A new stage of life: Becoming a caregiver!

There are many whom we love, but not all of us are willing to become a caregiver to them. Since I became a caregiver, that distinction interests me. I do understand the urge to avoid taking time out of your own life to be available to help a loved one, but I believe the main reason many of us do not choose to become caregivers is because of the sometimes confusing emotional demands of keeping a loved one going from day to day. Sure most would offer to pick up some groceries or provide other services to their Mom or Dad or sibling, but what about the activities of daily living? What about managing their prescriptions for them or helping them cleanse themselves?

My sister Diane, John and me around 1957 or 1958…

After years of training in emotional caregiving, I am now called to use that training in service to my brother John. My greatest fear at first was to overstep his boundaries by offering more help than he wanted or needed. Just this past week I realized that he so appreciates anything I do for him as his energy and memory continue to fail him. For example, I learned that he can no longer manage his prescriptions and take his drugs on time. I didn’t notice that until he stopped taking his thyroid med and he had all the problems related to that including fatigue, brain fog and severe depression. I got him back on that med as soon as I realized what was going on.

It feels like a lot of responsibility to manage someone else’s life, but I love my brother and I want him to feel better. I can’t imagine not helping him at this point in time. He says he would never go into assisted living or some other care setting like that, so I will continue to help him as best I can.

Here are a few things I have learned about being a caregiver:

Caregivers value and appreciate help from others.

Caregivers take into account their own needs, the persons being cared for, and the other family members involved.

They respect other people’s opinions.

They appreciate the strengths and positive attributes in others and themselves.

They understand that caring for another person consists of letting that person make their own choices without ultimatums.

They wait to be asked for advice.

They are enthusiastic about their role as a caregiver.

They are empathetic and feel love towards the person they are caring for.

They don’t take other person’s words or actions personally.

This is not a job I ever expected to find myself in. I do know it requires patience, compassion, attentiveness, dependability and trustworthiness. I can do that. In fact I cannot imagine not doing it. I just appreciate even more that I’m here to help.

“Meet Cute” made me laugh and laugh!

From a purely Boomer perspective, this 2022 movie (a Peacock Original) made me laugh a lot! I would be the first to admit I know almost nothing about the “younger generation. ” I didn’t have kids and amazingly no grandkids either, so I have such a limited insight into how they relate and the ways they see their world. I felt like this movie gave me a little bit of insight and I found it hilarious.

To watch it you must be willing to suspend ‘reality’ quite a bit. Luckily Mike has helped me a lot with that. Rotten Tomatoes calls this a “time-loop romcom” where the two main characters keep repeating similar dates over and over again, because Sheila has discovered a time machine in a tanning bed in her manicurist’s backroom. In this process Sheila starts out absolutely loving Gary at first and proceeds to become super critical of him as they repeat their first date over a year. Then it becomes, can she change him by changing some of the traumas from his past?

At first I liked this film because I realized how fun it would be to re-live my first dates with the men I fell in love with when I was younger. In all cases I fell in love very quickly and we had great times together from the very first date.

Then I started to laugh at how differently the younger generation seems to approach tough subjects like depression and wanting to kill yourself. I felt that bad a number of times when I was young, but I never considered speaking to anyone about it except maybe a therapist. With much honesty and a great sense of humor these characters seemed to normalize hating your life. In our generation is seemed to be so hush-hush and such an embarrassing sign of personal failure. To the younger generation it almost seems natural or even normal to talk about how much and how often life sucks.

There are a number of aspects I loved about this film. See it! If you don’t like it you’ll know pretty quickly…

Dealing with Trauma as a Highly Sensitive Person with Head Injuries: A Personal Note

I have been thinking about trauma in my own history these past few weeks and I now see I have suffered a number of traumatic experiences that I did not originally recognize as such. I think this can be attributed to two personal factors. One is that I have always been a “highly sensitive person” and the second is my numerous head injuries in the past 15 years.

I assume most of you have heard of the term highly sensitive, but these are the traits I relate to personally:

  • Overly sensitive to emotional and physical violence
  • Naturally experiencing the emotions of those around me
  • Often feel overstimulated
  • Often need to withdraw because of overstimulation
  • Startle very easily
  • Enjoy a rich inner life
  • Feel deeply moved by beauty
  • Deeply emotional and compassionate
  • Unable to deal with even moderate amounts of criticism
  • Usually feel different and alone
  • Easily overthink and worry way too much
  • Very intuitive
  • Often feel tired and emotionally overwhelmed

I guess you can see why someone like me can be more easily traumatized. Then when I experienced a traumatic brain injury in 2008, my ability to deal with others, especially when they are angry or even just mean to me was multiplied by one hundred percent. And with this most recent serious concussion I find I am so easily drained after simple exchanges with others, and I can only socialize for an hour or two with anyone.

Luckily I found a life partner who is also quite sensitive and therefore understands exactly how much I can take from others. And yet, even with him I need to withdraw regularly into my quiet little world where nobody can reach me. I simply feel safest alone in very quiet places. I guess I am a true introvert now.

Understanding the power of trauma in your life

I found myself wondering recently why a traumatic breakup with a lover over forty years ago still has such a powerful impact on my brain, so I did some research on recent findings on how psychological trauma can affect us. I was especially interested in how we can get “stuck” emotionally when traumatized.

I have always found it fascinating how one traumatic event can change everything. Ever since I did my counseling psychology internship in a rehab hospital back in the 1990s, trauma has been one my favorite areas of research.

There are a number of important misunderstandings about human trauma. The first is that a “trauma” has to be something tragic, violent or catastrophic, like being injured in combat, a natural disaster or terrible accident. This is simply not true. Our brains are all very different and may interpret any incident in our lives as traumatic, even if the event does not register as highly significant at the time.

Our psychological backgrounds and emotional sensitivity levels are so unique that a traumatic breakup or an abusive relationship can cause one person to regress or get stuck emotionally, while that same event might have little impact on someone living through a similar experience.

Trauma is not an event that happens to you, it’s how you process that event. If you are emotionally injured as a child or young adult, the outcomes can be greater than as an adult. If you receive support or help while going through a traumatic event and its aftermath, the trauma is less likely to have such long term effects. But if you experience the trauma alone and with no support, the effects can be much more long-term and traumatic, especially if that event feels like it threatens your very existence.

Depending on the severity of the trauma, your entire way of being may be formed around one traumatic event. This is because, on a neurobiological level, the trauma is not properly processed. It can rewire your brain in such a way that ultimately influences your thought patterns and behavioral responses as you get older.

Traumatic events can overwhelm you body and mind, leaving a lasting mark on your mood, relationships, and sense of self long after the trauma has ended. When trauma impairs your ability to develop full emotional maturity, this is known as arrested psychological development. Trauma can freeze your emotional response at the age that you experienced it. When we are traumatized at an early age, the memory of the trauma is stored both in our brain and body. As a result, if healing does not occur, the traumatic incident can impede healthy development.

The good news is that if we understand how traumatic this event has been in our lives and then seek proper help from a licensed therapist, most can integrate their traumatic experiences and become unstuck emotionally. For many this will mean developing more mature emotional responses and relying less on unhelpful, child-like coping methods.

Take it from me. Spending the time to fully process anything you consider traumatic in your past, can only benefit your emotional future!

The most important healing tip I’ve learned from my own brain injuries (TBI & concussions)

I just saw an interesting piece on the importance of sleep on the NBC morning news show, which reminded me of the most important thing I have learned from experiencing a traumatic brain injury and a few serious concussions. That is the amazing healing powers of sleep!

I’ve always been a pretty good sleeper and enjoyed every minute of it, but now I see that sleep, whenever you feel like you need it, is your best brain restoring behavior. When we are younger we may try to get away with less sleep than we need, but, as we age, deep REM sleep is essential to brain health and memory retention.

After my traumatic brain injury fourteen years ago, I had no choice but to sleep quite a bit for months afterwards. I also had fractured ribs and breathing problems. That kept my activities to a minimum. But my brain did slowly heal itself over a few years. It literally re-wired itself to work well again.

It was only after a recent serious concussion in April 2021 that I knew that I must take it really easy on my brain and rest whenever I felt fatigued. Then I read Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s amazing book “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientistʼs Personal Journey” where she explained how she slowly healed from a terrible stroke. There she re-emphasized the need to sleep as soon as you feel any need for it. In this way I have slowly regained clarity and stability over the past year and a half.

We must all stop fighting sleep and ENJOY IT! It has such a healing effect on your brain and every other part of your body. If you don’t believe me, believe the Dalai Lama:

How to give yourself credit for the life you’ve lived… is it simply luck, or something better?

Yesterday we were watching a Youtube video of a boating tour around Venice. Visiting Venice in the mid-1980s was one of my most favorite trips ever. It felt like a trip back in time for me and I loved it! As I watched I kept saying, “I was so lucky to go all of the places I’ve been in my life!” Then I questioned that statement. Was it just luck? Not at all.

When I was young I got the travel bug from my Dad, so whenever I decided to go somewhere, I just did it. I would spend money I didn’t have to go live in Bangkok, float down a number of rivers all over the West, or go sailing in the Caribbean. A friend and I took what we called “the people’s ferry” up the Pearl River to Guilin, China before anyone else was going there. None of these were planned tours, we just went.

This was not a simple case of luck, but rather a perfect example of my belief that ‘what you focus on grows.’ It was my natural inclination to see as much of the world as I could. Luck had little to do with it. Of course the tough part was the bronchitis I had in Bangkok, China, Taipei and Venice, and my difficulties breathing at 8,300 feet in Cuenca, Ecuador. Health scares drove me to visit as many places as I could before my lungs became a problem, making me ever more thankful that I traveled so much when I was young.

Another example of apparent luck? Having such loving beings around me as I find myself not so healthy or able to travel easily. Now I see that was not luck at all. I am one of those people who doesn’t have many friends, but those I have are completely loyal. They know me and love me unconditionally, through thick and thin.

Believing it was just luck that I now live in such a naturally quiet and beautiful place with an amazing garden is pure foolishness. Getting here took quite a bit of time, stress and energy, but it was all completely worth it!

Through this thought process I realized how easy it can be to simply feel lucky, but I think it is important that we give ourselves full credit for the choices we’ve made consciously throughout our lives.

Perhaps we have been better at life than we thought! Imagine that!