Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I Volunteer!

I have had a chronic illness since I was 21, and it has completely shaped my life. I wasn’t able to have a full-time career, I always have to negotiate what I want to do with how much energy I have, how much pain I’m in, and whether I’ll have the stamina to finish whatever it is. This is not an easy way to live but I’ve made my peace with it – for the most part.
The one place where I’ve had the most trouble, and I write about this in my new book, is the feeling that I’m not living up to my full potential. I have a lot of mental energy and focus, but I don’t have the physical vessel through which to channel it. I have had a lot of part-time jobs, or customer service jobs that don’t require an excessive amount of time or energy. The one profession I have had, I had to give up, even though I loved it and was good at it – therapeutic massage. I have struggled with my self-esteem and with wondering what I could do to make my mark, or use my mental abilities.

Taking on Dad’s care was definitely a time and energy commitment, but I was fortunate in that he could afford to pay me and other aides to care for him. I was able to quit the job I had at the time, and take him and his business affairs on as a full-time job, without the full time hours. I thank the Universe every day for this opportunity because I don’t know what would have become of us if he hadn’t been able to pay me. I doubt I would have been able to do as much to help him – and we may have had to ask the government to step in.

Once I had placed Dad in a loving Adult Family Home, I had a little more time and energy to once again feel the pull of doing something, being something. I also wanted to serve in some way since I’d been so fortunate in my financial freedom. I decided to volunteer and it has been the smartest thing I’ve ever done. It has given me a purpose, a vocation, and sometimes a reason to get up in the mornings, stretch my sore joints and get going.

Now I know, more than almost anyone, what it is like not to have the energy or the time to do what we need to do, let alone what we want to do. If you are a full time, full-on caregiver, I know you don’t have the time to spend time with yourself, let alone volunteering. But, if you are doing it part time, or your loved one has been placed in a facility, or has died – you might want to consider volunteering. Whether it’s with an organization that represents the illness your loved one has/had, or another cause you feel strongly about, or your local food bank or other charity organizations.

I started out with hospice work, then switched to bereavement counseling, then to the Lewy Body Dementia Association as a call counselor. (And the best thing about that last one was that I could make calls from home, so I didn’t have to wear myself out going somewhere!) I really love being able to be of service to others, and I hope I’ve made a difference in some lives. If you have the time, or are facing the next stage of your life, I hope you consider volunteering – there are so many organizations and foundations that would be overjoyed to have your time.

Monday, June 1, 2015

What to Do, What to Do?

It's Summer again, and it looks like its going to be a great one. This is the time of year when we want to go outside, do fun stuff, and generally enjoy our world. When you're a caregiver, it can be hard to find things to do with your loved one, either because it's not safe, or you've just run out of ideas.

Summer was always the best time for me and Dad when we lived together. He could swim in the lake, we took lots of walks at the various parks in our area, we even went biking and rollerblading a few times! He's too frail to go out much now but I do still really enjoy when they take him outside to the patio to enjoy the sun, the fresh air, and the gorgeous flowers at his home.

If you are struggling to find things to do with your care receiver - and they are still mobile - keep it simple. Take a walk or an easy hike, feed the ducks, go canoeing, plant a container garden, or visit one or more of the tourist attractions in your area. There are more and more Alzheimer's Cafes in bigger cities. It may surprise you to know how many programs your local county, city, or Parks Department have that you could do together. I also highly recommend Judith Levy's excellent, Things to Do With Your Parent Who Has Alzheimer's Dementia.

Whatever the level of ability of your care receiver, try to find something fun and interesting you can do together, or something you can involve them in so you can have some valuable time off. But if, like my Dad, your care receiver isn't able to do much, don't underestimate the value of sitting together outside, with a cold drink, fresh air, a garden... and your cowboy hat.

If you are in the Seattle/Pacific Northwest Area:

Seattle Parks and Recreation has several great programs, including volunteering, farm visits, zoo and other walks and fitness. They sound amazing! Contact Cayce Cheairs at Cayce.cheairs@seattle.gov or 206-615-0100

Alzheimer's Café's, www.alzcafes.org:

Tutta Bella Pizzeria
4918 Rainier Ave S., Seattle
Second Thursday 3:30-5:00

Luther's Table
419 S 2nd St, Renton
Third Thursday 3:30-5:00