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Posts Tagged ‘Coping’

How Do I Know?

Friday, June 27th, 2014

This post is mostly an e-mail from my sister Kathryn Winz, retired professor and part-time caregiver to two beautiful special needs grandsons.  It grew out of a conversation we’d had the week prior about how to know when you are no longer able to do what you’ve been doing effectively.  She did such an eloquent job of bringing an even larger issue to light–that sometimes the pros who are supposed to be telling you how don’t know themselves–that I asked her permission to use her words.

You remember how worried I was, when we talked last, about installing a deadbolt lock keyed from the inside, to keep Ezra from running away in the middle of the night? I installed the lock, even though there is a chance of a medical emergency in which I won’t be able to open it.  A week later Kelly told me this while she was cutting my hair: her Uncle Jimmy, who is 42 and has Down syndrome, needs another hip surgery because he has a difficult time getting up and down stairs. He and his 85-year-old mom live alone in the big old family farmhouse, where the only bathroom is upstairs. Isn’t your family worried? I asked. They have always been this way, and they’re fine, Kelly said.

Well, I don’t think they are fine. Nobody manages forever in such a difficult situation. So I scheduled an appointment at my local counseling center to talk about how to recognize signs that age has started impinging on one’s abilities.  I asked if they had an expert on the problems of aging, and the receptionist assured me that they did.

I met lovely, fragile Gloria in the waiting room. Her long silk skirt billowed a little in the air conditioning. She looked carefully around the empty space (it was late in the day – the receptionist had gone home), going down the short flight of stairs to look near the front door. She came back toward me and said, “You must be Kathryn.”

Her office would have pleased Bilbo Baggins, or Merlin. Things were arranged four-deep on every surface. Pictures of adorable children and grandchildren, toys that I believe belonged to the kids back in the 1970s. Mementos of travel. Diplomas from everywhere, including Masters and Johnson. I was looking at a rich, full life, I knew. I tried the leather chair, and sank so far I knew I would have trouble getting out at the end of the hour.  So I moved to the couch, and sank again.

I told my story. “Don’t borrow worry,” Gloria said. “Do you have your grandsons living with you?” No, they visit every weekend, I told her, again.

“How old do you think I am?” Mid-fifties, I answered. ” I’m seventy three,” she said. “I don’t worry.”

“Your daughter must really need help,” she said after fifteen minutes of somewhat inane conversation. “Are you able to help her at all?” Yes, I said, the boys often stay overnight with me. But I don’t know how I will be able to tell if that is not safe anymore.  “Don’t borrow worry”, she responded.  I wondered if in her intro she just picked an age one year older than the client in front of her.  Maybe she didn’t even know how old she was.

I remembered my colleague who in the final years of teaching his crime lab course made his students fingerprint each other for an hour every class for the whole semester. That’s all, just taking fingerprints, even after the messy process of inking had become obsolete.  He doesn’t even recognize his children any more.

And then there was another friend and long time prof who infuriated the dean because he could talk for an hour about anything, but when the hour was done, you couldn’t pull out a single point that he had made.

How will I know? How can I tell when I am no longer making sense and providing for others safely?  When someone grabs me by my spindly shoulders and says, “Get it together!” I guess.  Or maybe I won’t know, and there will be a disaster.  I won’t borrow worry.

But this is a legitimate worry and an issue worthy of a good plan.  So what do you do?  How do you know?  She and I had another exchange of e-mail where we took it beyond “asking a professional” (who might be beyond that needed awareness personally).  Professional counseling is good for many things, but for this, you need people who have known you for some time and care about you.  People who can say, “Your driving is deteriorating.”  Or “Do you realize you’ve said that three times since I stopped by to visit?”

This is the work of the courageous and the members of that advisory council need to be carefully chosen.  We need to find them and sincerely ask for their help before it starts to become a concern.  This isn’t a way of giving someone else the authority to limit our lives.  It’s the most effective means we have of accurately seeing reality if our own grasp of it starts to loosen.

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Kathryn Winz is retired and is a delightfully diverse fiber artist.  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 Mary’s 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.

Let’s Dance!

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

When was the last time you danced? Have you ever? Or are you intimidated by the intricate footwork and synchrony of the couple stuff on TV?

We all need to dance. Not just at weddings. Not just with old friends at a favorite watering hole with live music. Every day. It’s a good way to keep your body and soul on the same page.

I’ve always advocated walking. Walking helps you think and problem solve. It reduces stress. It’s a great cardio workout. Walking, at its most effectively practiced, is non-denominational meditation. As your shoes move across the land, you move closer to the forces of the Divine.

But dancing is another multi-purpose marvel for creating a satisfied life. The joy side of the coin. I’m not talking about the ballroom stuff where you have to follow prescribed steps and keep rhythm a specific way though. I’m not even talking about  Western culture’s classic “man-leads-woman-of-his-choice-in-movement-on-a-dance-floor” stuff. I’m talking about any situation where you move your body to music.

There are many more fun ways to dance than the stuff we learned was dancing in junior high. You don’t have to wait for a guy to ask you–or to decide on which woman you’re going to dare ask.  You don’t have to limit yourself to places with an official dance floor. And ballroom dancing, with all its choreographed steps and showmanship, is a long way from the real fun. So let’s forget the Dancing with the Stars stuff for now. Please.

Dancing is celebrating. It energizes your soul. It takes you beyond your mind and your aches and pains. Good dancing generates joy. And joy makes everything else better.

So find the dancing that appeals to you. Line dancing, square dancing, contra dancing, folk dancing, salsa, swing, zydeco—and that’s just a quick list. There are groups doing this stuff all over and many of them offer lessons before the dance itself to help you get started. Most of them have websites or else list their events on bulletin boards.

If you don’t want to break into an existing group, take a class—ballet, jazz, tap. That way, everyone is starting together. If not that, you can get involved in a dance practice, where the movements of your body are a form of prayer. The options “out there” for dancing go way beyond the foxtrot.

You don’t even need to be at a defined venue to dance. Dance while you’re waiting for the shower to warm up. Or while your coffee is brewing. In the elevator. In line at the grocery store. Wayne Dyer tells the story of a toll booth attendant who danced his entire shift every day. When you got to his window, you paid your toll at a dance party.

Dancing isn’t about putting your feet in certain places in a defined sequence with a specific beat with other people doing the same thing. Dancing is simply moving to music. And the music can be in your head if that’s all you have to work with.

When you can dance in a social setting, milk it for all the fun you can. A dear dancing friend and I liven up an evening by getting other people up dancing. Sometimes it’s women; sometimes it’s men. Those we coax out on the floor seem to have a much better time than if they’d just kept watching. And we do, too. The younger kids have one upped us on doing this well. Not only do the women go out to dance “uncoupled”(either alone or in groups of more than two), in under 30 crowds, you’ll see the guys doing it, too.

Avoid reducing dancing to “exercise.” That’s a terrible waste of a good time. When aerobic dance first made the scene, I took a class taught by a college instructor who specialized in folk dancing. Lord that was fun! (A classmate suggested all that was missing was a basket of fruit on my head.) Unfortunately, “fitness types” decided aerobic dance needed to look more like exercise. Now, even Zumba comes across as just another workout to music. If you want to get the most out of dancing, find something where the music and moving to it—i.e. having fun–are more important than reaching you target heart rate.

Dancing is not a matter of “knowing the steps.” Dancing is about having the guts. Find some music and start to move. Be a kid again—dance like nobody’s watching (because they really aren’t). You don’t need a partner. You don’t need lessons. If you don’t have music, use what’s in your head. Be happy. Spread joy. Boogey down!

This article originally appeared in the September 2013 edition of Barbara Morris’s online newsletter Put Old on Hold.
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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love. For more, see her website.

Bless the Caregivers

Friday, September 6th, 2013

The next time you’re stuck in traffic, say a little prayer for caregivers.  You probably know some personally, but even if you don’t, every one of them needs all the help they can get.  Caregiving is an impossible role.

When children are first born, taking care of them is pretty daunting.  You don’t know what they need–or want.  You don’t know how to do whatever it is that they are wailing for.  You are sleep deprived and shackled to someone else’s needs all day every day.

This is what it’s like to be a caregiver.  Except babies grow up.  When you are caring for someone as they advance into feebleness, usually because of some physical condition, you don’t have a timeline that reassures you things are going to get better.  To the contrary, in typical caregiving situations, things are growing progressively worse.

Babies will cuddle and coo to make you feel all the strain is worthwhile.  That’s not what happens with end-of-life caregiving.  Often, instead of gratitude, a caregiver gets sworn at and cursed out because of the nature of the decline.

Even in the simpler cases, where someone you love has a grave illness and you’ve stepped in to help on a temporary basis, you have no idea how long it’s going to take for that person to get well enough to take care of themselves.  And while you are doing that noble work, your own life is quite literally hijacked.  Plans you made get turned on end.  Projects you had planned to work on gather cobwebs and dust.  You cook what the patient needs not what keeps you healthy.  Even going out for a walk is not feasible.

Instead your focus becomes someone else’s needs.  And that someone, who used to care for you in many cases, is so far into the difficulty that they don’t even know what they are asking of you.  Often, a loved one does this work without relief.  It seems so trivial, this loss of identity–at least if you’re not the one experiencing.  But being sucked into someone else’s illness and decline drains your own energy and joy in life with alarming speed.

Right now I can name five friends currently caught in this kind of caregiving.  Two have husbands with Lewy Body Dementia (a form of decline that puts Alzheimers to shame in terms of the amount of “on call” attention the person demands).  One has a husband with a mystery malady that’s caused him to lose 75 pounds–and this man was not overweight to begin with.  One is caring for her mother as she deals with terminal cancer–and the mother/daughter bond has not been that loving one we all wish we had.  And one is dealing with a stroke-incapacitated alcoholic husband who could just as easily start the house on fire as take a nap.

This kind of caregiving takes an incredible toll.  You don’t know what’s going to happen next but whatever it is will not be fun.  Every new turn in the patient’s health creates a new sense of being inadequate.  So often you have no idea what to do–but you know you have to do something.

You end up on a first name basis with nurses and pharmacists, social workers, and therapists of all sorts.  You’ve memorized what is and isn’t covered under current health care arrangements.  And still you are caught by surprise.  Again.  And again.  And just when you think you are done for the day and are starting to unwind from the tightness of what’s being expected of you, all hell breaks lose and you’re in the emergency room until three in the morning.

Caregiving is hero’s work.  They need more support than they get from the community.  A lot more.  So at a minimum,  if you a lucky enough to be out and about all by yourself, doing what you want and having a lovely day, say a prayer for the caregivers.  Even if you are having a crappy day and are trying to please the boss from hell, put in a good word for those doing the caregiving work.  There is none harder.

They give so much and no one even notices.

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

Three Strategies for Deciding What to Do

Friday, July 26th, 2013

We all have the same choices when we don’t know what to do: Do something. Do nothing. Or do anything. I’m in the middle of one of those messy decision processes and, thus, have been thinking about when you do which of those things.

Do somethingThis strategy is the one most of us learned was right for everything.  When you encounter a problem, fix it.  Never mind that the fix might be worse than the problem, just do the thing that looks like it might work.  Sometimes, the result is absolutely, mind-bogglingly brilliant, but more often than not, if you really don’t know what to do, you create more problems than you solve by grabbing the first, and usually to most obvious, way to deal with the initial difficulty.

Rather than grabbing the first solution that comes to mind, consider the other two general strategies.

Do nothing.  If you really don’t know what to do, doing nothing may be particularly wise.  Sometimes, it’s just not time yet to do what is really going to get you to a better place.  Maybe things are going to change in the near future in ways you don’t yet know and the problem will go away on its own.  Maybe there is a key piece of information that you don’t have yet.  Maybe there’s a person you need to meet or get to know or learn certain things from before the best answer is possible and you haven’t even met that person yet.

Doing nothing is a legitimate way of dealing with real problems.  But that’s only true when you really don’t know what to do.  If you know exactly what has to be done but you don’t want to do it, that’s a different story.  That’s a matter of not having the courage, or maybe the initiative, or the sense of personal responsibility that you need to live life well period.  Not knowing what to do is not the same as not wanting to do it.

Doing nothing because you don’t want to figure out what to do is also a bad idea.  That form of doing nothing has a much shorter description–lazy.  Not dealing with a problem because you don’t want to do the work–mentally, physically, or emotionally–is childish.  (Well, maybe adolescent….)  As adults we need to do what serves our best interest–and by so doing make a solid contribution to the world.  It’s fine to choose to do nothing if you really don’t know what to do.  But if you do know what to do…?  Aw, come on.  Get on with it.

Do anything.  The third option is to do anything.  This is different than trying to actually fix the problem by doing something specific that you think might work.  Doing anything is experimenting.  Instead of settling for the most likely routine solution, you try something off the wall.  Instead of solving the obvious problem, you change the situation to see the problem from a different angle or through a different color lens.

Doing anything seems like the dumbest thing you could do, but sometimes it is the smartest.  This is particularly true if you’ve been doing nothing for a long time and are starting to feel terminally stuck.  Do anything.  Take some action.  It doesn’t have to be (and probably shouldn’t be) the bridge burning variety, but it still needs to be something unusual that you thought up and tried.

Here’s the situation I’m in where I don’t know what to do.  I have a dear friend who has been very sick.  He got well but then got sick again.  And got well and then broke his arm in a sports accident.  He recovered from that but has since had two more bad health things happen.

Every time he has a problem, let my life go dormant as I help him get through his health dilemma du jour–making meals, taking him to doctor appointments, ramrodding medical information gathering, being his housekeeper…and his driver…and…  These are not roles I particularly like.  I care about this friend, but this is starting to wear on me.  Maybe my willingness to help him is making him get sick for the sake of the attention.  Am I”enabling” his health dramas?

The “do something” answer would be to stop helping him.  But I don’t know enough to be sure that’s the right thing to do.  The “do nothing” is to continue letting him hijack my life whenever his health hits a speed bump.  But I’m about to the end of my rope doing that.  So I have to start looking for “anything” kinds of answers.  Today I took myself out to lunch when I had to run some errands.  (Treating myself well is a part if this picture that I do know I need to change.)

Perhaps the simple act of me being a bit less available will help him find a better path.  Perhaps not, but there are an infinite number of “anything” possibilities.  That feels a lot better than doing nothing and a lot less final that just walking away.

There is more than one strategy when you don’t know what to do.  Life is easier if you use all three of them.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retirement Is Up to You

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

It’s never too late to have a happy retirement. Really. Even if you are mired in debt, hate where you live, can’t stand the people around you, and have enough health issues to warrant a drawer full of prescriptions and a calendar full of office visits, you can still pull it out if you decide you want to.

That’s the crux of it–deciding what you want.  Third parties like the media and the healthcare system suggest that we should be pain free and taken care of once we reach retirement age.  And sometimes we are.   But the expectation that we can always be pain free and always be taken care of is a different matter entirely.  For a happy retirement, we are a lot better off if we learn to have a good time regardless of the pain level.  And we thrive better when we take care of ourselves.

That gets lost in the shuffle way too often.  Let’s use a backache as an example.  That backache is really starting to bug you.  So you call your healthcare provider.  They will most likely say “We need to see you.”  So you make a doctor’s appointment.  That might be in two days or two weeks.  Regardless of which, you will spend the interim thinking about that backache–paying attention so that you can answer the doctor’s questions perhaps.  Or maybe you just dwell on it more and more because it’s bugging you.

The day arrives and you go to the doctor’s appointment.  He/she may do a bunch of tests.  Or you may be referred to a specialist without much of an evaluation.  Then you wait two weeks to two months to see the specialist.  And during that time you stay focused on the problem, which seems to be getting worse.  But is it because it really hurts more or because you’ve been focusing on it like it was your career?

You see that specialist.  There’s a good chance that person doesn’t know what’s wrong either.  You’re referred to another specialist–and you have another wait with more of the same stewing about this health issue.

Hopefully, especially with a back issue, eventually someone recommends physical therapy and you grudgingly do that–feeling gypped because there was no surgery, no MRI, and no prescription involved.  And the PT actually works.

If we were living in a wiser world, we would have just found a bunch of friends to walk and talk with before we ever started thinking about seeing a doctor.  That “personal options first” solution might have let you avoid this mess we call a healthcare system entirely and gotten your back to full health much more quickly.

Same deal when we start to feel dissatisfied with who we are with, how we have to live, what’s going on at the neighbor’s, etc.  We look to others for solutions to all this stuff.  Someone else needs to change or else help us get the change we need from some third party.

But that’s not the real solution either.  No one is entitled to a perfect life.  All too often, we have that expectation that everyone should make it easy for us because we’re retired–that that’s what retirement is all about.  Why?  We judge and make demands or decree that certain things have to be certain ways just because we want them that way, and are incensed when the World doesn’t do it that way.

Why do we even think we need this deference?  Humans don’t thrive when everything is perfect and we don’t have to lift a finger.  We thrive when there are challenges.  We have better lives when we have to work at something, regardless of whether it’s a job or getting along with the neighbors.

It’s not always going to give you an instant solution, but trying to help yourself first always offers more solid ground to stand on.  You understand what’s going on better if you’ve tried to fix it.  Other people are more willing to help you if you’ve already done all you can to improve the situation.

But it’s not a case of marching over to your sister-in-law’s and giving her a piece of your mind.  Quite often, the most effective change is a lot closer to home.  The fastest thing to change when you are trying to solve a problem is yourself.   If you can get it done with just that, life is better and you are a better person than you were yesterday.  The more you do of this, the easier it gets and the happier you are.

Especially as we move toward the capstone years of our lives, we need to make more of what we want happen because of our own effort.  Life is good.  We can make it even better.

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

Good Versus Easy

Friday, June 21st, 2013

The tee shirts are right. “Life is good.” They are also right in not proclaiming  “Life is easy.”  Or even worse “Easy is good.”  A good life is not easy–at least not all the time.

More to the point, easy is not always good.

It’s important to keep these distinctions in mind once you start looking at retirement.  A good life is not a matter of finding the easy way to get through each of those leisurely days.

If you compare the two words in the thesaurus, they aren’t even close.  Synonyms for “good” are things like respectable, honorable, decent, honest, kind, stable, obedient, etc.(That list goes on and on.)  Words listed as synonyms for “easy” are leisurely, simple, and lenient.  “Easy” lets you off the hook.  “Good” puts you on it.

But we’re encouraged to take to heart the notion that “easy is good” once we are ready to retire. Please don’t.  Easy is not good.  Easy, especially for a retired person, is death.

Use it or lose it is a very real phenomenon.  It’s easier not to climb stairs–but when you don’t, there goes muscle mass you could have kept and aerobic exercise you really need to keep your vitality.  It’s easier to watch TV than go out and meet new people.  But TV doesn’t stimulate you cerebral cortex and talking to others, or even better, learning something new with them, does.  Being engaged in a community of some sort helps ward off everything from Alzheimer’s to depression.

But we still feel gyped when we don’t have it easy after we retire.  We want “easy” when we hook up the TV, DVD, or whatever electronic device currently has us buffaloed.  What we really need is the challenge we’re trying to shirk.  We expect “easy” when we shop and “easy” when we transact personal business.  We get irate when things aren’t easy.

We want to believe we are entitled to “easy.”  That is like insisting we are entitled to smoking a pack a day.  Easy is not good for us.

And good is not easy.  That’s why it’s so satisfying when you pull it off.

Give yourself the gift that keeps on giving.  Don’t let your life be easy.  It means you’re sitting on the sidelines letting your brain cells die and the rest of your body atrophy.

Life is good.  But–if you want to be good to yourself–it should not be easy.

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

Living a Hijacked Life

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Unless you are a complete loner, at some point, your life is going to be hijacked. It may come gradually, like when you learn you are going to be a parent. It may come with great celebration, like when your daughter gets engaged and you become enmeshed in wedding planning. It may come suddenly, like when someone you love has a medical emergency.

I am submerged in the third of the above-mentioned scenarios.  My boyfriend fell playing tennis last week and broke his wrist in “several” places.  He will have surgery later this week, after which he will be in a cast for three months, maybe more.  For the foreseeable future, he will need me to drive him to his appointments, tie his shoes, and yes, cut his meat.

And that means, of course, that the things I was going to do in my own life are going to get at least postponed and more often erased.  It also means that when his needs veer in an unanticipated direction, what  I’ve committed to for myself gets cancelled on short notice.  It really does feel like a hijacking.

I was raised in a family that values helping.  I do like to make a positive difference in others’ lives.  But I will not pretend I’m delighted with this turn of events.  I’ve been riding shotgun on his cancer detour for the last two years.  Before that, there were other situations where he needed my help  because of health challenges.  Just how often am I supposed to let this guy’s problems take over my life?  Am I enabling a “drama queen” with all this helping?

He was not looking for this kind of attention, I am certain of that.  He does all he can on his own and tries to help with chores even with one arm wrapped in fiberglass.  So no, I don’t think this is a situation that demands the tough love of walking away.  It’s life–at it’s most maddening.  My life.  And his life.  Intertwined as they should be when you are blessed to have in your life people you care about and spend a lot of time with.

When things happen to me more than once, I see them as lessons I didn’t learn well the first time.  This is one of those situations.  Maybe you can learn for me.  So what’s to learn (and do/no do) when your life gets hijacked?

  • Forego the martyr routine.  It’s highly over-rated.  Sure, you can’t do what you had wanted to do with your time.  But you still need to take care of yourself along with meeting the other person’s needs.  If you literally have no time for yourself, you can maintain your posture and make an effort to breath deeply.  Maybe a 5-minute meditation or a 20-minute nap is feasible.  I do laps around the hospital when I end up waiting there.  Find the things you can do for yourself and do them.  You are the only person who can totally deny yourself what you need.  Don’t do that.
  • Expect whoever has stolen your life to do as much as he/she can for themselves. That gives them as much dignity and sense of worth as possible and you a breather.  It’s tempting to scurry around trying to make everything right for that person, but that doesn’t serve either of you as well.  Even with children, this is the case.  A newborn is helpless and pretty demanding.  But babies who have alone time (in an infant-safe place, of course) learn faster than those whose parents haul them around and entertain them every waking minute.
  • Find the balance points.  If you are doing all the giving in this context, look for receiving in other contexts.  Maybe you get to watch the TV show you want together instead of letting him have his preference.  Maybe what you have for dinner is your preference instead of his (or hers).  This feels “wrong” because so much of the focus is on the “sick person” but trying to balance things where you can does a lot to forestall resentment and burnout.

When a loved one hijacks your life, respect your own feelings about that.  Yes, you want to give the care that’s needed.  No, it’s not automatically what you want to do at a specific moment.  When it isn’t, feeling frustrated or just plain angry is normal.  Find safe ways to channel that away.  (I yell in the shower but also find moving dirt helps.)

And see it for the gift it is. Yes, your life has been hijacked.  That means someone trusts you enough to ask your help.  You are a good person.  But please, be good to yourself, too.

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

A Nudge Toward Being Who I Am

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

At the moment I am on the road–with a guy who prides himself on not planning. I am a planner. A very good planner.  When I take charge of something, it gets done–right, on time, under budget…all that.

So far, I have not gone into catatonic shock in this effort to not plan, but I am starting to ask myself some important questions. As in “How much of this trip should I really be doing his way?  Am I denying who I am in an effort to “get along?”  And the really scary one–”What do I gain by not getting it my way when I don’t?”

Maybe they are questions we all need to ask ourselves every once in a while.

I decided to try “his way” on this trip just to see if I could learn to be more relaxed about how I travel.  But this version is a whole lot less relaxing for me.  It’s the same issue we have with laundry.  He thinks it’s easier to do it when he runs out of clean clothes.  I do mine so that I always have clean clothes–which makes life simpler for me.  I don’t discover I need a certain pair of jeans washed twenty minutes before I want to put them on.

On a trip, when he doesn’t plan and I don’t plan, we end up checking into a dumpy motel at the end of the day exhausted by what we ended up having to do to get that far.   We pay way too much for the lousy lodging.  We miss things along the way that we might have liked to see because we didn’t know they were there.  We didn’t tag up with friends and family living nearby because we didn’t bring their contact information along.  But we do have total flexibility and plenty of room for spontaneity.  So it really is a matter of trade offs.

So I guess that’s what I’ve learned this time.  It’s an either/or, both are fine thing.  But this “not planning” is harder, more expensive, and seems to me to net us less interesting days.  I’m not in favor of planning every second in advance–or even every day.  But thinking more about what might be part of where we are going and checking information about what that would add or subtract just makes for a more refined product–vacation.  But that’s me.  He’s just in favor of hitting the open road and seeing what happens.

So why am I doing it all his way?

Well…I said I would, and that’s a biggie for me.  I agreed to do this trip with minimal planning.  But there’s more.  I have spent two weeks making my own life more stressed for the sake of him having everything go the way he likes it–every day.  What’s with that?  Why am I not admitting what I need and asking for it???

It is with horror that I have to admit that I am still running the old tapes that I got from my mom…You know, the ones about the high priority of pleasing your man.

Argh!!!!!  That is not what I want to do.  Even worse, this is not what he wants to do.  But to get what I want, I have to be honest with myself and then have the guts to speak up.  Some lessons you keep learning all life long.  For me, this is one of them.

Hope this resonates for some of you.  I’d hate to be the only one flunking “me-ness.”

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

Re-thinking My To Do List

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Are you playing fair with your To Do list? I’ve been abusing mine for about a decade now and didn’t even know it.

I tell myself that I’m not a slave to it–I did finally see the light about the lunacy of “getting it all done at all costs” a while back.  But I’ve just discovered I’m stilling approaching that To Do list the wrong way.

I’ve been using it as a daily confirmation that I have worth as a person—salvation via getting a lot done.  And the painful truth is that this is just another perfectionist strategy—a way to avoid the pain of being deemed not good enough in someone else’s eyes by completing task after task after task, day after day after day.

To let go of perfectionism, you have to stop worrying about what other people will think.  I thought I had accomplished that–and in many ways I have.  But I still worship at the altar of “getting things done.” The wrongheadedness of this finally became clear to me courtesy of Brene’ Brown’s THE GIFTS OF IMPERFECTION: LET GO OF WHO YOU THINK YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE AND EMBRACE WHO YOU ARE.  The gifts she discusses aren’t consolation prizes.  Imperfection is actually a whole lot better way to live than all the perfectionist striving I’ve been guilty of over the years, including my worth-through-productivity mania.

Brown knows my game.  She too was devastated when she learned that a stiff dose of work ethic wasn’t a particularly evolved approach to life.  She refers to herself as “a recovering perfectionist and aspiring good-enoughist.”  She’s also a social scientist who’s been doing qualitative research on shame for much of her career.  That’s right—perfectionism is a facet of shame.  I’ve been driving 90 miles an hour down that dead end for decades!

The news was a shock, but also a big relief.  I’ve been frustrated for months about how little I get accomplished these days compared to three or four years ago.  I used to write a long list of chores for the next day every night, and then, bright and early the next day, I would get going on those things—roaring through them like I was on a mission to save the world.  Much of the time, nobody but me had decided they needed to be done.  In the vast majority of cases, if I didn’t get them done, nothing bad was going to happen.  But getting through that list made me feel like a superstar.  I was effective.

Recently, it’s gotten more and more difficult to make myself work on the list each day.  More and more often, I don’t even write one out the night before.  I’ve been worried that this meant I was losing my grip on my life. I can’t even get a simple to-do list done?

After reading what Brene’ Brown had to say, the dawn came.  A while back I asked the Universe for help to get wiser about doing what really needs to be done.  I thought that it was a case of rededicating myself to that daily list.  Until I read about her experience, I didn’t even realize the resistance to my To Do list mania was the answer to my earlier prayer.

Who says I have to get anything done?!  Who’s keeping count?  I’ve been in an ever-accelerating role as Simon Legree, meanly enslaving myself. That’s no better than subjugating someone else.

A few days ago, I turned over a new leaf.  Instead of that long To Do list, I jot down what I really do need to remember to do.  Then I remind myself that my day is mine to do with as I choose.  Yes, I need to honor my commitments, but usually, it doesn’t all have to get done “today.”  And it’s okay to change my mind as the day progresses.
Work is a good piece of life; it’s not work that needs to be eliminated here.

What I—and maybe you, too–need to stop doing is the frenzied rush through an arbitrary list of tasks that has become the default proof that I (we) deserve to be alive today.  I need to erase the notion that work—even meaningless work that doesn’t need to be done at all—trumps the less socially acceptable stuff like play and taking a nap.

“To Do” lists are great for remembering what needs to get done.  You do want them in your toolkit.  But they aren’t inflexible marching orders, and there is no correlation between the length of your list (with everything crossed off) and your value as a person. To be really wise, you need to use a strategy that includes knowing when to ignore them.

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 edition of Barbara Morris’s online newsletter Put Old on Hold.
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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of SUPERCHARGED RETIREMENT: DITCH THE ROCKING CHAIR, TRASH THE REMOTE, AND DO WHAT YOU LOVE.  For more, see her website.