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Archive for April, 2014

What Do You Bother With?

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Figuring out a Purpose (capital P) is daunting at any stage of life. It’s a key piece of getting retirement right, but that capital P generates a massive amount of angst.  Purpose is supposed to be a “big deal.”  We want to “make a difference” and “give back” and maybe even “leave something for posterity.” All that’s fine if you can pull it off. But often, you can’t. I can’t. We can’t.

Then what?

Well, maybe it’s time to let go of the ego trip of the big deal “Purpose” and go with what you can find that you think is worth bothering with right now.  Sometimes, that’s definitely not a big deal.

I just got in from a walk.  It’s after dinner, and usually by then, the walk has either happened or it isn’t going to happen.  Tonight I walked.  Why?  Partly because the sun came out.  But more so because I worked in the garden today.  My back needs a walk every day to stay happy.  And the days it needs it most are the ones where I give it a workout in other ways–especially playing in the dirt.  So I walked.  Not because I’m trying to set a good example for others.  Not because I am committed to good health for all.  I walked because if I don’t, my back hurts.  It’s not Purpose, but there is purpose in doing it.

It’s nice when you have a sweet, juicy Purpose in front of you.  It’s exciting to know you’re involved in something bigger than yourself.  Making a contribution is the magic potion of self-worth.  But those big deal opportunities don’t come everyday.  But we still need a sense of purpose–a sense of worth–every day.

Think of these “bothers” as mini-purposes–something to give you a sense of direction while you are waiting for the big expedition to start–whatever it is.  Life coaches suggest that you do something toward achieving your heart’s desire every day.  That’s something worth bothering about.  But so is keeping the relationships you cherish in good repair.  So is taking care of yourself–body, mind, and spirit.  So is cleaning the garage if it’s making you (or your partner) crazy when you need to find stuff in there.  These purposes aren’t the epic endeavors we’re taught to look for, but they are better than nothing.  They are a place to start.

If you can’t see your Purpose right now, settle for doing whatever you can see that seems worth doing.  That action may help define your grander direction outright.  It may just be setting the stage for something else that does.  Choosing things to “bother with” everyday does help you zoom in on Purpose.  The things you make the effort to do over the days and weeks and months create a map of what’s important to you and where your interests lie.

So if you’re stuck on this Purpose thing, give yourself a time out and just find something to bother with for now.  If you keep committing to something day after day, your Purpose may well become evident in the pattern you create.

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Mary Lloyd is a writer and speaker and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.

Give a Caregiver a Hug

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Adult caregiving hijacks your life. None of us agree to do it because it sounds like fun. But when a loved one needs it, we step up.  Ongoing, it’s a daunting job; at times, it’s downright harrowing.  Once you are in the middle of it, reality warps.

An article published by the American Medical Association reported, “One of society’s greatest assets is the many family members who provide care to ill or disabled relatives.”  One study estimated there were over 15 million American adults serving as unpaid caregivers—in 1998.  And yet, the needs of those doing it remain unnoticed.

Last week in a single four-hour stretch, I spoke with three different women friends, each up to their ears in challenges related to caregiving for aging loved ones.  Each had taken on the caregiving role in addition to the ample responsibilities they still held as professionals.

The first was weathering a major health scare with the man in her life. She had taken him in when he got sick and then became his advocate through all the tests and procedures.  She was struggling to find the right boundaries in what she did for him.

The second needed to find a way to convince her parents to let the housekeepers, who were provided as part of their assisted living rent, into the apartment to clean.  Her folks said there was no need.  But she could smell their unit when she got off the elevator.  She’d been cleaning every time she visited and worrying in the interim that they might get evicted.

The third has been spending her own money for a caregiver for her husband, so she can continue to work as a college professor.  He has a non-Alzheimer’s version of dementia.  She has power of attorney and pays his bills.   His funds could easily cover the cost of the caregiver, but she thought she had to pay for it herself because he would have refused to let her spend money for that if he could still think.  Reality tilts in odd ways when you’ve been a caregiver for long enough.

It’s easy to think it would be different if you had to do it.  That you would draw clear boundaries and insist things be done your way.  But that’s the cruelest part of the caregiver role.  When it gets intense, you don’t realize the boundaries are out of whack or that what you’re doing doesn’t make good sense in the broader scheme.

It’s a lot like the classic experiment with frogs.  They did a study where researchers put a frog in hot water.  It jumped out to safety immediately.  But if the water was cool when the frog was put in and was heated gradually, the frog kept swimming until the water was so hot the frog died.

We do the frog-in-slowly-warmed-water thing as caregivers.  As the disease progresses beyond what we can really handle, we just keep going.  Our own lives evaporate.  We think we are doing fine when we’re not.

Three years ago, I became caregiver to my boyfriend when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Every day there was a new problem, and always one with which I had zero experience.  With each new side effect, I had to figure out something new that was needed to keep him safe and, hopefully, comfortable.  The volume of work was massive, and the possibility I might hurt him by not doing the right thing was terrifying.  Yet when friends asked me how I was doing, I’d say “Fine.”  I wasn’t being a stoic angel of mercy.  I was too worn out emotionally to find more honest words.

In an ideal world, unpaid caregivers would have mandatory breaks.  No one’s going to legislate that.  So it’s up to the rest of us to make a difference.  If you know someone who’s caregiving, do what you can to provide support.  A hug is a good start.  But then offer to do something specific.

I am all too guilty of saying “Call if you need anything” and leaving it at that.  For a long-term caregiver, there’s not enough mental juice available to convert those words to something useful.  “Would you like me to clean the kitchen?”  Or “Why don’t I sit with Aunt Irma for the afternoon so you can get away?” works better.

Caregiving is hard duty.  If we all remember this and offer support in all the ways we can, we can keep each other from ending up in need of care ourselves because we carried too big a load alone.

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Barbara Morris’s online newsletter Put Old on Hold.
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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and writer and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.

Solving the Symptom

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

For the past 10 days, I’ve been getting bids for dealing with water in my crawlspace. It’s been a great refresher course in the difference between solving a problem and treating a symptom.

To be sure, I don’t like having standing water under the house. But if I want to solve this for good, I need to think in terms of what put it there instead of just how to get it out. I can get it out on my own–a submersible pump and then the Shop Vac (both borrowed from my older son) are all I needed.  I got th water all out myself a week ago.

But after getting it “squeegee dry” on a Saturday evening, it was already starting to come back in the next morning. That’s when I started asking for bids.

I’ve had four different outfits look at it. Two had variations of the same approach in mind–because they were selling the same patented system (which I did not know when I asked them both to bid). That system is great at solving the symptom–water in the crawlspace–or more often, in someone’s basement. It just collects it and pumps it back out automatically, using a largely inconspicuous collection system.  It even has a double back up on the sump pump to be sure it keeps pumping under all circumstances.

My landscape guy suggested there’s enough slope on the lot that we can channel the water to a corner of the crawl (which has a concrete floor) via grooves and get it out with just a gravity drain. That’s lots cheaper and would probably be just as effective–at solving the symptom.

Day before yesterday, a general contractor I’ve used for remodel projects took a look at it. He really looked at it.  He checked where the drainage from the underground downspout system was coming out.  He looked at the outlet for the surface drainage.  He dug down on the lowest corner of the house to see what was actually going on at the foundation/footing contact.  Then he suggested a cost-effective way to solve the problem.  

The problem in this case is that water is using the foundation of my house as the easiest way downhill when it rains.  I need to create an easier way for it to go–and make the route next to the house harder.  It looks like we can do that for less than what the guys with the razzle dazzle system would charge.

What I do or don’t do with my water issue isn’t the point here.  How often do we “solve the symptom” when we think we’re really solving the problem?  The doctor says your blood pressure is high.  He recommends taking medication for that.  Symptom solved.  But what’s causing the high blood pressure?  Stress?  And undetected underlying medical condition?  You can help yourself better if you know and deal with that.

Same idea in a financial context:  You don’t have enough money at the end of the month to make the mortgage payment.  So you change that payment to earlier in the month.  The symptom is no longer creating discomfort but the problem remains–you’re living hand to mouth.  Why wasn’t there enough money at the end of the month?  Are you spending more than you realize?  Is someone who has access to your funds using them for a drug or gambling addiction?  Is your lifestyle more than you can afford?  Is someone just plain stealing from you?  You won’t discover these things if you just deal with the symptom and move on.

As a nation, we’ve become focused on eliminating symptoms instead of solving problems.  We vote to extend unemployment benefits rather than getting on with the reforms that are needed to get the economy humming on a stronger note.  We make laws about carrying guns and then leave the epidemic of mental health problems unaddressed.

As individuals, we can choose better every day.  Let’s solve problems.  That eliminates the pesky symptom but goes a whole lot farther toward keeping things on the right track over time.

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Mary Lloyd is a writer and speaker and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, please see her website.