As featured in North Hawaii News May 13, 2019
I usually spend little time worrying about fitting in with the expectations of others and prefer to do things my own way. It seemed to me that conformity was for those who were busy trying to perfectly match themselves up to the rest of the world and there was no place in that for me. I now understand that individuality requires its own precise energy, which is where perfectionism snuck up on me.
When we become the primary caregiver for an adult loved one, there are so many combinations of issues to manage that there is no single path one is to follow. Most people bounce around through this river of change, making mistakes and eventually eliminating the awkward edges of mishaps that happen along the way. Trips to the emergency room and emotional outbursts are hard on everyone involved, so caregivers tend to try to narrow their world into their own perfect flow of function.
This desire to perfect every action around us in order to stop getting emotionally bumped and bruised is very normal, but not necessarily healthy for the relationships involved in caregiving. Accepting the way we feel through those rough patches while allowing imperfection is all part of the journey. I personally have a hard time when I can’t please every older adult, family member, employee and agency that I’m involved with.
The challenge with this type of perfectionism is that I can get frustrated toward myself and those working with me if things end up even slightly uncomfortable for those we are trying to help. I have seen this same desire in many caregivers as they interact with their loved one and discuss their needs with us. The perception of being responsible for making the other person’s life experience as perfect as possible is a burden that many of us must let go of.
I recently saw a movie in which the main character said something about not wanting to be considered perfect because that leaves no room to grow. That really struck a cord with my newly self-aware self. Being confident in ourselves and our own actions is far more important than getting it right every time, and is imperative to standing tall in our beliefs. We must honor and build upon the inner voice that truly believes in what we stand for through both the smooth days and the rough patches.
Ideas of perfection can also be pushed on us by those around us. I believe it is critical to set clear boundaries with those in our lives who use intimidation and criticism to try to get us to bend in their direction. These strategies distract from what we value in our relationships and leave us feeling like a disappointment, even when we know we didn’t do anything wrong. This tactic does not create authentic relationships, as we only truly have someone in our corner if they have arrived there out of mutual respect and understanding.
In speaking with a caregiver who had finally had enough of her mother-in-law’s criticism and found inner strength as both an individual and a wife, I got the mental image of her taking the bull by the horns and pushing back against both internal and external pressure to excel at caregiving. Holding firm to the boundaries of how we will allow ourselves to be treated will help us all take the power back. So even if you are like me, and create your own bull’s worth of pressure on yourself, please consider that it is all in our own mind and the only things we can do is give it our very best, every day, and honor ourselves and those around us for showing up.
As featured in North Hawaii News April 8, 2019
Last month I reviewed the past five years of Kupuna Transitions articles and gave some condensed thoughts about some of the topics that had come up over that span of time. There was too much content for one month’s column, so I’d like to zero in on some options for those helping an individual with cognitive challenges.
When someone demonstrates signs of memory impairment, it is often family and friends who do step in and offer help. The individual’s medical professional is usually the first place they start, and I hope loved ones will continue to seek support through organizations like the Hawaii County Office of Aging and local Alzheimer’s Association expert Patrick Toal, as well.
Community resources are critical, as there are choices that need to be made regarding care and living arrangements, along with legal documents that need to be put in place. Many people feel that they are smart enough to be able to tackle these things on their own, but what they may not consider is the power of experience. Therefore, educating oneself through the guidance of professionals can be a great help based on tried and true approaches. Support groups also provide camaraderie and tips to help the person who is helping others.
Collaboration in family caregiving situations is also very important. Being on the same page as many different personalities come together is not simple. Finding common ground based on their love for someone needing help is essential, and supporting each other through this dynamic does improve the whole experience. Even if you don’t always agree on the best course of action, honoring each other’s ideas and gently stating your own reasons behind your choices can be a good starting point.
Often there is a primary care giver who holds on to the reigns of responsibility and has a hard time utilizing the support around them. Sometimes they feel they are the only one who can do it all correctly. Learning how to let go of the idea that they are now scripting the other person’s life story will hopefully help that individual allow others to feel valuable to the situation.
Being in a 24/7 dynamic with a loved one who needs our full attention and support can also shift the balance of the relationship, as there is so much to be responsible for. We often help someone based on meaningful past experiences that connect us to each other, so reflecting upon and discussing those good times will help keep the true nature of the relationship in a positive light. If they get all of the details wrong, avoid confusing them with the facts and join them in their world. They say that ignorance is bliss for a reason, so let their mind take them where it may if it feels good to them.
It is also helpful to remember that the individual did not ask for this and is on a challenging journey of their own. Bad behavior in those with some type of dementia is not personal, but rather a symptom of the disease. If it feels difficult to offer kind and patient support, that is a clear sign that you are in too deep and are doing too much. Time away from the care situation can be very nourishing, and can help you return to the house with a lighter approach.
I hope these words are helpful, and wish you all humor amid the chaos of care!