Dec 22, 2010

Keeping the Love Alive: Rewriting the Tale of Humpty Dumpty

By Sheryl Lynn
Alzheimer's Reading Room

How many of us are prepared for what awaits us when we make the decision to care for our loved ones?

Did you take any classes in how to be a caregiver, or did you learn by doing?

Did you hit the gym and change your diet in order to build your physical endurance, or did you hit the ground running in whatever condition you happened to be in when you took on this new service?

Did you go to therapy to heal whatever long-standing issues might create triggers to set you off under continual stress, or do you frequently struggle with handling the roller coaster of emotions that comes with the job?

Do you approach your life as a spiritual journey in which the experience of caregiving is one more place for you to learn and grow in love, or do you wonder why your life has been interrupted in order to care for your loved one?

Four years ago this Friday, my mother fell, sustaining a head injury that eventually developed into dementia. Like so many of us, I fell into the job of caregiver without preparation. I did everything I knew how to do to be whatever my mother needed me to be, and I did it for as long as I could do it, but not without my paying with my physical, mental, emotional and financial health. I released my mother to the care of others two years ago, and I'm still recovering from the experience.

My situation isn't unusual, and it motivates me to write articles and produce radio shows to educate others on ways to stay strong.

I'm now working with a wonderful doctor who puts broken caregivers back together.

He tells me that most caregivers are thrown into the job without any preparation, and the job frequently breaks them. Most of his patients require 30-minute appointments. Burned-out caregivers are given 60-minute appointments. They get burned out for many reasons.

Like me, they lack education in caregiving before taking on the job, they don't train their bodies to build physical endurance before taking on the job or their health isn't strong enough for them to successfully handle the job, they haven't yet resolved all their long-standing issues with their loved ones before taking on the job, and compassion fatigue can keep them from continually keeping their focus on life as a spiritual journey instead of getting bogged down in the details.

My doctor offers all his patients a mantra to follow as a part of their journey back to wholeness of body, mind and spirit. I'd like to share it with you.

He invites his patients to consistently make the life choices that are kind, gentle and loving to themselves.

I pose this question to every caregiver reading this article: how often to you place your needs above, or even equal to, the needs of your loved one?

How often do we pretend that our needs don't matter, that the needs of our loved ones take precedence over our own needs?

How often do we push ourselves past our limits out of concern for our loved ones? How often do we forget to, or choose not to, reach out to others when we lack the strength to go on?

How often do we neglect to show ourselves the love we routinely show to our loved ones?

If we can keep our focus on being kind, gentle and loving to ourselves, we don't have to burn out in service.

How's that for a New Year's resolution for us to make and keep?

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Sheryl Lynn is the author of the upcoming book "The Light Is A Thank You," which chronicles the spiritual journey through dementia she has taken with her mother, Eleanor. She is the host of "Glow With The Flow Radio Show," currently on hiatus.

Alzheimer's Disease -- Advice and Insight

The Alzheimer's Action Plan
The Art of Dementia Care

Original content Sheryl Lynn, the Alzheimer's Reading Room