Disappoint someone today? Good! That’s a start.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS! I’m Heather Jose, your host here at WeAreCaregivers.com. Today, please welcome author and columnist Cindy LaFerle, whose home website www.laferle.com is packed with more columns like this one. That’s her latest book cover, shown below. As a sometimes-stressed-out caregiver myself, I was moved to publish this column the moment I read Cindy’s hard-earned advice: Hey, sometimes you’ve just gotta disappoint someone! 

Cover of Cindy La Ferle's Writing HomeBy CINDY LA FERLE

EARLIER THIS FALL, I felt like the filling inside the proverbial midlife sandwich—managing my elderly mother’s healthcare needs while gearing up for my only child’s late September wedding. If I wasn’t driving Mom to the oral surgeon or the pacemaker clinic—or tracking down a pair of shoes she could wear to the wedding—I was reviewing menus for the rehearsal dinner or writing names on place cards in calligraphy.

Not that I’m complaining. My son’s wedding was beautiful, all said and done, and I’m still savoring memories of the highlights, including a special mother-son dance at the reception.

Most important of all, I’ve come to realize that guiding an elderly parent through her final years while helping a son launch a new life of his own are inevitable steps in the ongoing circle-dance of life. I also remind myself—especially when I’m racing from one spot to the next—that I’m blessed to have a freelance schedule that gives me the flexibility to step up when others need me.

But as Cheryl Richardson points out in her newest guide, The Art of Extreme Self-Care, it’s all too easy to lose oneself in the service of others. If you’re a caretaker, a professional caregiver, a people-pleaser, or anyone else who puts the needs of others first, you know what Richardson is talking about—and her book will speak to you.

Richardson used to be a woman who couldn’t say no. To anyone. She taught seminars and workshops, mentored clients, volunteered for organizations, and “supported needy friends who were struggling.” She was often exhausted and had little time left for her marriage. “I was a good girl. I was so used to playing the role of caretaker that it had become a normal way of life,” she writes.

Just in time, Richardson’s life coach challenged her to make some changes. Encouraging her to “desensitize” her fear of stirring conflict and letting people down, he suggested that she practice “disappointing” someone every day. As soon as I read that part, my palms started sweating. Like Richardson, I’ve often said “yes” when I should have said “no” — even when I knew I didn’t have the time or my heart wasn’t in it.

All because I hate to disappoint people.

It’s not easy to break out of this pattern. As Richardson notes, “One of the harsh realities about practicing Extreme Self-Care is that you must learn to manage the anxiety that arises when other people are disappointed, angry, or hurt. And they will be.”

When you stop worrying about what others think, you’re changing the “rules of the game,” she warns. Some of the folks who claim they can always count on you will play the guilt card when you dare to admit that you’re too tired to help, or that you can’t change your schedule to accommodate them.

Yesterday, after a two-year lapse, I finally visited my family doctor for a complete physical. After driving my mother to every medical specialist in Oakland County on a monthly basis for the past four years, it felt a little odd to focus on my own healthcare, my own needs. It hit me, while the technician hooked me up for my EKG, that I knew less about the general state of my own health than I do about my mother’s. And when my sympathetic doctor began my exam with the words, “Cindy, this time is about you—not about your mom or your son’s wedding,” well, I nearly dissolved into tears. I knew I was long overdue for a new season of self-care.

“If you want to live a meaningful life that also makes a difference in the lives of others, you need to make a difference in your own life first,” Richardson reminds us. “When we care for ourselves deeply and deliberately, we naturally begin to care for others—our families, our friends, and the world—in a healthier, more effective way.”

So … what have you done for yourself lately, my friend? Are you ready to risk disappointing someone today?

Cindy La Ferle is a lifestyles writer and blogger based in Michigan. She is the author of an award- winning memoir, Writing Home, and has published essays and lifestyles features in more than 70 regional and national newspapers. Visit her blog at www.laferle.com

 


Remembering furry friends who warm our lives

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

I CAN’T RECALL HOW MANY YEARS it has been since my son came running in to our house sure that there was a bear in our yard. He had had been out riding his snowmobile in the track he and his dad had established in our yard. We were keeping an eye on him through the picture window. He was young and somehow he decided that it would be quicker to jump off his sled and run in to the house rather than ride there. But I digress…

What we discovered was a big black dog. She wandered in through the woods and calmly walked to the door. I was standing strong, determined not to let her in. Of course, I did check for tags and identification and came up empty handed. By the next morning she was lying on our living room floor. My husband didn’t have the heart to listen to her begging to come in all night. She was such a gentle giant, good with the kids and our dog and cats. But still I answered no to the cries of “Can we keep her?”

We made all the correct calls to the shelters, we looked at local store windows for Lost Dog signs, we called the vets and animal control. No one, it seemed, was looking for her. It is not unheard of for dogs to be left to fend for themselves in our neck of the woods. We began to look for a home for her.

Newfoundland

No, this is not the dog in our story today, but he reminds us all of the inspiring love we often find in big working dogs like the Newfoundland. This breed can weigh more than 150 pounds. While terrific companions, they have big appetites, too. See the note, below, about a new nationwide FILL THE BOWL project. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

My father-in-law came to mind. He had lost his beloved boxer, Buster, a while before this. When we mentioned that we had this “bear,” he didn’t seem to be very interested. My husband suggested a trial run. If he didn’t want to keep her after the weekend we would take her back. He agreed.

That was at least five years ago. We never got a call to come get her. The dog now has a name. Josie. Very creative when you consider that our last name is Jose.

She hasn’t been an easy dog. Initially she was terrified of riding in the car. She still has anxiety at times. Have I said that she is big and black and sheds a lot? She has trouble controlling herself sometimes on a walk, wanting more than anything to chase a squirrel or a cat or another dog. And then there were the fleas from lying in the dirt all summer!

Despite all the issues, I am grateful for Josie. My father-in-law takes his job of pet owner very seriously. He walks Josie (and also the other furry friend Pudgie) three times a day. If you are there at the correct time you will see the pacing begin when walk time approaches.

The dogs are so good for him. They provide structure for his days and someone to come home to. Especially since my mother-in-law passed away in February. It makes us feel a little better to know that he has someone depending on him and therefore keeping him going. The dogs are someone to chat with and snuggle with too. I also think we all know he wouldn’t walk the neighborhood without a dog—and walking is good for his health.

This year for Christmas my gift for my father-in-law will be dog related. It only seems right.

FREE RESOURCES TO FILL THE BOWL OF A PET

Humane Society Fill the Bowl Logo

Click the photo to visit the Humane Society website.

IN YOUR HOLIDAY GIVING: Remember that pets need food as well as love! And big dogs like the one in today’s story? You know: Lots of love—and lots of food. A tragic trend in winter months, when other household bills rise for the elderly, is a wave of pets given away to shelters simply because their human companions can no longer afford to feed them.

The Humane Society in the United States (HSUS) has an inspiring new FILL THE BOWL campaign. Visit this HSUS website for more about the campaign and details about receiving a free kit to help promote the idea in your area. The kit includes a poster, plus a couple of big, full-color stickers, plus a packet of hand-out cards. The cards have the color logo on one side and on the back say: Fill the Bowl Project is part of the Humane Society of the United States’ Animal Protection Ministries program. Every year, thousands of churches across the country donate food to local food pantries and other programs that help fight hunger. Pets are a vital part of our community but are often overlooked in times of need. Through the Fill the Bowl Project, faith communities can help by collecting cans and bags of pet food. One simple donation provides food for a pet and peace of mind for an owner.

READ MORE ABOUT OUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH FURRY FRIENDS

STOCKING STUFFER: One of our most popular books, by therapist and business consultant Rob Pasick, is his memoir of reflections written as his own beloved dog was aging: Conversations with My Old Dog. Got a pet lover on your holiday list? Especially a pet lover with an elderly dog? You’ll warm their heart with a copy of Rob’s book.

ANOTHER FURRY (AND FREE) STORY: ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm was inspired by my column, today, and added a family photo of a border collie Shooter, who came to the rescue—yes, much like Lassie—of David’s mother in law one night. That photo and brief story is in our GodSigns Photo Gallery.

 

A Holiday Gift: Share a Pop-Tart Moment?

HAPPY HOLIDAYS! I’m Heather Jose, your host here at WeAreCaregivers.com. Today, we are giving you a holiday gift—just as the stress begins to take hold. Benjamin Pratt is the author of our Guide for Caregivers and a columnist for the website at Day1, the radio network. Ben specializes in giving us fresh ideas and images that you will want to share. So, we welcome your giving this column to friends. You can even reprint it in your own newsletter. All we ask is that you add a link to www.WeAreCaregivers.com

A Pop-Tart Moment

By the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt

Pop TartsShe is in her early forties, an elementary school teacher for seventeen years who loves teaching and is passionate about her work. Parents beg the principal to assign their children to her class. She energizes students and colleagues and often is at school from 7 to 7 or longer. She has not had a raise in pay for three years. Last year her class was classified as “gifted” and she was awarded Teacher of the Year.

Then came the night of the Pop-Tart.

That night took her by surprise, but I’ll bet you’ve experienced something like it. Millions of us have.  Here’s how she explained it to me: “I have absolutely loved teaching in spite of the demands and challenges. I love the kids and I know that I have had a positive imprint on many lives. Then, what happened recently took me by surprise. It’s like the light went out. I suddenly felt drained of energy and vitality. I went home and crawled under a blanket from head to toe and ate a Pop-Tart. I suddenly wasn’t sure I could keep doing what I have done for years. My husband sensed my need to escape and told our kids to keep the noise down and not go near me.”

All of us have Pop-Tart moments. Oh, we may choose ice cream or popcorn, potato chips or beer, but all of us have had the experience of turning to food or huddling in the corner and yearning for safety and comfort. Life can overwhelm us at times and when it does we need to crawl into a hole and recover. This is especially true for those of us who serve others—teachers, doctors, nurses, clergy, police, fire and rescue personnel and personal caregivers, anyone whose work demands a burning passion to give the gifts we have to others.

I said to the young woman, “When the light goes out like that, you’re wondering if it will ever come on again, aren’t you? Will the Pop Tart moment pass and you’ll get back to work? Or, are you headed toward complete burnout?”

Her response was illuminating in many ways. “Yes, burnout is knocking at the door. Every other year we alternate between a class of very smart, swift, stable students and a class of children who are at risk. This year I have the latter, very difficult but likable children. I have the additional burden that our principal broke up our teaching team this year. These fellow teachers were my support and lifeline—we laughed and played and worked very hard together, but now we are separated. I feel alone on a very steep hill.”

“So, you have two very important tasks ahead of you,” I said. “One will be to love these children to make the class a safe and comfortable place before they can possibly learn. The second will be to love yourself enough to make a safe and comfortable environment to restore your own passion. Neither will be done with Pop Tarts alone, but something a little more nourishing.”

She nodded with a smile and then I shared a classic metaphor. “Death Valley was once an ocean teaming with life. Refreshing water flowed into and out of this sea, vitalizing the sea and the area around it. Then geologic shifts changed the landscape and threatened the life of the ocean. The waters that fed the sea stopped flowing, but the outflow continued. The sea gave away all that it had and dried up, becoming a desert. The once life-giving sea no longer existed. Without refreshing water, it died. And now we have: Death Valley.”

This can be an accurate and alarmingly poignant metaphor of caregivers’ lives. The time when you become fully aware that your loved one is under your care is like a geologic shift in your world. All of your vitality flows outward and very little flows in to refresh you. You yearn for a trickle of refreshing water to restore your sense of vitality—physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. You give, sacrifice and empty yourself with little or no time or energy directed toward receiving what you need for yourself.

Many of the warning signs of stress and burnout are seen by others before they are recognized by the victim. The most insidious and devastating aspect of stress and burnout is the way it gradually consumes a person over an extended period of time. Stress is the psychological and physiological response to events that are believed and perceived to be a threat to one’s well being. Burnout is the exhaustion of our resources due to excessive striving based on unrealistic expectations and a failure to replenish our resources. The key element is that stress relates to beliefs and perceptions; burnout relates to expectations. Burnout is the result of a failure to balance the distribution of our energy by refueling ourselves with the healing waters that will enable us to continue our difficult work as caregivers.

We yearn for something that will nourish us more permanently. Pop-Tarts are an immediate comfort and a warning sign, not the healing soul food we need for the long haul.

Dr. Pratt has addressed burnout in his recent book, A Guide For Caregivers: Keeping Your Spirit Healthy When Your Caregiver Duties and Responsibilities Are Dragging You Down.