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Archive for July, 2009

The sub-title to my book The Cqregiver’s Choice  is Find Strength and Serenity by Changing Your Mind.  Sometimes, as I read that sub-title, I think it sounds too easy–as if changing one’s mind were as simple as changing one’s shirt.  But it’s not simple to make changes in the way one thinks; it’s a lifelong job, and I’m still working on it.

One of the problems with mind-changing is that the main tool required is total honesty.  Do you really want serenity?  Or are you thriving on the drama of family upsets and your sense of being put upon as a caregiver?  Do you get a higher charge out of negative energy–constant griping, little feuds, gossip, gloomy scenarios–than you get out of positive energy?  Most of us do.  One summer, I decided that for the space of thirty days I would not say one negative thing.   I monitored my words and reported only positive, constructive happenings in my life.  I could tell by the end of the month that the people around me were bored stiff with me and my positive conversation.  To prove to myself that it wasn’t a personal thing, I then spoke to the same people in a different way, telling them of my little dramas and failures and the injustices done to me.  My listeners perked up right away, glad to hear my sad stories and to tell me of their sadder ones.  We love a good sob story.  Negative charge is quick and hot and interesting.

But when I was in the midst of caregiving, I didn’t have enough emotional stamina left to expend it in dramatic battles with myself, my patients, or the medical community.  Negative energy no longer gave me a lift.  I began to desire deeply a different way of dealing with the turmoil of  life. But I can’t give you that desire. Noone else can give you that desire.  Only you  can change your mind.  Yet if you truly want to calm the burning in your stomach, to sleep at night instead of re-running the day’s tragic moments, to find the peacefulness that allows you to deal with caregiving in a sensible, productive way, you can do it.

First, be honest.  Examine what’s in your mind.  Because my conversations with other caregivers have shown me that relatives can be a huge negative problem to caregivers, I suggest that you begin with your perception of your relatives.  In your stubborn desire that they should help you in the caregiving, have you overlooked situtations in their lives that preclude helping you?  Are they too far away, too broke, too emotionally or physically fragile?  Was their relationship with the patient unpleasant or more difficult than yours?  Maybe it’s true that they can’t help you.  But even if the truth is just that they won’t help you, can you change them?  Be more  honest.  Would you rather keep up the old exhausting pattern of fighting with them than to change your mind?

Or take your patient.  If your loved one has a terminal disease such as my mother’s Alzheimer’s disease or my husband’s cancer, will it do you any good to deny that the patient is truly ill, to refuse to accept knowledge of the condition and its likely outcome?  Denial is like a dense smog that prevents your seeing how to take practical, loving action in the present.  There is something wondrously calming in saying, “What is IS.”  When you can see the problem clearly, you can begin to see realistic things you can do to deal with it.  When you accept, for instance,  that the doctor isn’t ever going to be immediately available to answer your questions, you find other ways to get information from him, and you learn what you can do on your own to aid your loved ones.  No point in dialing the phone again and again, feeling exasperated and neglected, if your doctor is at a clinic on the other side of a mountain pass (as our doctor often was.)

There are tricks to reforming one’s own mind.  If you deeply desire to be more serene, your mind will finally help you, but you have to dig different channels for it.  Notice when you start down a rut of negative thought.  Stop.  Picture something that brings you pure pleasure–an object, a person, an activity.  See yourself stepping deliberately out of the rut and following the object of peace and pleasure.  If your mind wants to veer back to the rut–the chasm–and it will, deliberately stop it again and renew your positive picture.  Every time restate your desire to feel peaceful.  Finally, your mind will be moved by your desire and it will respond to your re-channeling.  All of the good things about positive energy will be your reward.  You’ll sleep better, be more creative, be more productive.  But I can’t do this for you.  The powerful truth is that you are in charge of your own mind.

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Throughout my book, The Caregiver’s Choice, I emphasize that caregivers already have too many “shoulds” in their lives and that nothing I say need add to their burdens.  So keep that in mind as I tell you a story–a true story.  I’m not nagging, just sharing.

Last  Tuesday, as I pulled into the country lane that leads to my voice teacher’s ranch house a quarter of a mile away, my car stopped dead and stayed dead.  I called my teacher who drove up and helped me push the car to the side of the lane.  She was concerned that I had to wait there for the tow truck, but she had another student and could not stay with me.

The tow truck was an hour away, and the sun and the car were hot. I moved along the fence, leaned on the fence post, and stared disconsolately into the small ragged meadow between the irrigation ditch and the highway.  The ruts left by some ditch-cleaning machine scarred the grass.  Piles of debris–a mixture of mud and sticks–were heaped at random along the ditch bank.  The locust tree above me was scraggly; many of its limbs, barren of leaves.

I leaned my cheek on the hand that was resting on the fence post, and as I did so, I suddenly became aware of the texture of the wood beneath my hand.  It was rough, but there was a pattern to it.  I lifted my head to look at it.  The post was made of an old dead tree limb.  The wood still bore interesting circles and other patterns where bits had pulled apart as it dried.  But the post was sturdy and useful.  It held up its part of the barbed wire fence.  I rubbed my fingers over its rough top and thought, “When I’m gone, I wonder if any part of me will last and be as useful as this post .”

Somehow, the whimsical thought made me ashamed of my grouchiness.  Hadn’t I learned anything by writing The Caregiver’s Choice?  After all, the book is about finding serenity by changing one’s mind.  Could I use my senses to change this long, hot, anxious wait for help?

Senses.  We have at least five of them, but we don’t use them all equally.  The fence post had made me aware of my sense of touch.  I straightened up and focused on my surroundings in a different way.  From the grass on the other side of the ditch came a turtle dove’s soft “coo-coo.”  I don’t know how long the bird had been calling.  I had only now begun to pay attention to the lovely liquid sound.  I thought briefly of my lost voice lesson.  I  needed a teacher.  What natural magic in that bird’s throat, what movement of air and larynx, allowed that crystal pure, but mournful, sound?  As I listened, another sound came to me.  The water in the irrigation ditch was hurrying along, brushing the sides of the ditch with busy little gurgles, but mostly just swooshing out toward the hay meadows in a businesslike way.  I could almost believe that the water was aware of its vital importance in this agricultural spot.  I looked toward the ditch. In the shade, the water was dark khaki colored, but when it rushed through a patch of sun, it turned into rich gold.

My eyes caught the debris along the ditch again, and I began to study it in a different way.  The mud was rough as bark itself in some spots, smooth and shiny in others.  Twigs, trapped in the mud, still pointed upward with angled fingers.  An artist would have loved to capture  the angles and shadows of those natural things, fallen away from their source.  I looked up at the locust tree above me.  The blossoms were listless and fading, but a remnant of their lovely scent hung faintly in the air.  As I sniffed with appreciation, I thought, “Well, I’ve used my sense of touch, hearing, sight, and smell, but what about taste?”  I glanced around and laughed in delight.  In the roughened ground just across the barbed wire from me was a patch of lambsquarters–those delicious wild greens with their fuzzy grayish leaves that I had often,  with my mother and my grandmother, picked in the spring for table greens.  I knelt and reached through the wires.  I picked a handful of lambsquarter leaves, shook off the dirt, and ate them raw.  Memories rushed across my tongue.

As I grasped my faithful post to stand up from the ground, I saw the tow truck nearing my lane.  I looked at my watch.  I had been lost in a different sensual world for almost an hour.  I had not gone to a resort or a fancy vacation spot.  I hadn’t even sat down.  But I was refreshed and renewed, and I could face the question of my car’s problems with much more serenity.  I was almost sorry to see that tow truck…almost.  (The car?  $300 alternator.)

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