Investing in Yourself

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

In caring for my husband who suffered from MS, I was often guilty of neglecting my own well-being. Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to realize that investing in myself not only benefited me but also enhanced my ability to care for my husband. Here are a few of the areas I learned to prioritize in order to care for myself. 

My physical health became a high priority. Investing time in regular exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient sleep, though not always possible, proved to be crucial. In order to manage all the details of caring for my husband, I needed sufficient energy levels, mental clarity, and overall resilience. By paying attention to my physical health, I not only felt better but I became a better caregiver, too.

My mental and emotional wellness were of equal importance. The emotional toll of caregiving could be overwhelming, so to lighten my load I joined a caregivers’ support group and made time to meditate, if only for ten minutes a day. I also committed to practicing mindfulness so I didn’t operate on automatic pilot when performing routine tasks. This allowed me to be present for my husband and avoid costly mistakes. Sessions with my compassionate psychotherapist helped me to cope, and calling on friends and family members gave me relief when I was feeling overwhelmed. 

Continuous learning and skill development were essential as my husband’s MS became more advanced and his care became more complicated. I attended workshops, learned from others in my support group, and learned from medical professionals. As time went on, I was able to do medical procedures such as changing Foley catheters and administering bullous feeding when my husband was no longer able to eat. Over time, I learned to accomplish complicated tasks I never dreamed I could do. 

During my caregiving years, I came to realize the importance of self-investment, learning to prioritize my physical health, mental and emotional wellness, and engage in continuous learning. In my memoir, Watching for Dragonflies: A Caregiver’s Transformative Journey, you can learn  more about the ways in which I stretched the boundaries of what I believed I could do, in this and in other areas of my life. I hope my story will inspire others to invest in themselves, whatever their role may be.

Making The Most Of The Holidays

Well, it’s often easier said than done, isn’t it? I was my husband’s caregiver for the ten years he suffered from multiple sclerosis, and when the holidays came around, stress wasn’t far behind. Stress for me involved trying to make the time as festive as possible, and stress for my husband, Michael, involved trying to rise to the occasion when wanting nothing more than to stay in bed.

Michael never really enjoyed Christmas, so it was always up to me to carry the ball. When we were raising his three daughters, we went all out. Presents from Toys Are Us were big on our shopping list, and the girls and I had fun working together to bring some holiday cheer into our house. This always included decorating the tree and setting up a little village scene, complete with “snow,” atop our fireplace mantel. The little village houses went back to my childhood when my mother would put them out each Christmas. The angel that topped the tree and most of the lights and ornaments were also part of my youth. New were the three big Christmas stockings that my mother knitted for the three girls – one white, one green, one red. Santa always filled them with goodies, stuffing the traditional orange in the bottom.

One Christmas we got more than we bargained for. When Michael and his youngest daughter went to the tree lot to select a tree, a little dog followed them around. Deciding that this pup had been abandoned, they brough him home. As my fortieth birthday was in December, we named him Forty. He had a short run as the family pouch, however. Being a terrier, he started chewing up everything, including the stucco that covered the outside of our house. Forty soon went to a new home, one better equipped to enjoy him and his antics.

But all that was before MS. With MS as our uninvited holiday guest, one that overextended its stay and grew more intrusive each year, Christmas cheer became harder to achieve. The girls were grown, so they understood the situation and were most understanding. Presents were exchanged, but extended family gatherings became a thing of the past. As our holidays became smaller, our celebrations became more intimate, and we grew even closer. In some ways, it was a relief. 

So how we observe the holidays may require accommodations, enjoying what’s possible rather than what used to be. Hopefully, as things change, we will treasure the time we have together and honor the memories of holidays past. Most importantly, love and understanding will help us discover the most appropriate and enjoyable ways to celebrate the holidays, whatever our traditions may be. How do you celebrate the holidays? Do you make accommodations for changing conditions? If you do, what are they? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Being Thankful for the Gifts of Caregiving

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 on Unsplash

My time of caregiving for my husband throughout his years of living with MS included its share of stress and struggle, yet caregiving also brought many gifts. I discovered hidden internal resources and developed new skills that stretched my understanding of what I could do.

Through embracing the challenges of caregiving, I learned to trust myself to do what had to be done to care for my husband, Michael, despite my self-doubt and lack of experience. For example, in the latter stages of Michael’s disease, I learned to accomplish procedures that only an RN could comfortably do, such as administering IV medications and changing his Foley catheters while maintaining a sterile environment. As his condition worsened, Michael came to trust me more and more, and I was able to ensure that he received the right medical care and the right follow-up—from me.

Though I developed new confidence in myself and in my ability to meet the challenges of caregiving, I was not immune to making mistakes. Fortunately, I was able to take my mistakes in stride, though not without regret, and I was able to learn from them. Over the years, by building upon past experiences, both positive and negative, I became more knowledgeable and able to respond appropriately to new challenges as they occurred. 

My compassion for Michael increased over my time as a caregiver as did my compassion for myself. As being his caregiver became more complicated and stressful, I hired a wonderful woman who helped me take care of Michael. I was able to recognize my need for help with understanding rather than guilt, and because I wanted the best for my husband. 

More than ever in my life, I turned to my dreams and spiritual practices for insight and direction, and they served me well. I paid careful attention to the archetypal figures that appeared in my dreams. On one occasion, I dreamt of a strange goddess. I saw a young woman who had been enchanted; eyes had appeared all over her head and in her long, dark hair. She was beautiful. I sensed that this dream was showing me that my awareness was increasing and that I was becoming more conscious of my nurturing feminine energy with the intuition and collaborative power it brings. Goddess figures offered me insight into the importance of power with as opposed to power over and guided me in working collaborative with Michael, paying attention to his fears and opinions as well as his needs. 

Powerful masculine figures in my dreams helped me develop the assertiveness to effectively deal with the medical system when it wasn’t working in Michael’s best interest. On one occasion, Michael was in the hospital with a recurrence of aspiration pneumonia, and after several days he still was not responding to treatment. I ask his doctor, Dr. Palmer, to confer with the doctor who, earlier that year, had successfully cured Michael of aspiration pneumonia. It seemed to me that the treatment that worked before might do so again. Dr. Palmer refused to contact this doctor, who was located in another hospital in the same system. When he switched Michael from IV antibiotics to the oral form, I knew he was doing this too soon. I expressed my concerns, but the doctor abruptly informed me that he knew best. End of discussion. Well, I knew differently. 

I had to find the assertiveness and faith in my own judgement to fire Dr. Palmer. It wasn’t easy for me to confront the doctor, but I felt compelled to do so. Fortunately, I was able to find another hospital doctor who was willing to take Michael’s case. He readily agreed to consult with the doctor who had treated Michael previously, and one of the first things he did was to put Michael back on IV antibiotics with a new combination of drugs. At last, I felt reassured and could relax in the belief that Michael was once again in good hands. 

In addition to dreams, other spiritual pursuits helped me become a better caregiver. For example, consulting the Medicine Cards brought me Native American wisdom, and my continuing involvement in Tibetan Buddhism helped sustain and direct me. As time went on, caregiving became a vehicle for my personal and spiritual growth that points the way for me still. 

It’s amazing how necessity can teach us new behaviors and foster a new belief in ourselves. With love as our guide and caring for a loved-one as our purpose, we can discover the many gifts of caregiving. I would love to know what gifts you are thankful for. Please leave a comment.

Dreams of Loss and Inspiration

Dreams have always fascinated me. Some tell of a future we’d rather not face; others bring insight and inspiration. Below are some dreams from my memoir, Watching for Dragonflies: A Caregiver’s Transformative Journey, in which I write about the years I cared for my husband, Michael, who suffered from multiple sclerosis:

More than once, in the summer months after his collapse, Michael asks, “What is happening to me?” It’s more a bewildered lament than a question.

As his legs stubbornly refuse to respond to his will, he begins to feel that his body has betrayed him. He can no longer control it; he is no longer himself, and his image of his old self is inexorably slipping away.

Our growing anxiety continues to be echoed in our dreams. In a recent one of Michael’s, he’s driving a big truck down the highway when suddenly he loses control and panics; the truck veers sharply out of its lane. He is terrified.

In one of my own dreams, I witness a showdown. We’re somewhere in the Wild West. Michael appears youthful, in jeans and a plaid cotton shirt. We want to go through a gate in a fence, but a huge, intimidating animal bars our path. It looks like a kangaroo with a seal’s head, and, as Michael attempts to pass, it continues to threaten him. He’s afraid, but he confronts this unnatural-looking animal, refusing to flee. I can see his body begin to shake, and he finally decides to turn back. I, in turn, am left to wonder whether I have the strength and courage to face down this beast by myself.

I share many dreams in my memoir. Some, such as these, foretell ominous events while others are positive, revealing internal resources that assist me on my caregiving journey. In one of the latter, I dream of a strange goddess. I see a young woman who has been enchanted; eyes appear all over her head and in her long, dark hair. She is beautiful. I sense that this dream is showing me that my awareness is increasing now and that I’m also becoming more conscious of my nurturing feminine energy and intuition and the collaborative power it brings.

Have you had dreams that you’d like to share?