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:
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.
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.
Recently I heard author Jill Lepore speak at the KC Public Library. During the Q and A session, someone asked, “Jill, you’re a staff writer for the New Yorker. How did that happen?”
“Well,” said Jill, “you know those cheesy old paintings where the hand of God reaches down through a cloud? It happened like that.”We all have those “hand of God” moments. For me, one such moment was when my friend, author Bernadette Stankard, suggested I send my book to her publisher, Central Recovery Press. I did and they were instantly interested. Just last week, I received the beautiful new edition of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey. Soon available, as they say, in “bookstores everywhere.”
So many hands, human hands, have helped me edit and shape this book and I am grateful to each person who contributed ideas and insights. I am also grateful that I gave myself permission to write these stories.
For me, writing is about learning to dance on the page.
While I write, I picture a woman living in a trailer in North Dakota. In the evening, she sits in a brown living room, her husband in a lounger watching television, her son sprawled on the floor doing homework. She picks up my book and is transported, connected to the deeper parts of herself. When her husband asks, “Why are you crying?” she hands him the open book. The noise of the television blurs as he reads.
“You’re not really a writer until you’ve been published,” a journalism professor once told me.
The more I write, the less I believe him
The tender manuscript goes out, primped and dressed up, clean and on good behavior, ready to meet the right editor. The process of getting published is akin to looking for love: a blend of alchemy, philosophy and fate. For every one of my stories that unfurl themselves in the pages of a magazine, I have a stack of shy sisters, waiting to be invited onto the dance floor so they can reveal their billowy brilliance.
I invite myself out onto the dance floor.
Last week, I received four pieces of mail that weren’t from major utility companies. I knew from the solemn brown of the envelopes that three were rejections. One was a card. Like a good child swallowing medicine before eating cake, I opened each rejection. Two were forms. The third said, “Gee, good story. My ex-girlfriend is also from Kansas.”
The card was from the daughter of my dear friend, who had recently died. As a way of sorting through my own grief, I’d written her daughters a letter, describing how much I admired their mother.
“Dear Deborah,” her daughter wrote me now, “Your letter meant so much to our family. I made copies for my sisters and we are carrying them around in our purses. I read the letter to my cousin in Texas. We both cried…”
As I read this card, my stack of rejections grew insignificant. I remembered why I want to write: simply, to connect with people.