This is a continuation of Susan McCurry’s chapter from her book, When A Family Member Has Dementia. The first part of this chapter showed up in November 11 blog, called, Push The Reset Button.
I will continue to break this chapter down into several day’s reading in deference to our time. I encourage you to re-read the brief portion of the chapter I shared to re-familiarize yourself with Madge’s story.
The chapter, ACCEPTING YOURSELF: IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO GET BACK ON TRACK, Susan McCurry continues to write:
Madge could not change her husband’s diagnosis, his progressive clinical symptoms, and her own reactions and even caregiving mistakes – combined with a commitment to do the things she could to improve his care was at the core of what made Madge a resilient caregiver. The path to accept and commitment had, for her, come through embracing the AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) philosophy. You do not need to be a member of AA, however, to be enthusiastic about the value of acceptance as a tool for improving psychological health. Acceptance-based therapeutic approaches have, in recent years, had a surge in popularity, and scientific conferences have been devoted to the topic.
Although none of these treatment approaches have been systematically tested with caregivers, they have much relevance to the emotional challenges caregivers face. Unlike many modern-day cognitive therapies, acceptance-based approaches take the position that feelings do not have to change before you can do things differently.
For example, the caregiver with depression does not have to feel happy before she can go to an enjoyable family event. Rather, getting up and going out to do something fun will increase the likelihood that her feelings of depression will be lessened. Madge was a case in point. She had many feelings of worry, fatigue, uncertainty, and critical self-evaluations. Nevertheless, she did not let her inner reactions stop her from giving her husband the best care that she could at any point in time, even when that best care involved doing something she was very sad about, like moving him into a nursing home.
It was not that Madge denied or minimized her negative thoughts and feelings. Rather, she accepted them – much as she accepted the aches and pains that came when she got out of bed in the morning – and kept going. As a result, Madge never got “stuck.”
When I finished this chapter, I literally said, “Wow.” Through a completely different set of circumstances, outside of caring for my mother, my heart has currently been very heavy about another matter I can do nothing about except wait it out. I’ve been in this exact same circumstance before, several times – let’s just say I’m not the quickest horse out of the gate when it comes to learning lessons in personal growth. What I do recognize in Madge’s story is I have learned to function even when I feel emotionally like crap. That is huge for this kid. And I will forever think and use the example of Madge accepting her plight, much like accepting her aches and pains that she experiences when she gets out of bed in the morning. She just keeps going.
What Is True For Me: In the years I’ve been taking care of Mom, I have participated in counseling/therapy, support groups, and devouring hundreds of books. Everything combined has put me on a path of learning to function while feeling emotionally like shit. I’ve certainly been able to do that with and for my mother, but when it comes to me and my personal life, that has been more of a challenge.
I have had the immature audacity to think that just because I’m a good little pilgrim in taking care of Mom, that I should get a special hall pass when it comes to my own difficult, personal circumstances, i.e., that the rest of my life should be a breeze and far easier. I have always wanted immediate results – just think of the character, Varuca Salt, from the 1971 movie, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, always saying in a whining voice, “I want it nnnooww!”
Thankfully, I have learned to sit on my hands, keep my mouth zipped, my actions tethered, and wait it out. Even when life feels like it has come to a halt, I know it hasn’t. Forcing answers or a situation to come to fruition isn’t the authentic answer. Letting life reveal itself in its own time, is.
So, uncomfortable as it is, I will sit with my heavy heart, live with it, and accept this is just the way its going to be, until life presents something genuine for me to say or do, and I trust that it will. Answers will come, resolution will make itself known, and it will be the right direction. Is this tough to do? Hell yes. But the alternative, by experience, is just not worth the push anymore.