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Back to Blogging

It has been a while since I posted to this blog.  I have been a frazzled senior in college, working to complete dual degrees.  I can happily say, I have graduated.  Now I can dedicate more time to the things I am passionate about.  This includes writing about caregiving, writing my books, and getting into a rewarding career.

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The past few months have been filled projects, papers, reading, and senior seminar classes.  I now have a Bachelor of Arts in English, a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, and a Human Resource Management  Certificate.  It took me six years to achieve these degrees, all while caring for a mentally ill child, and a child with a severe heart defect.  Thankfully, my husband and I make a great team.

I know the difficulties involved in caregiving as I live them each day.  There isn’t a day that goes by where I do not struggle with my son, having to work closely with him, encourage him, repeat myself for the thousandth time, and address his behavior in some way.  He is more work than a typical full-time job at times.  But, he is also rewarding.  When he works hard or accomplishes something, it is that much more impressive, and I am proud.  I am not sure how I managed to work on dual degrees, succeed in leadership roles, and care for my family at the same time, I just know I did it because they are all important elements of my life.

I truly believe that I can use my skills to address the growing concerns that affect caregivers.  I know there are various types of caregivers, from the people like my parents who care for aging parents and my aunt who is battling cancer, to those who care for sick children and the mentally ill.  The battles with personal freedom and care for caregivers, respite care, insurance conflicts, and family dynamics are merely a few of the problems that arise.  With an aging population, the need for families to step up as caregivers is elevated.  In the coming years, more and more issues will arise until people begin to address the conflicts of caregiving.  While it is rewarding for many, that does not erase the challenges that must be faced daily, and the toll this can take on families.  It does not change the lack of resources and need for advocacy when a family is thrown into a serious situation they do not know how to handle.

Now that I have graduated, I fully intend to utilize more of my time to explore these challenges.  I will look at angles from personal stories, to in-depth looks at various forms of advocacy and the agencies involved.  It is time to face the elephant in the caregiving room!

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Women as Caregivers

I posted this to my other blog a couple of months ago, and it was quite popular.  I think it is important for women to read, and I wanted to post it here as well since this page is about caregiving.

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There is a quiet that lies within a woman, at the base of her being. This quiet is not a lack of sound, but a lack of fear, pain, and worry. I know this place exists within me, but I had abused its existence. I trampled on it with the chaotic dances of worry that filled each corner of my day. I allowed my soul to be blackened by irrational fears that made their way into the few moments of sanity I had left. I had fallen into the pit of modern humanity where I was tainted by the current world of separation from the divine and nature. I pushed my seat of quiet so far below my consciousness that I could not seem to reach it. It called to me from dreams and I longed for it when my day seemed filled with endless moments of suffocated being.

Women as caretakers, whether caring for children, parents, other loved ones, or patients, tend to place the cared for in front of themselves. It is a state of martyrdom that becomes all-encompassing, and even through the sheer exhaustion, comfortable. The endless moments of caring for others, despite the stress involved, allows the caretaker to avoid the self. I could avoid looking for that hidden piece of quiet because I was afraid of being whole. This sounds insane for sure, why would one not want to feel complete and whole? Because it is easier to mourn the loss of one’s soul than to face one’s truth. There is a lot of work to be done to find that quiet space. Like a hoarder of physical items, I have hoarded unnecessary fears, painful memories, and enough worries to render the average person mentally disabled. To find myself, I had to clean up my mess. It took time, but the real me with dreams and ambitions lived beneath the layers of baggage. She was there, and I found her. I found myself as a person existing beyond caregiving.

While this may seem like an unusual occurrence, I think that many women who live as caretakers fall into this abyss of confusion until it is safer to remain there. Then, the idea of ever leaving the womb they have fallen into is terrifying. Unfortunately, this leaves many without a solid foundation or a connection to a deeper part of themselves. They are lacking one of the greatest gifts they have been blessed with. This is when the journey must begin, because as each bit of debris is removed from oneself, the soul becomes lighter. A total cleansing can make one free, and a free soul has a greater potential for touching the divine that lives within themselves. They connect through inspiration and discovery. I survived this process, and came out stronger, but so many caregivers are caught in this pit, forgetting who they are. It is crucial to reach out to them, and help them to see that they are beautiful people and should not sacrifice who they are to be a caregiver, but supplement who they are.

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Importance of Imperfection!

It can be difficult to realize that we all make mistakes and it is okay to do so as a caregiver.  There is a level of expectation that we often hold over ourselves as we embark on each new adventure.  Whether caring for elderly, mentally ill individuals, or other ill loved ones, challenges will rise, and we wonder whether we could do things differently.  There are always going to be those moments where we question ourselves, and consider whether our decisions have had negative impacts on the ones we care for, but this needs to stop.

As caregivers, we take on this superhuman quality, and we think we must do everything without fault, but the reality is, we are human.  Mistakes happen, and it is expected.  We do not receive a handbook, when we become caregivers, that lays out the specific challenges we will face, the personality of the individual we will care for, and the various ways to handle each situation as it arises.  As much as I wish that handbook existed at times, I realize the journey without one has its rewards.  I have learned how strong I can be, how resilient, and especially how creative I can be with problem resolution.  I have also learned to embrace the imperfections that make me who I am.

While there will always be those moments of questioning that follow tragedy or bumps in the road, the more that we can accept our own faults, the more open we will be to caring and loving those we care for, and ourselves.  The sooner this understanding happens, the easier it will be to move past the blame, and guilt that can only weigh down any progress of living.  Caregiving is difficult enough without us getting in our own way.  So, the next time a problem arises, remember to accept any imperfections because they are what make us human.

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Jealousy When People Have Normal Lives!

This is actually a very difficult topic because it is hard to admit that I feel something that I should not feel.  It seems wrong to have the emotions I have right now, but it also seems wrong to feel ashamed about what I feel.  This is where I get into the difficulty of dealing with and accepting certain emotions that occur in the caregiving world.  The emotions that we may pretend do not exist because it seems wrong or shameful to accept them as legitimate.

My mother and father-in-law called today to talk with my husband.  They had not spoken in a few weeks at least, and they caught up on their lives.  When I came home, I listened to my husband talk about the great things his parents were doing, how much fun they were having.  He talked about the way they were spending their free time as retired individuals, and I am genuinely happy for them because I love them, but at the same time, I felt extremely jealous.  My husband can talk with his parents about their great lives, but when I talk with my parents, I listen to the stress and fears they possess as caregivers.  I try to be supportive, but I worry about them and their own health which is deteriorating as they wear themselves down with their roles as caregivers.

How could I possibly feel so much anger and jealousy?  This can’t be healthy, but it is a reality.  I feel like my parents had more than a decade of their life stolen from them.  They have not had family support except for my husband and I , and with two kids with special needs, jobs, and school, we can only relieve them once in while.  I do not blame my in-laws or my husband.  They are lucky to find this enjoyment in their lives, but I am angry at the lack of family support my parents have.  I am angry that they do not get free time.  I am upset with the people who have abandoned them without a thought.  I fear for their health more than anything.  This is just another example to me of the far-reaching effects caregiving can have on families and the complexity of the emotions involved.  I am thankful to have parents who give so much of themselves to be the incredible caregivers they are, but I cannot let go of the worry, and the sadness I feel for them as they work without reprieve.  I admire them, and I wish I could help them all at the same time.  I feel guilty for feeling this way, but it is my truth right now, and I cannot deny my emotions.

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CHD Awareness Week: From the Heart

(I am posting this on both of my blogs in the hopes to reach many readers because of the importance of the topic.  I apologize if you are subscribed to both and get this twice. )

Many may not know this, but this week is incredibly important.  February 7-14th is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week!  Plenty of information circulates to prepare parents for down syndrome, cleft lip, diseases caused by not vaccinating, and autism, but are you aware that nearly 1 out of every 100 babies is born with a heart defect.  Many of these defects are minimal and may even correct themselves, but there are also many that are life-threatening.  With advanced prenatal care, most of these defects can be caught in an ultrasound, before the baby is even born.  However, in our daughter’s case, they missed it many times.  In fact, after repeated ultrasounds because of an inability to see one side of the heart, they wrote 4 chambers down, despite the fact that she only had half a heart.

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My daughter was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome.  This means the left chambers of her heart were small and non-functioning.  She was not even diagnosed until day 12, and she had her first reconstructive open-heart surgery the next day.  Going from being a regular parent to one caught in a whirlwind in the cardiac intensive care unit (CICU) is overwhelming.  Learning about the complex nature of this defect, and the special needs that a child with this defect has is terrifying.  I felt shock, and I was always worried, watching each beautiful breath she took with gratitude.  I learned how to read the machines and what her sat requirements were.  My husband and I created medication logs and we documented her life for months.  We became caregiving parents.  Between this beautiful new child with a host of complications and a mentally ill child, we were exhausted, but we survived, and our little girl is 9 now.  She has survived three surgeries, and each year, I speak about her condition to alert people to this common defect.  1/100 is a high number in my opinion.  Much higher than the current statistics for other common defects like down syndrome.

Knowledge is power, and I can say if you feel something may be wrong with your child, be adamant in getting a doctor to listen.  It took 6 visits to get our doctors to finally admit us.  My daughter was diagnosed past the date where most will die without treatment.  She was in the lucky 5% that survive past 10 days.  This is incredible to me.  The most difficult aspect of her condition that I live with each day is that the future is so cloudy.  We have been told her heart will eventually wear out as it is working twice as hard, and she has had so much work done, she will require a transplant at some point.  This is a fact, but one that I try to forget.  I can often pretend she has no problems as she acts like a typical 9 year old with a bit of an attitude at the moment.  It is when the threat of a cold looms over us, or when she wants to do gymnastics moves around the house that I begin to panic.  It is when she gets overheated so quickly in the summer that I want to squeeze her tight and never let go.  I know her life has been borrowed by skilled doctors, and I fear what the future holds.  This is why I want to bring awareness about the importance of having knowledge about heart defects.  We nearly lost our chance to know this incredibly intelligent little girl, and I hope our story can help another family get that same chance.

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What No One Tells You About Caregiving!

No one tells you about the person you will care for in a detailed way.  There is no handbook that is specific to the person.  For those people who are used to directions, handbooks, and Google to find out how to do something, you will not be able to get the answers you need.

No one tells the parent of a mentally ill child how to listen to them and understand.  No one explains how the illness will differ from child to child and how the doctors will not always be there for you.  No one explains the time that is spent on appointments, medications, hand wringing, and tears.  No one can begin to explain the stress that will be felt as the child shatters every possible shred of patience left in your heart.  No one can detail the profound love you will feel for the child who is hurting, as you hurt along with them.

No one tells the middle aged children who have chosen to care for their aging parents how their life will change.  There is no way to prepare you for the loss of privacy that will heighten frustration levels.  No one shares the devastation that can be found in relationships between family members as the responsibilities become uneven.  No one can tell you how tragic it is to see your loved one shrink before your eyes, forget who you are, or become a shell of who they once were.

No one can prepare a parent for the image of their child after heart surgery.  The chest tubes and the screams are never fully explained beforehand, and how it takes nerves of steel to not break down and cry.  No one expresses the fear that grips your heart when your child falls or becomes sick because they may have a complication with their heart.  No one tells the parent how they will see so much pain, they will wish they could rip their own heart out and give it to their child.

No one tells the caregiver of a loved one with cancer about the hours of holding their hand to give them courage despite the fear inside.  No tells you about the wishes that will be made in secret as the vomiting begins and the hair is lost.  No one tells you how deeply these memories become rooted in your cells, always a part of you.  No one has a handbook to express how your loved one will handle each step, and how you can best support them.

Caregivers are fighters because they tread into the unknown.  They are not told what will be because no one can know for sure.  Each journey is different, and each one is full of life, tragedy, hope, loss, love, fear, and so much more.  No one can tell you what they don’t know, but they can prepare you for some of it.  Caregivers need to unite because while they care for others, they need to have someone to speak with when it gets to be too much.  They need someone who can empathize with them, listen to them, and never judge their reactions.  There is so much left unsaid, it is time for the dialog to begin.

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Why are Sufferers of Mental Illness Still Marginalized in Society?

I have grown up around mental illness as a reality in my life.  My mother is mentally ill, and as a child/teen, I had to grow up fast and learn to accept the responsibilities of a child with a mentally ill mom.  Granted, my perceptions were still young, and I thought faking being sick so I could stay home with my mom would keep her from attempting suicide.  This is not rational because it also meant I believed if she did attempt suicide and I was not home with her, it would be my fault.  This is how I, as a child viewed the struggle, until I fell apart myself.  Then I realized that no one could necessarily have an affect on a truly suicidal or heavily depressed individual.  The care these individuals require goes beyond what can be provided at home.

I went through my own bouts of depression, and now, my son is mentally ill.  He has many illnesses, and it is very difficult to care for him sometimes.  What surprises me is the way in which society still marginalizes mental illness sufferers as though this minority group’s needs are not important.  People with mental illness are still treated differently and others make wild assumptions about them.  Last I checked, this group of individuals is actually pretty large.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 18.6% of U.S. adults have some form of mental illness.  This is nearly 1/5 of U.S. Adults.  How can individuals continue to judge the mentally ill when they take various faces and are all around you.  These people are homeless, wealthy, middle class, poor, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, young, old, and any other descriptive word you can throw in there.  They are teachers, doctors, police officers, cashiers, taxi drivers, friends, co-workers, family, and acquaintances.

On many occasions when I have had to relay my sons story for the millionth time to a new doctor or facility, I have had to deal with the judgmental insinuations that our family must be messed up.  Our family is broken at times, but it is because we struggle to handle the mental illness while living our lives.  The mental illness came first.  Even if we did have family problems, why should others judge us?  What should be more common is empathy.  Our family hurts, we struggle, we fear the future for our son, and we care for one another.  We are a family who needs help because mental illness has intruded on our lives.  We deserve to have treatment without judgement.

The college student who is cutting herself to erase her pain, the high school girl who starves herself to have control, the men and women who struggle to survive from growing up in abusive homes, the soldiers who come home with PTSD, the people who develop schizophrenia, the people with chemical imbalances, the woman on the bridge jumping to forget the rape she endured.  These are all people who are suffering, and they should not be treated as less than human or with a lack of dignity.  Why is mental illness scrutinized so gravely, and why are others so quick to judge?  Why is it so difficult to find help?  Why is insurance for mental illness so limited?  Why can’t we, as a collective group of people, demand change?  Why, as a leading industrialized country, can we not care for the people who need help with the compassion they deserve?

Obviously, things need to change.  I find that caring for a mentally ill child is a caregiving role that is exhaustive.  It is a 24/7 job that requires a lot of work, patience, appointments, medications, and vigilance.  I am tired of the prejudice, the assumptions, and the lack of resources.  I also know many who need help go without it because of shame, lack of understanding, lack of insurance, and fear.  We need to change the perception of mental illness now, and become advocates for the mentally ill.  We should never allow people to suffer in silence.  Mental illness is real and it is prevalent.  It is time to wake up America!

Resources:

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-mental-illness-ami-among-adults.shtml