Categories
Wellness

Maintaining a Sense of Self and Sanity

What do you do about ‘you’ when you’ve given up your life to care for someone else?  How do you prevent yourself from drowning in the needs of others?  I’m not sure I consciously asked myself these questions, but I do remember feeling I was disappearing under the weight of expectations, mine included.

My husband, Ash, was diagnosed with Young Onset Dementia in December 2017 at the age of 58, and I became his full-time carer two years later. Both of those events were momentous in their own way and between them I could feel myself disappear, but what to do about it?

It took me a long time to realise that, even though I wasn’t the one with the diagnosis, I was important too. Eventually I decided that if I didn’t look after my own well-being I wouldn’t be any good to Ash either, and so something had to change.

What have I done, I hear you ask. What’s made the difference?  

The very first thing I decided to do was to lose weight and get fit. I began by walking more than I ran, but before I knew it I was running for longer spells than I was walking, and eventually I was fitter than I’d been since my teenage years.

Then I combined the fitness thing with a healthy diet and the weight began to drop off.  Not only that, but I changed shape and developed a waist. Suddenly I could get into clothes that I’d only dreamt about in the past and I began to feel good about myself.

Next, I decided that, wherever possible, I would only buy things that made me smile.  Obviously, there are some things that, by their very nature, are boring (vacuum cleaner bags spring to mind for some reason), but others really can be fun. I bought a new washing up brush that looks like a flower in a vase. I needed a holder for my phone and bought a mini striped deck chair. And so it went on.

The biggest test to my state of mind came a year ago when my husband decided that he would much prefer to have our huge bed to himself and I found myself banished to the spare room. This made me swallow hard but I put my shoulders back, thought hard and decided to make it a very special place. I bought a new mattress and beautiful bedding, painted the chest of drawers and bedside table and then added a table and chair. It’s now the loveliest room in the house and it’s all mine. Sometimes it’s about changing your thinking.

Thinking outside the box also came in useful a few months later when I found myself emotionally drained and needing some time to myself.  

A friend comes in once a week so I can have a day off, and I try not to waste that time.  This particular week, however, I was desperate to just do nothing, and remembered a website we’d used a couple of times when on holiday waiting for an overnight flight home. We’d booked a hotel room through the site (www.dayuse.com) just so that we had a base for that one day. I had a lightbulb moment and looked to see if there were any hotels near us that did such a thing and, sure enough, I found one about an hour away. I booked it (11am to 5pm) for my next day off, took lunch with me and spent the day in silent splendour. I read, slept, read some more, listened to the radio and had a perfectly wonderful time. Since then, friends have come forward with the offer of the use of their houses if they’re ever away. Sometimes all it takes is a few hours of solitude to get you back on track.

There are many more ways I’ve reclaimed myself, but you’re all busy people and I think this is enough for now. However, if you want to know more you can find me at www.memoryfortwo.com and even have your say.

Jane Robinson is a full time carer for her husband Ash, who was diagnosed with Young Onset Dementia in December 2017, aged 58. You can follow Jane and Ash’s daily ‘adventures’ at www.memoryfortwo.com, find her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter @memory_two

Categories
Wellness

Mother’s Day: Reflections on the Journey of Motherhood

Six months ago, I was bestowed with a new title – the honor of Grandmother.  This new chapter in my life has given me a newfound look at the journey of motherhood – my path, my daughter’s, and the path of my mother who is no longer with us.  This Mother’s Day, my daughter and I shared and celebrated a new bond – what it truly, deeply means to physically and emotionally care for another.   

Soon after my grandson was born, this young woman whom I had diapered countless times was giving me a refresher course in how to change one.  Since a baby boy was on the bassinette table, I had a few excuses for the need to relearn this task that was suddenly foreign to me.  Diapers are different in design than they were years ago, and with a boy on his back I could have a fountain in front of me at any moment!  The day this baby was born was truly a milestone for all of us in the family. 

When a milestone occurs in our lives, whether happy or sad, we pause on our journey and breathe the joy or sorrow that pivotal point of celebration or mourning brings.  In the midst of such times, we may reflect upon the past and consider the future, yet we have no choice but to live in that moment that feels like an instant or a lifetime as we shed our tears of joy or pain.  Births, weddings, anniversaries, holidays, illnesses and deaths are these markers that force us to stop and look around us as well as inside of ourselves.

Living in the moment isn’t easy.  It’s something we have to relearn, unlike babies who are born in the immediacy of their needs and the wonder of their immediate world, albeit for only a short time as time soon becomes a reality in their lives.  As caregivers, we are often too busy, too exhausted, or too focused on anything else but the moment at hand in the care of someone whose time is in our hands.  As caregivers, especially of those with Alzheimer’s/dementia, those we care for teach us without trying, that the present is all we have and memories are gifts or curses that have no service to the moment where they stand.  What matters is where we sit in the present, like each individual pearl on the string of a necklace, delicate, translucent and unique.

In between milestones, in everyday life, it’s easy to wander into the past and try to predict the future.  I look at my daughter, a new mother, and recall when motherhood was new to me.  I gaze into the eyes of my grandchild and wonder how long we will share our lives together.  I think about the day my mother’s dying became a certainty, how I cared for her, and how my daughter will care for me in my last days.  

In May, we find ourselves reflecting upon the life of the woman who brought us into this world, whether in a shared memory with another or in the solitude of our mind.  At this time, our mother may be well, frail, have special needs, living with Alzheimer’s or dementia or simply a profound memory.  On that second Sunday in May, she may be at our side sharing in the joys of the day, or physically or mentally far away.  She may be a missing part of the puzzle of our life, a jagged piece shaped of anger-hurt that demands distance, or one with soft, rounded edges that longs to fit back in place in reconciliation.

We cannot change who allowed us our first breath, but we may change how we view that woman who gave us life.  Some of us have more than enough memories to keep us smiling throughout our lives, others have to search for a time when we felt loved.  In any case, at unexpected moments, we see our moms in ourselves, in the changing shapes of our hands or the timbre of our voices.  If we are looking for perfection, we won’t find it, although we like to hold these women to a high standard.  

For some of us, we are also on the other side of this complicated equation, as mothers ourselves with daughters, sons or both, who love us, judge us and spend many of their moments trying to find their way.  There is nothing like having a child to make us feel mortal – except for the realization when our mothers leave this world and we, at any age, have become the elder.  

At some point in our lives we will look at our mothers in a different way.  Whether our perspective shifts to a newfound gratitude or a newly realized forgiveness, we cannot deny the vestiges of that visceral connection we shared through the umbilical cord that joined us, then sent us on our way. 

How did Mother’s Day come to be? According to Google, “The official Mother’s Day holiday arose in the 1900s in the U.S. as a result of the efforts of Anna Jarvis, daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis. Following her mother’s 1905 death, she held a small memorial service for her mother on May 12, 1907.  She later conceived of Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children.  Soon after, America was observing the day.  In 1914, the U.S. president made it a national holiday, celebrated on the second Sunday of May.”

Each year, as Mother’s Day comes and goes, may we approach our entrance into this world as a gift from one moment in time, and a lesson in caring for ourselves as well as others.  This year, my Mother’s Day held a new kind of celebration for me.  As Nonna, it was a day of wonder, gratitude and greater understanding of the value of each day.  On that day, I wore a string of pearls, mindful to keep my grandson from grabbing and putting it in his mouth while I held him in my arms.  For me, this necklace was a reminder of how we can only live one delicate, translucent and unique day at a time.


Mary is the author of The Planet Alzheimer’s Guide: 8 Ways the Arts Can Transform the Life of Your Loved One and Your Own, a speaker and advocate for arts engagement with persons with Alzheimer’s/dementia, the playwright of Planet A – a play about the inner world of Alzheimer’s, and an AlzAuthors member.

Categories
Mental Health

Nature Does Good Things to the Human Brain

As a child, my family did a lot of traveling. My parents loved to visit national parks and forests, state parks, and scenic byways of every kind. As fun as it was, I didn’t appreciate the beauty of nature displayed during those childhood trips until I was an adult.

The call of the beautiful wild

One afternoon, while my sister and I were talking about our various childhood trips and travels, she told me about her first trip to Sedona, Arizona as a grown-up. She and her husband were on their way to attend a wonderful, company-paid weekend of rest and relaxation. On their drive up to Sedona from the Phoenix airport, my sister confessed that even though this weekend trip sounded delightful, she had a lot on her mind and was feeling rather stressed. Besides, she was more of an ocean girl than a desert girl.

So, while she was brooding and remembering about all the responsibilities she should be taking care of instead of spending time in the desert, their car rounded a curve in the road. Suddenly, spread out in front of them was a spectacular sight. Sedona!

The vibrancy and variance of all the colors in the stone formations jutting upwards from the painted landscape to the brilliant blue sky created a vivid and mesmerizing scene. At that moment, my sister understood why Sedona, Arizona is called the Most Beautiful Place on Earth. She also realized the stress that had been plaguing her began melting away.

Nature is a natural mood enhancer

A study done at Stanford University confirms the de-stressing effect. It strongly suggests that getting out into natural environments could be an easy way to improve moods for city dwellers. Researchers discovered that people who visit natural settings have a lower stress hormones level immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.

Taking a walk in the wild, with fresh air and natural light provides a world of benefits – like the room to breathe freely, and Vitamin D. Be sure to wear a hat to protect yourself from getting too much sunshine.

Nature writer for National Geographic, David Gessner also explains that science is proving what we have always known intuitively: nature does good things to the human brain—it makes us healthier, happier, and smarter.

The beauty of nature all dressed up for fall

My husband and I recently experienced a wonderful, stress-reducing journey as well. We traveled up through the New England states into Canada during this lovely fall season to visit family and enjoy Canadian Thanksgiving. The trees (especially in New Brunswick, Canada) are stunningly beautiful. They turn every color imaginable to create some of the most enchanting landscapes I have ever witnessed. I remembered what my sister had told me about her experience in Sedona. I could relate.

In spite of our busy lives, is there a few moments we can devote to soaking in a bit of natural beauty? Listen, what do you hear? It is the call of the (beautiful) wild.

Senia Owensby has always loved to write. Her passion for writing has produced a broad variety of literature, including Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia, a practical and sometimes humorous guide for the journey. She is also a member of AlzAuthors.

Senia lives in a small cottage in North Carolina. She’s married to the love of her life, and is also a mother and grandmother. Since retiring, she spends her time writing, beekeeping, and working in her garden.

Blog: finishingwellinlife.com

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