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I didn’t sign up for this!

8.4.20

Have you heard yourself make that declaration?

What was it you did not believe you volunteered to take on?  For many of us that phrase is used when a relationship gets stressful.  Even when it is someone you love, when the demands and expectations of your role as friend, family member, co-worker or even harder, caregiver, it is easy to collapse under the load and forget that at some point, you did indeed sign up for the trial and tribulation you’re facing!

What? When did I sign up? Was I drunk? I’d never agree to this!

Well maybe you don’t remember. Or, maybe YOUR understanding of how the future would unfold didn’t include any hardship, upset, misunderstandings or physical change (like illness, disability, or mental health challenges).  Your crystal ball didn’t show you that sometimes, we’re called upon to figure it out on the fly – to struggle to be our “best selves” amid the chaos and conflicts that are created within relationships when we’re pressed to our limits.

Consider this, until this point, you may not have even known what your limits were!  Had you known, you might have built a boundary, instead of obligingly saying YES every time the question came your way, “Can you do this, too?”  None of us knows what will be asked of us in this life. We don’t know what hard times will come our way, how relationships may change, roles may stretch and even snap.  But knowing your limits is important information because now, instead of saying “I didn’t sign up for this!” you can instead say, “Okay, I can help, but here’s the limit of what I can do. . .” That’s a boundary. We all need them to stay safe, to stay well, to manage our stress and to define who we are and who we’re willing to be.

I’ve said those words, “I didn’t sign up for this!” And then, I realized I had indeed done just that. 

  • I didn’t sign up for a husband with Alzheimer’s disease – but I did take a marriage vow, “in sickness and health”  — so, apparently I did sign up for this.
  • I didn’t sign up for early retirement – but, I did make the decision that I’d help my husband age in place, if that could be humanly possible, and it is, so I do – hmm. . .looks like my choice again!
  • I didn’t sign up for COVID-19 (right, me and 328 million other Americans – and billions more around the world) – but we did choose world-wide travel freedoms, open boarders, oops – looks like our preferences brought us a virus, as well as a modern, well-traveled, lifestyle.

So, when you catch yourself about to say (often in anger), I didn’t sign up for this, consider, it is likely you did with the choices and preferences that preceded the event by months, years, even decades.

A wise mentor taught me this question – “What part of this is mine to own?” If you take that question to heart, you begin to realize that anything that brings you grief, that adds to your stress, that makes you angry or causes you upset, YOU had something to do with it.

We cannot change the world until we are willing to change ourselves. Now might be the perfect time to examine the choices and decisions that got you here – maybe they were GOOD decisions, yet the outcome still surprises or disappoints you. Maybe they were bad decisions, and you’re living with the consequences of your own poor (or premature) judgment.  Whatever you discover in your honest questioning, you still can change – both yourself and your outcomes.

You’re still able to make fresh choices – so, look around and, if you feel you didn’t sign up for the circumstances you find yourself in, perhaps it is time to chart a fresh course and be the change you want to see in your world!

Change is good! Hey, I’ll even go first!

COVID-19, it’s here to stay. . .

6.27.20

It is hard, isn’t it? It is difficult to isolate for yet another month. We’re headed into our fourth month of this uncomfortable, uncommon, and unfamiliar situation and it is taking its toll on us.

CNBC reported,  that as of “Wednesday, the nation’s seven-day average of daily new Covid-19 cases was 31,172. This number has increased more than 34% compared with a week ago, according to the analysis of Johns Hopkins data. Cases are growing by 5% or more in 31 states across the U.S., including Arizona, Florida, Texas, and California.”1

It’s hard to be careful every single day. It’s challenging to remember your mask every time you run into a Caribou for coffee or dash into Target for toilet paper. But, it is still important; as important as it was on March 18th, when we all got sent home.

So what do you do with all the whining that happens in your head?  The voices that say, “But, it’s the fourth of July, I’ve got to celebrate!” – but do you?

If you don’t know (personally) anyone who’s had the virus, it is really easy to thing it has gone away! If it hasn’t hit close to home or seriously harmed anyone in your family, it’s dangerously alluring to imagine that you’re immune. It can’t happen to me, can it?

It can happen. It is happening.

MPR news quoted Kris Ehresmann, Minnesota’s infectious disease director, noting that our early sacrifices to limit COVID-19’s spread “will be undermined if we don’t get cooperation from all Minnesotans, especially younger Minnesotans, who are most active and social. . .We desperately need younger Minnesotans to take it seriously.”2

But all of us have experience with acting against our own best intentions. Speaking purely for myself. . .

  • I know I should choose the salad over the donut, but sometimes I just cave-in to the gooey satisfaction of a salt-sugar-fat hit and all that it does to my brain chemistry.
  • I know I should be getting up off my butt and be exercising every day, but days go by and I’m tired of walking around my own neighborhood, so I binge-watch TV instead. 

It is just so easy to quit on ourselves, on our own resolve to act wisely on our own behalf, and on behalf of others.  It’s easy to give up, to cave-in rather that give each action, each choice-point, our best.

I can’t speak for you, but I know that for me, my self-righteous-indignation kicks into high gear when I notice how many people in the grocery store haven’t bothered to bring, let alone wear, a mask.

Or when I do venture into a public space like a restaurant, I see families who barely bother to corral their members as they wander mindlessly close to me as if the words “social distancing” form a phrase they’ve never heard before.

It is hard not to be judgmental; to give into the ever-so-human tendency to say to myself, “I’m right – they’re wrong!” But that’s definitely NOT the person I want to be. So, what to do with the messages that swirl in my brain and defy my best intentions to be my higher self?  Well, I’ve come upon two strategies that seem to be working for me:

  • I repeat the mantra, “They’re doing the best that they can!” – (just as I am) and offer grace.
  • I turn my attention toward the many things going on around me that are amazingly well done (and there’s always something to notice that warms my heart and encourages my soul).

What will you do to keep on going, to be your best self, to be true to your values and your highest intentions? It is a daily, conscious choice to live your best life, especially in the midst of COVID-19. Will you choose to do it with me?

REFERENCES:

  1. Kim, J. (2020). Record spikes in U.S. coronavirus cases push up hospitalization rates in 16 states. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/25/record-spikes-in-us-coronavirus-cases-push-up-hospitalization-rates-in-16-states.html
  2. MPR Staff (2020). Latest on COVID-19 in MN: Number of confirmed cases climbs past 35,000. https://www.mprnews.org/story/2020/06/27/latest-on-covid19-in-mn

Best Traffic Jam in the World

6.1.20

Sunday morning, May 31st I went on an errand.  My intent was to follow my heart and bring two simply packed bags of groceries to a middle school in Minneapolis. I had seen the call on social media, for very specific pantry goods, and gone shopping because, that was something I could easily do in my third-ring suburban neighborhood where stores were still standing and open for business. 

I dutifully bought the apples and carrots, the tortillas and rice, the beans and the soup, the box of cereal and the bag of cookies. But the bread was absent from my store’s shelves.  So, I went to a second store and finally, a third in order to find two loaves of bread.

I’m not the sort of person to do whatever social media tells me to do, but this particular week, the request touched my heart.  It was something simple that I COULD do.  I had the resources, I could afford the time, and I could get it done almost before my husband woke up on Sunday morning.

You see, I can’t go out and march for hours of endless protest, even if I might be moved to do that.  I can’t spend all day sweeping up the debris or covering the broken windows with plywood, these are not my skill-set and my arthritis would itself protest.  My path is already determined; I am my husband’s caregiver.  He has Alzheimer’s, and there is no back-up for my role; Managing that work requires most of my time and much of my attention.

But I did make time to go grocery shopping, even though I had to travel to three stores to complete my task.  I did fill my two bags with groceries. I did get up and dressed and checked the delivery address again, putting it into the GPS of my phone.  I wrote my husband a quick note, not explaining myself in much detail, so when he woke and came to his usual chair, he would know I’d be back as soon as I could.

So I drove the 20 miles to my destination, a relatively quiet corner of town where the middle school is situated.  On my way, I passed a burned-out gas station, one I used to visit when I worked in that vicinity, near the Mississippi River Parkway. It made me sad.  As I approached the school’s address, it became clear that I was in the right place, cars were everywhere, lined up for blocks, for miles.  They were filtering through narrow city streets.  Some folks were parking and emptying their cars of groceries, diapers and laundry detergent, to walk the last block or so to their drop-off destination.

I stayed in my car. I followed the orderly line of traffic. I yielded at the intersections to the community members who were directing the cars and the foot traffic for a measure of safety.  I finally got to a place in the street where a small band of volunteers helped me unload my donation. I was amazed by what I saw, thousands of bags of groceries, wheel-barrows filled with laundry soap, red wagons loaded with Pampers.  It buoyed my spirits, lifted me up and carried me all through the day.

In the end, that middle school was able to feed not only its own children (having estimated their need at 85 bags of groceries) but to send hundreds of bags of donated food to neighborhoods across Minneapolis.  I had been part of the best traffic jam in the world, in the midst of a week full of heart-wrenching tumult that had torn our cities apart. The phrase that came to me was, “loaves and fishes.” I felt I had been privileged to be one small part of a miracle.

How can I help?

4.3.20

School is nearly done (my certificate in Integrative Health & Wellness Coaching) and it is time to get out into the world and serve as a genuine, health coach to actual, private-pay clients! It is kinda scary (truth be told) but it is also very exhilarating! I’ve been wondering just what to say to people who might ask what I’m up to, beyond my elevator speech that sounds like this. . .

“I’m Paula, a retired RN and newly-minted Health and Wellness Coach. My business is called Co-Create 4 Life and it serves the needs of caregivers, especially family caregivers. I am a family caregiver myself, so I deeply understand the stresses, emotional turmoil and demands that anyone in a similar role naturally feels. I’m also a researcher, so I know the literature on caregiving which reminds me that one in five of us, caring for loved ones with degenerative neurologic disorders, like Alzheimer’s disease, will die before our loved one does. It is the stress that kills caregivers! Knowing this, and so much more about the challenges of the role, I’m committed to serving the needs of family caregivers and even professionals who may need my help. My business focuses on teaching self-care, in keeping with my recent book, Self-Care Strategies for Family Caregivers. I offer one-on-one sessions, group coaching and even a course that follows the key elements of the book available through on-line learning. (as I hand out my card) Know anyone who needs my services?”

What else do I do to launch? Everything imaginable! Anything visible, useful, helpful, and honest. I’m writing this blog, I’m recording Zoom presentations for several audiences, I’m seeking out other speaking engagements (for the in-person future), I’m sharing my tools on coping with COVID-19, and I’m blasting a celebration e-mail to everyone I know. I’m also unabashedly asking my friends for referrals and thanking them profusely when they send someone my way! I’m volunteering my services where the opportunity presents itself and I’m asking for help wherever friends seem to have information or ideas.

It is a special time and it is happening at a very weird slice of American experience, our stay-at-home, isolated from everyone, curious, chaotic time in our shared history. I wish my coaching launch was not concurrent with this uncomfortable time of life, but it is, which tells me it is also the PERFECT time, destined by the Universe to occur right now. 

Sometimes, when the timing seems wrong, the circumstances seem stacked against you, the obstacles loom large and the “yes-buts” are plentiful, it is actually the exact time to stand up, be seen, have courage and do what the Universe has called you to do. I invite you to stand with me!

Normalizing all that’s NEW. . .

3.30.20

Today I listened to Brene Brown’s new podcast, Unlocking Us, available at: https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-on-ffts/

In this initial broadcast she talks about HER discomfort with being “new” at things and this is a sentiment I absolutely share.  I mostly hate being new, unfamiliar and bumbling with technology.  Every semester, there’s been some new technology to master and that has, for me, been the most uncomfortable part of being back in the University as a student. 

Right now, we’re all dealing with being “new” at staying home alone or in the company of our household members and for many of us this is a very uncomfortable new normal.  None of us likes the discomfort that comes with being “new” – we feel embarrassed, incompetent and, unfortunately stuck.  The discomfort of doing new things is, according to Brown, the Secret Sauce of living! She says plainly: “Learning how to stay standing in the midst of feeling unsteady and uncertain – that’s the beginning of courage!”

Her wisdom to us all is:

  • Name the emotional mess we’re all feeling – like shame that I can’t figure out this supposedly simple app, disappointment that my friend didn’t call when she said she would, feeling clumsy and awkward doing yoga over Zoom in my ill-equipped living room.
  • Normalize the feeling/situation – recognize that everyone else experiences the same sorts of chaotic emotions that I’m feeling and give myself (yourself?) a break. Put it into perspective!
  • Reality check your expectations – Oh, I’m NOT going to crush this? Oh, okay.  I’m actually going to suck at it (not something I’m accustomed to!) and yet, getting used to this struggle with “new” reminds me that I’m so totally human. Just like everybody else.

Most of you know, I’m a 5-Type on the Enneagram – a total head-case.  Living in my head has been my life-long endeavor, a pattern I’m struggling to break.  Lately, coaching has been the place where I’ve had the best chance to practice living from my heart (not my head) and as is always the case, it is my clients who teach me exactly what I need to learn. It is for me one more place where I struggle with the feeling of being “new” at things I’d love to say I’ve mastered.  I haven’t.

The future is uncertain (that’s a certainty).  Most of us, me included, are facing a long list of new things. For me, that list of “new” includes building a coaching practice (now that school is over), preparing for the certification exam which means studying all summer, building a new office which requires construction guys in my house and launching a website that really works – at a cost that means, for me, a genuine “gulp-swallow” and trusting the Universe that the pay-off will come. 

I would recommend Brene’s podcast to everyone.  It has (as her books have) helped me figure out what’s really important for me in this new and unusual slice of life.  She reminds us that we’re living in a time that is “harder than we thought” – and for me, just learning to admit that my emotional state is unsettled, in upheaval, unstable and confusing – that’s a lot! it is terribly unfamiliar territory and at some level, we’re all in this together!

Re-discovering Passion

1.26.20

You think by now, I’d have this thing we call passion down pat.  And, it isn’t that I haven’t known passion in my life; I have.  But, I’m finding that passion is different at my age. 

When I was young, passion was all about accomplishment, acquiring “firsts” and doing “better than last time” each time I was invited to put forth my best effort.  In those days, passion seemed to come easily – it was the energy of life that flowed into each new experience.  The first time I spoke before a ballroom full of people and realized they were hanging on my every word – that was intoxicating!  The first time I had my words published and got feedback on the importance of what I’d had to say – amazing!  The first time I was invited to be a keynote speaker and fly to a distant city to open a conference of thousands of colleagues – what a rush!

But, now, passion is harder to come by.  And, what fills the spaces of life is less about passion and more about Zen. Some people would say that passion is bringing your best to each endeavor.  The difficulty comes when life’s endeavors are mostly mundane, like doing laundry, washing dishes, shoveling snow, tending to the cat’s box or taking out the trash.  Those are the every-day, every-week, regularly scheduled and constantly recurring activities of my life now. Along with those are the care-giver chores of seeing to my husband’s health and well-being, getting him to medical and dental appointments, making sure he’s got fresh clothes for each day, assuring his transportation to and from adult daycare, giving his medications, looking at his skin, hauling him to haircuts and making sure he shaves – at least occasionally.  None of these feed passion. Many of them can be done with a sense of calm, confidence, repetition and Zen – wax on; wax off.

So, I’ve begun exploring where my real passion lies, now. It doesn’t lie in fantastic “firsts” like it did in my 20s or 30s.  It doesn’t come from travel and exploration, trying new things and putting myself in unfamiliar places and cultures like I could in my 30s and 40s. And it can’t be found in the excitement of learning new, exotic things anymore.  Of course learning is lifelong, it just isn’t as astounding as it was decades ago; now it is more like growth – shedding an old skin, like a snake and growing a new one.

What are my passions now? Several simple things come to mind:


In each of these, what I notice is that passion is not something I do, not an action I take, but a quiet realization that goodness surrounds me and I am constantly invited to participate in it, to lend my energy in simple, quiet ways – unplanned, often unnoticed and usually imperceptible. But when I give myself to the invitation fully, I am reminded of that youthful passion that fills me with the warmth of connection.

What feeds your passion these days?

Is your Heart Chakra Optimistic?

2.3.20

February makes me think of my heart chakra!  And, for the month of February, I am contemplating the meaning of OPTIMISM.  I am thinking, optimism is like abundance – it is something that appears everywhere in my consciousness.  I am optimistic about school, about my health, about the possibility of changing (even radically) who and how I am. 

Optimism is evident in my conversations with others – even when I am discouraged, I tend to be positive in my belief that things could change, improve, turn around.  I am able to see myself as a “work in progress” because I have optimism and to be compassionate with myself when I’m not “perfect” as a result.  Hopefully, this compassion can extend to others and emanate from my heart chakra as a positive force for good in the world, optimistic compassion (believing the best about others – especially those who would ordinarily annoy me).

Optimism is a state of mind.  It permeates my daily endeavors – it allows me to say, “life is proceeding just as it should – everything is in its rightful place and time” and to believe it.  Optimism can be present as I put the dishes away and clear the kitchen; it is available when I’m working out in my simple and halting way; it can get me through a day of internship coaching even when I am admitting my errors along the way.  Optimism allows me to believe all can be well, even if, in a given moment, I am not.

Change is possible, and this alone is enough to make me optimistic.  My heart chakra is open and optimistic, it is radiating and receiving compassion.

Change what you can; Accept what you can’t change. . .

1/11/20

The only thing about finding yourself in a place where you don’t want to be (physically, emotionally, spiritually) is that you can either feel sad and stuck or view it as your starting place to where you want to go instead.  It’s okay to be discouraged momentarily but if you sit in that discouragement, you’re essentially telling yourself and everyone else, that this is how it is going to be, from now on. 

And, the truth is, it doesn’t have to be that way for very long at all. You can change. You have the power to choose something that will make a difference, even if it takes a while for that change-effect to be evident. Simply by choosing to change, you’ve done something inside yourself and completely for yourself that no one can do for you, and no one can take away from you. 

Today, with some new technology available to me, I saw a 3-D image of my body like I’ve never seen myself before.  I was horrified!  No details, no features, just a complete outline with every roll of fat, every slope of poor posture and every possible flaw usually covered by clothing was made visible.  It made me sad and discouraged, but it also made me mad and motivated! 

Now, I realize that there are elements of this 3-D representation that I cannot change (in this life).  I will not become suddenly taller – although that could solve a lot of the disproportion issues.  I will not likely discover tight, taught skin revealed when my weight-loss goals are met.  There will be droopiness and sagging to deal with even when my ratio of body fat declines.  It’s always something, isn’t that what Gilda Radner said? 

So what CAN I change (you remember that wisdom to know the difference)?  Well, I suspect I can work on two things, replacing fat with muscle, even if that makes little change on the scale. And, I can use stretching and other lengthening moves (like Pilates, yoga, etc.) to strengthen and tone the muscle I add. Both would serve me well and potentially change that 3-D silhouette that troubled me so when I first saw it. Either would be better than sitting around complaining that I don’t like my body!

In our house, we’ve turned a corner…

12.29.19

It has been a long month. I guess I’d call this our “new normal” – we’ve turned a corner, for sure.  I just don’t know how to describe the new territory.

My DH’s 88, he’ll be 89 in April 2020.  His Alzheimer’s diagnosis came in 2013 (a few years after symptoms). And, we’ve coped pretty well with all the usual losses that accumulate over time.

On December 5th, he had a stroke.  It was preceded (the week before) by two transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) or mini-strokes.  Each of those lasted only 5-10 minutes and he quickly recovered.  This stroke was bigger and its effects more long-lasting.

I found him near the bed, limp like a pile of laundry on the floor, he mumbled, “I can’t get up!” – and that was true, he couldn’t.  The paramedics got him off to the local hospital where we waited 8 hours in the emergency department for a bed on the neurology floor.  During the wait, and really, not 4 hours into it, his strength returned and he was doing fairly well on the gross measures of neurologic capacity.  Coordination was much slower to return. He spent 4 nights in the hospital, and thankfully, Medicare afforded him a stay in a local transitional care unit (TCU) for rehabilitation therapies, OT, PT & Speech.

He followed the program with amazing compliance and actually ate better than he would for me at home, gaining 7 pounds in December!  He came home on Christmas eve afternoon, not back to his “old self” but doing fairly well.  There’s some residual damage and, what I know for sure is that with the next stroke, there will be more.

It was (as the neurologist explained) neither a clot nor a bleed – the common forms of stroke.  It was a “luminal” stroke – the lumen of the blood vessel narrows, closes off, and the lack of blood-flow does its damage. Then, in time, it may open up, if perhaps to a lesser degree than before the stroke, and blood-flow is restored, as is function – at least some of it.  It is not the kind of stroke that medical experts can treat or cure.  They increased his daily aspirin from 81 mg to 325 mg – that was the only change they prescribed.  What is clear is that this sort of stroke will repeat itself and each time, he will recover less completely; it is all related to age and tends to increase in people (men especially) over 85.

For me, the month was endless – the TCU was only 12 miles from home but, visiting almost daily left me exhausted.  It isn’t the kind of tired that comes from hard work but, the kind that you experience from jet-lag, that stressed, pressed to your limit, sense that you may never quite catch up with your life or make up for the time you lost in mid-air. 

He’s been home with me for five days.  I’ve spent the time stewing over what his needs are now.  I figured he’d need a sitter/companion anytime I left the house.  Could I go to my yoga class and leave him alone for an hour?  Could I work my mini-shifts (3 – 7 pm) doing health coaching which I would miss because it affords me time to practice my craft and focus on the needs of other people, not just us? Could I train him to use the stairs with supervision, not on his own, anytime he wanted to explore another floor?  I stewed a lot.

Now it is Sunday and he’s been up and down the stairs twice, pretty much on his own.  He’s watching football and fussing with the TV remote like he always does (it persistently confuses him).  He’s eating fairly well, walking with some lack of coordination in his right leg, and wondering why I seem so weary.

I am weary. We’re in a new normal. I’m making it up as we go along.  My intuition tells me this is the beginning of the end and, while it is perplexing, I’m okay with that. I’d rather lose him to a big stroke (or a series of smaller ones) than to Alzheimer’s disease.  We’ll see what the future brings – I don’t have a crystal ball handy – but I’m blessed to know that we’re okay and between us, we’ll make this work, at least until it doesn’t.  Stay tuned, my dear friends.

Ask for what you need, it increases the probability you’ll get it. . .

12.19.19

This is an adage offered to me by a mentor over 30 years ago. Since then, I’ve learned never to be bashful in asking for what I need, nor am I reluctant (anymore) to offer what I have to contribute.  This is how relationships work and grow and develop – people offering to help other people who are able to articulate their needs. 

This week, I took my own advice; I asked for help!  My husband is coming home (having suffered a stroke and achieved an amazing level of recovery!) and I know, life in our house will not be “business as usual” once he is home.  I don’t know exactly what I will need, or precisely what he will need by this time next week, let alone how those needs may change in the coming weeks or months. What I do know is that I cannot manage this alone! 

In my book (published last summer) I wrote about our lives, “I am not with him all day, every day, and certainly not his sole, 24/7, caregiver. There are others on our “care team” who shoulder some of the load. As his needs increase, this team will change and grow. I recognize that it is not a job I am able or even willing to do alone. Like so many things in life, it takes a village” (Forte, 2019, p. xx).

One of the things any family caregiver must do is recognize condition changes that need to be addressed. And, when we do spot changes that need to be made, we must NOT assume we need to tackle them alone. Realizing this, I reached out to my network of friends, my correspondents with the Universe, who, together know so many more people than I do alone.  I asked for their wisdom on finding one or more caregivers who will help me manage the many situations to come. 

In the space of five days I received ideas and leads, names and possibilities so quickly I could hardly imagine so much help might be available! It is yet another reflection of the abundance that surrounds us all, if we only acknowledge it, ask for it to visit us and recognize it when it arrives!  I will need many helpers in the weeks and months ahead, my world is changing quickly, but I am confident, when I ask for what I need, it manifests in front of me with reassuring bounty!

What are you asking for as 2020 approaches?

Reference:

Forte, P. (2019). Self-Care Strategies for Family Caregivers. Xlibris, Indianapolis, IN.