Four Riveting Reasons to Wield the Mighty Pen

Psychologist Don Wendorf wrote Caregiver Carols: an Emotional, Musical Memoir to help other caregivers cope with their feelings and to help himself. Writing was cathartic for Don and it offered him insight and understanding into his caregiving journey. Don says, “I always encouraged my therapy clients to keep a journal and I have now experienced for myself just how helpful this is. The whole endeavor of creating something is very life-giving and essential.” Here are a few tips for caregivers from Don:

Nurture Yourself

Take care of yourself the best you possibly can. Do as much as you can that nurtures your body, soul and mind. Exercise like a fiend. Go out with friends. Do creative stuff. Feed your faith. Avoid burnout at all costs. Seek out, accept and ask for even more help than you think you need or want.

Reach Out for Feedback and Support

Rely on people you trust to give you feedback about how you’re doing and if you’re looking burned out. They may be able to see what you can’t or won’t. Talk to other caregivers who know this path and use local or online support groups. Express your feelings to others and let them support and comfort and care for you. Man, it feels good.

Jilt Perfectionism

Let go of perfection and forgive yourself and your caregivee when you goof up, which you ARE going to do.

Explore and Express Your Emotions

Look beneath your anger and see what layers of emotion it may be covering up: anxiety, ambivalence, fear, sadness, resentment, helplessness, hopelessness, depression, remorse, guilt, regret, loneliness, neediness. I think the biggest for me was GRIEF: I was slowly losing the love of my life. Express your feelings. There is absolutely nothing unmanly about it and you are then less likely to use anger as a blanket emotion. So, Caregiver Guys: Man Up!

 Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

Five Easy Ways to Put Your Heart on the Page: Finding Words for the Caregiver’s Journey

My mother’s Alzheimer’s drove me to write. My writing inspired me to speak.
Over the last years, I have received enormous pleasure from connecting with people all over the world, sharing the stories of finding hope in the caregiver’s journey.

It All Started with Grief

When I initially realized the depth of my mother’s memory loss, I was shattered with grief.
My initial reaction was:
Visit with mom
Drive home, blowing my nose and wiping tears from my cheeks
Misplace my car keys
Stare numbly into space

One day, during the “staring numbly” phase, my partner Ron said, “Are you writing down your feelings?” It was a smart and sensible thing to say; the sort of suggestion I might make to him in a crisis. I was, after all, a writer.

“I don’t feel like writing,” I said.

But his words stayed in my mind. The next day, I slightly altered my behavior:
Visit with mom
Drive home, blowing my nose and wiping tears from my cheeks
Misplace my car keys
Write numbly for an hour

Writing my Way from Grief to Insight

I poured out my fears, confusion, anger and grief. After doing this for a week,
I began noticing how fascinating my visits with Mom were; we were explorers on a wild inner trek.
I began documenting our time together, sometimes even taking notes during my visit. I wrote about the challenges, humor and blessings. I wrote about my conversations with my father, with friends and family and with the aides, the nurses, the social workers. As I wrote, I saw how much hope, promise and energy there was in my new world.

Instead of crying when I drove home, I thought about how I could transform my notes into a meaningful essay.  As I shared my work with friends and with my writing critique partners, I realized I was chronicling my mom’s last years and capturing part of our family history.

Five Easy Ways to Bring Your Life to the Page

How do you take a challenging part of your life and bring it to the page?

1. Pour Out Your Feelings.
Give yourself time to feel your emotions, whether it’s through writing, art, music or other.

2. Notice the Details.
Write down the particulars, noting simple concrete facts. You are a researcher collecting data.

3. Uncover the True Story.
Look for the universal meaning in your specific experience. How have you changed? How will the     reader change through reading your words?

4. Seek Feedback.
Read the story aloud to someone and see how it sounds. What’s working and what’s missing? Ask colleagues for a professional critique. Think over their advice and decide what is right for you.

5. Share Your Writings.
I was lucky enough to read some of my stories to my mother and father and receive their blessing for my work.  Anytime I featured people in a story, I shared it with them to make sure they were comfortable with the material. When they’re comfortable, it’s time to share with friends and a wider audience, if you wish.

Q 4 U

What are some of your writing tips?