We made it!!!  Last evening we returned from Kentucky traveling 10.5 hours — under overcast skies dropping periodic showers on us as we traveled — all 10.5 hours.  Then, two miles from our home, the sun broke through.   Traveling can be wonderful, thrilling, entertaining, full of comfort with family that is loved very much, and still, coming home feels good. 

Then there was the mail to be opened.  Two pieces of mail in particular dampened my enthusiasm to be home more than the showers had dampened our travel that day.   Both were Caregiver irritants.  The first was another in the seemingly endless array of medical insurance claims denied because someone had a wrong code or a wrong insurance ID number or hadn’t communicated information in the left hand to the right hand or because this Caregiver didn’t get the right information to the right person at the right time.

The second piece of mail that dampened my spirits was what appeared to be a summons for Mary Ann to serve on a jury.  The form to be filled out looked as if someone had printed some sort of printer test page with bar codes and fonts both tiny and bold. 

Now, I am a reasonably intelligent person.  I graduated eighth out of three hundred twenty-five in my high school class.  I tied one other student with the highest numbers on my college entrance exams.  I got a 31 composite score on my ACT and a 34 (out of 36) on the quantitative portion of the test.  I spent eight years in college and seminary, learning to read Hebrew, Greek, Latin and German.  I went back to school and got a Doctor of Ministry degree after ten years of working.  Why am I so intimidated by health insurance forms and jury summons and keeping track of pills in their little plastic holders and making sure that prescriptions are obtained or renewed before the pills run out. 

Why is it that little things seem to have so much power to ruffle my feathers.  So the person who got my order for two pieces of white meat sent me home with a thigh and a wing instead of a breast and a wing.  I actually called and complained (got a free meal out of it).  Things that are of no account in the grand scheme of the universe seem so huge and frustrating.  I have dealt with tough issues hundreds of times over the years, helped families through major crises, worked through substantial budgets, been through crises myself more than once.  Why should I now be undone by chocolate squished in Mary Ann’s hands and on clothes that can easily be Spray and Washed. 

Whether it is verifiable scientifically or not, I am convinced that people have just so much coping capability.   As Caregivers, we live in a chaotic world in which things can change in moments.  We have absolutely nothing to say about what happens to us.  We can do everything it makes sense to do so that there will be a certain outcome.  We actually have no say in what outcome results.  Every time something happens that throws that truth in our face, every time events take an unforseen turn, we are forced to use up some of our coping skills. 

Any of us who have been caring for a Loved One for some time understands that we have pretty much nothing to say about what happens.  Parkinson’s in particular is unpredictable in how it will present itself and how it will proceed.  Lewy Body Dementia is especially insidious in that dramatic changes can take place for the better or for the worse (mostly the worse) at any time, at any pace.  Other diseases have different patterns but no less power to use up a Caregiver’s coping ability. 

So, what can we do in the face of the harsh reality that we are out of control, we are completely powerless to order our world?  We live in total chaos. 

If it is little things that can now undo us, since we have used up all our coping ability on the big things, how about trying to beat this powerlessness at its own game?  If little things can undo us, why not use little things to create some semblance of order in our lives?  Why not create little pockets of control in our lives to suggest to our insides that we actually can survive the chaos — we can refuse to give it the power to unravel us completely.

Here is how I fight the chaos, the feelings of powerlessness.  This will sound stupid and silly, but it helps me survive.  I clean the commode every morning.  I make the beds and fold the corners so that they will not trip Mary Ann when she walks around the foot of the bed.  I fold the chuk that was under the commode, move the clean commode to the foot of my bed.  I roll the lift from the living room where it spends the night into the bedroom to the foot of my bed.  I get Mary Ann’s pills which, every Saturday, I put in the little compartments in which they always go.  I set the pill timers.  I change Mary Ann’s night time pad (like Depends) for a day time pad (each holds a different quantity of liquid).  I get her dressed, velcro shoes for when we are out, making bathroom changes of pads go more quickly.  And so it goes. 

If we can’t control the big things, we can control some things.  When people came in struggling with mild depression (I referred those in deep depression), one suggestion I made was to make a list of just two or three simple things that they could easily do, tiny things.  I suggested making the list and checking off those silly little items when they were done.  Depression seems to come when we have the sensation that we are powerless to do anything about our situation.  My goal was to help them re-train their thinking, their gut, so that some small sense of control returned.

Most people who talked with me about problems that were overwhelming them heard the same suggestion.  Make a list of all the pieces of the problem that seems so overwhelming — usually there were multiple problems converging.  Then take the list and divide it into two lists. In one column, put the things you don’t have the power to control or change.  In the other column list the things that you can actually affect in some way.   The first list for those whose view of reality gives this weight, is the prayer list.  For those who don’t find that a meaningful option, it is the list of things to take off your plate of things to do.  Any energy spent on them is wasted.  If you had the power to change them you would have long ago.  Let them go! 

The second list is the “to do” list.  Take all the time and energy that has been wasted on things over which you have no control, get off your butt and do one of the things on the second list.  If it is too big to do, do something, anything, any part of the thing that is too big. 

Yes, I am a list maker.  Yes, I have put something on the list after I did it so that I could check it off.  Do whatever works for you to help you find some level of control in the face of things over which you have no control. 

Caregivers feel powerless because we are powerless — but not completely powerless.  Our job is to figure out what we can and can’t do, then do what we can and let go of what we can’t.  What is surpising to me is how often it turns out that the little things I could actually do did make a difference — more difference than I thought possible.  

 If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

Advertisements