Monday, October 17, 2011

The Stress Mess

If there is one thing I know for sure, life is messy.

Oh, sure, life fakes you out from time to time. Lets you think you've got things semi under control. You know the drill: The kids' school papers are signed, shots up to date, bills paid, laundry done and actually put away, proposal out (with no spelling errors), and life has settled into a reasonable facsimile of normal, with soccer games and actual family meals involving plates and silverware, when … BAM! The Unexpected.

As I said, messy. The theme of my life. And, I'm guessing, yours.
This summer was a particularity messy month. My father broke his hip--a difficult situation in itself, but when you add Alzheimer's into the mix, the mess quotient magnifies. No doubt, the memory of your own recent messy period is still fresh. Or maybe you're in the midst of one right now.

And the last thing you need is someone chirping about how you just need to look on the bright side and seek life balance. So I won't do that. Besides, I'm not the chirpy type. Is there even such a thing as life balance? Is it really possible to take care of yourself while juggling mounting crises in the midst of seemingly unbearable stress?

From my perspective, the answer is yes. And no. It all depends upon your definition of life balance. If it's a permanent state of non-stress and smooth sailing you're seeking, you're probably on a never-ending quest. But it is possible for mere mortals to field whatever life-mess is hurled at them this week and at the same time, stay (relatively) sane and healthy.

I know, this sounds ridiculously simple. After all, if you were not doing this one thing, you would be, well, dead. But really, deep, thoughtful breathing can help. So can a bottle of wine, but let's start with breathing.

Different healing systems, from different cultures, have long understood the healing benefits of the breath. Yoga, Tai Chi and some forms of meditation embrace this philosophy, as well as most holistic practitioners. The belief is that breath is the link between the physical body and the ethereal mind, and that spiritual insight is possible through conscious breathing. (Spiritual insights are great, and that's on my to-do list, but most of the time, I'm deeply grateful for stress control and moments of tranquility. So is my family.)

Since you're reading this, you've evidently managed some base level of breathing proficiency. Way to go! But, for healing and stress reduction, not just any kind of breathing will do. Scientific studies have shown that it's correct breathing that helps manage stress and stress-related conditions. Yep, they say it soothes the autonomic nervous system. Evidently, autonomic-type systems are very needy. And nitpicky about how you breathe. So it's got to be deep, slow, and purposeful.

There's a whole bunch of physiology and science involved, but the only thing you really need to remember is this: If your abdomen gently moves in and out while you breathe, then you are breathing correctly. For you analytic types, who need to know more about how and why this work, Google it. You'll have more information than you know what to do with.

Take Stock
Ask yourself…What's really going on? Slow down and identify the one or two things that are making you feel scattered, exhausted or out of control. Focus on those. Most feelings of being overwhelmed stem from definable, core issues. Often, the hundreds of unrelated stresses we're buried under aren't unrelated at all. Find the underlying culprit.For me, this summer's culprit was sleep deprivation. Serious sleep deprivation. The stretches of days and nights at my father's bedside took a toll that was physical, emotional, and mental. I felt like one big, hideous bruise with eyes lodged somewhere in the back of my neck. At one point, I actually approached delusional. (Yes, even more than usual.)
So I got help from Synergy HomeCare, and my sister came into town to share in the caregiving. While the situation hadn't fundamentally changed and the challenges remained ongoing, they were now manageable. With sleep, I could once again function. My eyes now sit neatly in their sockets.Figure out what's really going on. And if you need help, for crying out loud, ask for it.

It may seem counterintuitive to have fun and laugh when you are experiencing an enormous amount of stress, but really, isn't that exactly when you most need the healing, restorative powers of laughter? Laughter is free, easy and releases all sorts of groovy, natural drugs into your system. Besides, people will be more apt to want to be around you, ready and willing to lend a hand. Maybe they'll even interpret your good humor as strength of character and whisper glowing admirations of you behind your back.

Laugh? Easier said than done, you mutter at me through clenched jaw. Of course. I know that. But it does get easier with practice. More importantly, if you get out of the habit of laughing and seeing the humor in things, you begin to lose the capacity for it at all. Watch a comedy, get together with a fun friend and reminisce about something outrageously silly. If you can't steal the time for that, you can still find opportunities to laugh. They're everywhere. And forget about whether it's appropriate. It is. Remember how Mary Richards in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" behaved at Chuckles the Clown's funeral? Laughter is good medicine.
There will always be unexpected rough patches in our lives. We can choose to have a pity party and get worn-down and sick and become even more ineffective and powerless. Or we can choose to assess situations, and take positive action on the things that are within our power to change.

What will you choose?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Time Warp

It can’t be over. It just can’t be. It just got here.

I know it’s coming to an end by the activity at Wal-Mart (not that I shop there) and Office Depot. The abundant commercials on TV for Elmer’s glue and super- creative-cool- hot colored folders. The month on the calendar also clued me in.

Yesterday I golfed with a friend for the first time all year. It would have been obvious it was my first time out had you been there.

My brother recently remarked, “I roll over and look at the clock that says 6:00 A.M . and think, why even get up? The day is already gone.”

Time is going so fast.

It’s not that I waste time. Well, okay fine. I do. But still, everyone seems to have felt it this year. Especially if you live in Minnesota where summer comes and goes in the time in takes you to find the charcoal and light up the grill. It was cold. It was hot. It was hot again, Then, really, really hot. Then it rained. A lot.

Today it’s beautiful and instead of enjoying every single moment of it (like I tell my audiences to do), I am thinking about November and how I will get through it. I have great speaking engagements in September and October, but not one in November…when I need to get out of Dodge.

I know I should be outside and not writing this blog. But, I need to get it out of my system. Now I’ve dumped on you, my reader. I feel better though. So thanks.

I’d like to call an end to November. Let’s just have one day that month: Thanksgiving. Then we could slide right into December--- the month of Joy and celebration. Yes, we’ll have even less time, but it will be quality time.

Who’s with me?

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Friendship Factor

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately. I’m blessed to have many good friends who care for me, who make me laugh and who encourage me to be the best I can be.

Then there are those friends who tell me things I really don’t want to know. They are the really good friends.

They are the friends who tell me things that I already know but I either A) Don’t want to talk about it, B) Don’t want to deal with it, or C) See A and B.

Oh, I don’t mind the occasional “meant to be helpful” comment such as: I don’t like your hair like that or, I think you’re a coffee snob. (Tell me something I don’t know about myself.) It’s the comments that make me think about myself--what I’m doing, or how I’m handling something that get to me. It’s the comments from my friends who really know me well and feel comfortable enough to verbally slap me into seeing a situation for what it is and then encouraging me to do something about it, that shows me they are good friends.

Here are a few recent examples:

Friend: “Have you scheduled the mammogram you said you would have a couple weeks ago?”
Me: “I will, I just have to take care of a few other things first...”
Friend: “I don’t want to hear that. I want you to pick up the phone and do it now. Capiche?

Friend: “So, what’s going on with your father for Thanksgiving? Have you demanded a sibling step up to the plate?”

Me: “I will but everyone is busy and...”

Friend: “Shut up and call someone, you can’t do everything all the time. Aren’t you a national speaker on this topic? Shouldn’t you practice what you preach?” (Ouch.)

And my favorite from a few years ago when I was in the thick of caregiving:

Friend: “You’re no fun anymore.” That one stung, but it did make me take action.

While most of us look to friends to support us and listen to our problems, great friends take it a step further--they try to help us. If you’re too defensive to have friends like that ... it’s too bad because I think they can help you to be a better, happier person. Certainly they can help you to become someone who is in less self-denial.

And for those “friends” who really aren’t’ trying to help but who can’t help criticize your choice of shoes, love of coffee or constant caregiving calls, they’re just mean. I drop ‘em like a hot potato. I don’t have the time or the interest anymore to be with toxic people.

As far as my ego goes-- I don’t need friends. I have children to keep me in check.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Life Balance is a Roller Coaster

Every child of an aging parent grapples with the feeling she should be with their parent more. It’s a classic guilt smoothie.

Every working mother fights the feeling she should be at home with her child when she’s not home with her child.

When you are caring for children and caring for an aging parent—fasten your seat belt, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

But sometimes bumpy rides are the most fun. Do you see people lining up at their state fair to pay money to ride around the block in a smooth Cadillac? That smooth ride may be easy; it may not cause you any conflict or give you a bruise. But it probably won’t create a memory either.

I’ve had my fill of bumpy rides over the past 10 years—bumpy to the point of asking the sketchy carnie to stop the ride and let me off. And I’d be lying if I said I really liked all the memories the past years have created for me—the time my mom was diagnosed with cancer on her tongue; the time my dad told me he’d call the sheriff if I didn’t give him the car keys; the times my son forgot his lunch and his homework and his gym shorts and I had to drop them off when I was supposed to be at a meeting, the time my dad threw up in the car. But what I do know for sure (thanks for coining that phrase, Oprah) is that the bumps make life interesting. They create character and they peel back the onion of our lives to see what the core is. Sometimes, it makes you cry, often it smells, but the onion usually adds a lot of flavor too.

When you find yourself on the roller coaster of life—go along for the ride. But make sure your ride has a few fun moments—hugs and laughs and milkshakes—and that it’s not all scary. And that the carnival guy running the ride has a few teeth and doesn’t smell like whiskey.

And it’s always best to check the safety belt.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Faces of Caring photo contest!

I just launched the contest: Faces of Caring, and the winning photos will be used to create a montage to go with the new song by Megon McDonough: Caring. The Kodak prizes--digital cameras, movie cameras and frames have arrived and I’m so excited to see all photo entries.

Thanks Kodak!

If I were a weepy, really sentimental person, I’d be vaclempt. But I’m not. (Well, occasionally while watching a Hallmark commercial). I’m just jazzed to see all the photos and how creative people are. You can check out the contest on my homepage:

Synergy HomeCare, a home care company that provides companionship, respite care, bathing, errands (really everything that you would do for your loved one, if you could), is helping to sponsor this contest, so a big shout out to them!

If you care for someone, or know anyone who does—have them take a photo, who could win.

The deadline is March 1st, 2010, so get going!

Happy New Year!


Monday, August 17, 2009

Focus on Friends

Last night I stopped at my friend Bill’s house for a glass of wine. Well, a bottle...
We talked and laughed about dozens of things—including how much we both liked coffee,to travel and our friends. Then we talked about his best friend who passed away last year.

Bill got out his friend’s eulogy book (why didn’t I ever put one together for my mother?) and as we drank wine and talked, I read him all the lovely, touching and funny pages from the book. Bill and I read out loud a lot to each other. It’s a gift to have a friend to read to... and if you’ve never done it, it’s not quite as weird as you think.

We went to Kent, England and stayed at Hole Cottage two year’s ago. It’s one remaining wing of a once-much larger hall house. It is hidden away in the middle of the countryside and is now owned by the Landmark Trust. You have to hike a bit to get there, but it’s worth it to be so far away from everything.

There's a pub about a mile away, which we walked to in the dark of night. We talked with the locals, had a fabulous dinner and a pint, and brought home brie cheese and bread for the morning. There is nothing better than the aroma of brie on warm crusted bread, served with French pressed coffee and savored while sitting at a 400 year- old kitchen table.

We made a fire one night and read to each other from the visitors’ log. No T.V, no phone, just the sound of the fire, an occasional fox bustling outside and our reading and laughter.

When we weren’t talking, we enjoyed the joy of complete and utter silence. Did you know you can actually hear silence? Maybe it’s more of a feeling, but it’s there... and it envelopes you like nothing else.

I’m lucky to have many friends. They all fill a different purpose in my life and seem to always be there when I need them. I hope I am there for them as well. I try.

Although I never personally met Bill’s friend (he was Italian and gorgeous) I had talked with him on the phone. I feel like I knew him. And I felt a bit of him in the room last night as I read the Eulogy Bill had written. Bill’s words invited me into their friendship and their experiences.

I wonder what my friends would write about me?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Things are Looking Up!

I’ve been going through a tough time caring for my father. The day-in-day–out of it all is exhausting. Although I speak on happiness, laughter and perspective, I was beginning to lose mine. And my mind. Which as we all know, is a terrible thing to waste.

I took steps yesterday to hire paid help and to give me more time for my home and my work. Then, as serendipity would have it, Michael J. Fox’s special was on and I actually had time to watch it! The documentary, based on his memoir, Always Looking Up, was the best TV I’ve watched in a very long time. His wide-ranging program "isn't prescriptive," Fox was telling a reporter earlier this week in his office on Manhattan's Upper East Side. "I just need to express myself, because that's what I do. It's the only way I can live my life: to embrace the possibilities, instead of fear the realities.”

What a great quote.

I encourage everyone to watch his show. To take time away from Fox (the news, not the person), CNN and the nightly shoot ‘em up broadcast that makes up our local news. Spend more time on positive messages, with positive people and surround yourself with positive energy.

See how you feel.

Watch Michael J. Fox’s documentary and I promise you it will rekindle your passion and make you think about how you see the world.

At the very least, it’s a show where no one gets shot.

Who knows, maybe this documentary will have a play-it-forward effect and we’ll start to see a new ripple of optimism.

Can’t hurt. Could help.