People who live with long term, complex chronic illness suffer from extreme stress and trauma together and alone. ‘Live with’ meaning they’re my diagnoses or I’m caring for someone with those challenges. ‘Caring for someone’ can be professionals or family and non-family, and sometimes community. The intensity of acute crises, rehabilitation, and maintenance (living life) all cause unforgettable and deep-rooted stress. Crazy-making stress. Illness-induced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). To explore PTSD, I asked Nancy Michaels to join us. She spent 6-months in the ICU, two-months in a coma, with a liver transplant and brain surgery to boot. She most remembers dignity and control or lack thereof. It affected more than her. Listen in.
When my son, Mike, was dying I knew I needed help supporting Mike AND survive and thrive myself. I went shopping for a counselor. No surprise to you – I am not an easy patient. But I was willing to do the work. My shopping eventually led me to three counselors. The first, a friend highly recommended. This friend had survived leukemia with several years of chemo, stem cell transplant and heart surgery. His mental and spiritual health were shaken. I could see that this counselor had really helped him. I made an appointment. The guy popped Altoids Curiously Strong Peppermints the whole time. To keep himself awake? No go. Still shopping. The next counselor I knew from work. She was on my providers’ council. She asked questions. I answered. How did I feel…? I didn’t need talk therapy. I had family and friends. I needed a roadmap. How do I manage myself? The third counselor spent 5 minutes asking me about diet, sleep, exercise, pooping, my family, transportation. You have to take care of the basics to manage grief. Then he said, there’s stress you can manage and stress you can’t. Grief is stress that’s hard to manage. There it is. It’s not going away. Now tell me your top two stresses in your life right now. That was easy. On top – My mother. (That’s another story for another day). Tell me more. I told him more, another 10 minutes. Then he gave me three things to try to help manage the stress with Ma. I spent 45 minutes of the allotted hour with him! He was a keeper. I tried all three recommendations with Ma. I could pull off two. Rapidly less stress in that arena. Therapy from a master is worth shopping for! He’s still part of my team. I talk to him on the phone from time to time – like when I was first diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Read More
Apologies for the duplicate post. I changed hosts and lost this post in the migration.
My friend and story-teller, Susan Spivack, sent me this poem. Really spoke to me. I may be pathologically optimistic and live in a comforting, safe, privileged bubble, but I allow myself moments of despair, feeling sorry for myself, and overwhelmed with the pain I feel around me. Doesn’t this say it beautifully?!
WHAT RESEMBLES THE GRAVE BUT ISN’T
Always falling into a hole, then saying “ok, this is not your grave, get out of this hole,” getting out of the hole which is not the grave, falling into a hole again, saying “ok, this is also not your grave, get out of this hole,” getting out of that hole, falling into another one; sometimes falling into a hole within a hole, or many holes within holes, getting out of them one after the other, then falling again, saying “this is not your grave, get out of the hole”; sometimes being pushed, saying “you can not push me into this hole, it is not my grave,” and getting out defiantly, then falling into a hole again without any pushing; sometimes falling into a set of holes whose structures are predictable, ideological, and long dug, often falling into this set of structural and impersonal holes; sometimes falling into holes with other people, with other people, saying “this is not our mass grave, get out of this hole,” all together getting out of the hole together, hands and legs and arms and human ladders of each other to get out of the hole that is not the mass grave but that will only be gotten out of together; sometimes the willful-falling into a hole which is not the grave because it is easier than not falling into a hole really, but then once in it, realizing it is not the grave, getting out of the hole eventually; sometimes falling into a hole and languishing there for days, weeks, months, years, because while not the grave very difficult, still, to climb out of and you know after this hole there’s just another and another; sometimes surveying the landscape of holes and wishing for a high quality final hole; sometimes thinking of who has fallen into holes which are not graves but might be better if they were; sometimes too ardently contemplating the final hole while trying to avoid the provisional ones; sometimes dutifully falling and getting out, with perfect fortitude, saying “look at the skill and spirit with which I rise from that which resembles the grave but isn’t!”
~Anne Boyer, “This project was co-curated by the journalism nonprofit the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and its Puffin Story Innovation Fund.” ~https://billmoyers.com/story/poetry-month-what-resembles-the-grave-but-isnt/
My Aunt Kato (Kikke) Pomer (van Leeuwen) passed away this week at age 101. Kikke was a Freudian psychiatrist who began medical school in the Netherlands just before the Nazis invaded. She and her family escaped to the United States, She couldn’t gain admittance to medical school here because she was a woman, a Jew, and a refugee. A family friend suggested that she meet Albert Einstein and ask him for a reference. She did and he did. She graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and practiced in LA into her 90’s. Aunt Kikke inspired and encouraged me in nursing, advocacy, and in life. I’ll miss you.
My boy, Mike, died 15 years ago today (sigh). Here’s a link to a video of an interview with Mike 4 months before he died. (11 minutes).
This anniversary and attending the National Caregiving Conference last week made me think about being a caree, someone who is being cared for. My grandmother, my mother, and Mike were carees. Mike accepted his mortality but didn’t want someone to have to wipe his butt. That was a point too far. As a Holocaust survivor, my mother craved being cared for all her life, yet was deeply ambivalent until her last days. She fought for control and felt deep gratitude for a warm, kind hand. My grandmother wanted more care than she needed (in my opinion, not hers). I mostly sensed fear. I’m only just tasting being a caree. Read More
I just got home from the 2nd Annual National Caregiving Conference in Chicago convened and hosted by Denise Brown and NationalCaregiving.com. You know the drill – most health care anywhere in the world is provided by family caregivers and parents. The attendees, mostly active or recent caregivers, networked over their shared lived experience. Presentations about caring for elders with dementia was the most common thread and topic. Occasionally I heard chatter about caring for children or depression. Sometimes the stories of frustration, exhaustion, and loneliness overwhelmed those of gratitude, survival, and inspiration. It’s hard for me to hear too many of the painful stories and maintain my pathological optimism.
I especially appreciated the session about surviving and blossoming as a couple while caregiving led by Frank and Lisa Riggi – heartfelt, practical, and humorous. 10 Activities to do With Your Spouse Every Year – 10!, Only 10? I ask many caregivers, “How goes your marriage/partnership?” Faces fall. Cathy Sikorski‘s keynote, Preparation, Frustration, and Surrender…Boldness Throughout Caregiving was an intriguing combination of hands-on, funny, and legal. Imagine you’re talking to the Cable Company. Be Bold!
Did you know that a third of caregivers die before their caree? Crazy? Not really. Caregiving wears you down, while caregivers put their caree before themselves. Self-care: I loves that theme. This crowd seemed to self-care better than many.
The entrepreneurial spirit shone. My favorites: Carla Macklin’s Adaptive Clothing; Mekhala Raghavan and Angie Creager’s bathing aids and fall prevention (Waiting for production of their vibrating neuro-responsive fall prevention mat and their wash and vacuum the water shower anywhere system. I’ll try anything for fall prevention for myself and narrow doorway bathrooms are endemic in older homes); Quikiks Hands-Free Shoes (I’m always looking for easy, safe, comfortable shoes); and Shirley Riga’s book, “Tools for the Exceptional Parent of a Chronically Ill Child” published by Strong Voices Publishing. Check them out! I love to hear what works for people. Solutions from the trenches rule! (I receive no compensation from anyone mentioned here.)
I attended as a panelist for The Family Connection: Supporting Essential Care Partners as Patients Transition to Home, with Geri Lynn Baumblatt, Mary Anne Sterling, and Cathy Crookston. Most nightmares I heard at the conference involved transitions to or from medical care. I did hear one story of the transition done very, very well. It can be done. If you’re lucky it’s because one person made a difference. It shouldn’t be luck. Caregiving is hard enough.
Caregivers: How do you manage your marriage? When has BOLD worked for you? What’s the best transition you’ve experienced?
Honor the caregivers. Help the helpers.
I’m Disabled. Who labels themselves? Feels like crap. I applied for disability. Needed a psychological evaluation. Spent an hour with a psychologist. I spent that hour telling her about the effect MS has had on my life. MS is seriously annoying…. Came out feeling terrible. “Oh man, I’m disabled. My life has been so disrupted. I can’t do what I once did. Woe is me.” Lost my pathological optimism for a day. I’ve had to train myself over the years to feel sorry for myself. “OK 5 min, feel sorry.” Enough of that. It’s too boring. When I feel sorry for myself my symptoms are worse. Direct correlation.
Lots of people have it worse than me, much worse. Read More
The metaphor, Personal Health Journey, works for me. We’re heading somewhere for health whether on purpose or not. We’re never actually there. It’s continual – until it isn’t. Sometimes we have a map, sometimes we don’t. Map or not, we’re still heading somewhere: work, the grocery store, our in-laws, the beach. There’s always decisions to make on a journey: stop for gas, rest, sight see, go left, go right? Same with the health journey.
The journey is different if we’re well, acutely ill, chronically ill or dying. Our aspirations are different. When we’re well we either don’t think about our health or we want to stay well. When we’re acutely ill (now we’re a patient), we want to get over it. When we’re chronically ill we want to live the best life possible. When we’re dying we want to live as long as possible or live as best as possible OR both. The journey is different, too. For the well it’s Inertia or Select Personal Health Goals-> Act and Track->Deal with symptoms when they arise. For the acutely ill it’s Symptom->Diagnosis->Treatment->Recovery->Back to Well or on to Chronically Ill (thanks to John Mitchell at Applied Marketing Science). For the chronically ill it’s Disbelief->Grief->Get help (care and treatment)->Recalibrate->Maintain->Give back->Relapse (and back again). Read More
Who knew he loved penny whistles? The pianist who accompanied his cello-playing friend on piano for years told a story yesterday at his funeral. At Christmas last year, this father who I knew as awkward, serious, unemotional, religious, conservative, classical music-loving, got the church choir penny whistles and led them in a performance of Good King Wenceslaus. While the story was told, the priest pulled a penny whistle out from the pulpit and tweeted a few notes. “It’s there to keep me humble.”
I consider myself a good read of people. 50-75% of the time I’m spot on (That’s 25-50% spot off). It leads me to an occasional empathy-challenged state. A penny whistle can tip the balance.
Happy Father’s Day all you fathers. I love the father in my sons. Here’s to you, Cliff, a faithful reader of this blog. You’ll be missed!
I attended the Coalition for Compassionate Care of California Conference (#CCCC17) in Sacramento this week as an ePatient Scholar. Exhilarating, informative, warm, curious, inspiring, and tiring. I hoped to leave with one novel (for me) insight into palliative care; hear patient, caregiver, and clinician stories about their experiences; to hear how clinicians receive education about end-of-life conversations; to add to my network of patient/caregiver experts; and leave with a sharper focus for my #careplanning work. Amazing! I accomplished all five. I hoped to accomplish three of five (I habitually set myself up to exceed expectations). Read More