yourself so busy during the weeks that you remove yourself from interacting with others. There are endless challenges in being so close to those whose mind is going, and who can’t care for themselves. It will be extremely difficult and stressful to get through this on your own for the long haul.
Check your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association or Area Agency on Aging to find support groups that meet throughout the year. These are often led by a professional counselor. You can also plug into social networks. Internet tools and websites let caregivers vent, get helpful information, and even ask for assistance from others. Join a Facebook community. Four of the ones I am familiar with are: USAgainst Alzheimer’s, CaregiverMonday, UnpreparedCaregiver, and Family Caregiver Alliance Caregiver Online Group.
CaregiverMonday.org is an initiative of the nonprofit Monday Campaigns. It emphasizes that the key to staying healthy is to carve out a dedicated time at the beginning of each week to focus on tools to keep healthy habits consistent. A good habit to form is to use Monday as a checkpoint in time to remind yourself of what you have done for yourself lately. Again, whether it’s a half hour or five hours, it really doesn’t matter, as long as you take some time to refresh yourself each week.
Consider registering for a free webinar in January on helpful tips to manage stress in the new year. I will be partnering with another blogger, Mike Good, as his featured presenter, Tuesday, January 19, at 7:00 PM (EST). His website is “Together in This.” You have to register to participate. Here is the link to the registration form (http://tintcaregiverstress.webflow.io/.
There will be unexpected challenges and setbacks, fresh goals and accomplishments in the coming year. No matter what you might encounter, remember to look after yourself in order to give your best to your loved one. The German poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise, we harden.”
May each day of the coming year be filled with “golden” moments to celebrate! May you find support, comfort, peace of mind, and strength of body and soul for a healthier you!
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Much of everyday life may feel beyond your control at times. All you can really control is your attitude, and the way you take care of your own health. To help release all the tensions of 2015, and start 2016 with new energy and vitality, listen to my favorite Piano Guys performing Vivaldi’s “Winter,” and Disney’s “Let It Go.” (thepianoguys.com/portfolio/let-it-go)
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For information on self-compassion, and to test how self-compassionate you are, check out this link from Center for Mindful Self-Compassion: self-compassion.org/test-how-self-compassionate-you-are.