Working Together On Life's Issues

Advice Columns

"Caring for an Aging Parent"

Susan was completely exhausted. She felt as if she was caught in a raging whirlpool, fighting to keep her nose above water, but feeling as if she was being drawn rapidly under. There seemed to be no help in sight.

Her father was becoming difficult to manage. Ever since her mother had passed away several years ago, her father's health had declined. He was always a bit overweight and had slightly elevated blood pressure, but lately things were different. He was becoming forgetful. He did not take his health or his medications seriously and was eating all the wrong things. In addition, Susan was fearful that his driving was becoming worse. He was less tolerant of other drivers, and his eyesight was diminishing.

To make matters worse, Susan was beginning to spend more time with her father than with her own family. Her three children needed her, and yet, after driving her father to his myriad doctor appointments, grocery shopping and other errands, she just had no more of her left to give.

And now her marriage was in trouble. She and her husband had grown apart. They barely spoke. The children could do nothing right and her husband was of little help. She resented his ability to work outside of the home; his freecom to come and go as he pleased; and above all, the time he was able to spend with the children while she was away caring for her father.

Of course, by the time the children were asleep, she could think of nothing better than to crawl under the bedcovers and just collapse in sheer exhaustion. She had nothing left for her husband.

Susan, an adult child, is a member of the "sandwich generation," caught between the demands of household, family, growing children and the needs of aging parents. Along with membership in this exclusive club, comes the requisite feelings of guilt about thoughts of not doing enough for loved ones. The frustration brought on by aging parents who are not ready to give up the freedom of living on their own, driving a car, and coming and going as they please, can seem insurmountable.

If you are feeling like Susan, don't despair. You are now becoming a part of a process which will require cooperation and organization: cooperation with family and extended family; and organization of family needs, the needs of your aging parents, and of course, planning time for you. You must also define, with the help of your family and parents, what is best for everyone--and you must put yourself on top of this list. If you do not care for yourself first, you will be unable to summon enough energy to care for others. In the words of the airlines: "Put your mask on first and then you can help others."

Assess your strengths, and your weaknesses. Are you better at emotional support but horrible as a financial manager? Are you more capable of researching and comparison shoopping, but balk at the thought of visiting a doctor or healthcare facility? Your weaknesses may be someone else's strengths. You must learn to delegate, compromise and negotiate.

Gather personal information about your parents including: Social Security numbers; bank accounts; insurance coverage; financial means; namesof doctors and a list of any and all medications. Start networking with senior citizen organizations regarding transportation, support services, health care, respite care, senior centers and other help for seniors. Remember, this is a difficult time for your parents as well. The last thing parents want is to be a burden to their children. Take a deep breath, and another. Strengthen your own support system including seeing counseling for yourself if needed. Give hugs to your family. Learn to be forgiving--especially of yourself.

You cannot be everything to everybody.

"Manage Anger Before it Manages You"

Jim thought the world had a problem. Each day brought reassurances that he was right. His customers were rude. Drivers, especially on the freeways, were rageful and somewhat crazy, in his opinion.

He had difficulties keeping relationships because friends were not to be trusted, and they had problems understanding his sense of humor. They just didn't get his sarcasm, his teasing or his jokes.

Jim had been divorced two times and was entering into another relationship, which more than likely would end in failure and disappointment. Jim thought his daughters hated him. They barely tolerated his visits and were curt on the telephone. Jim just couldn't understand their rudeness. He would leave their homes feeling upset and frustrated at the indignations he thought he suffered.

He only meant well. He thought he was being helpful when he commented about their taste in furnishings or the fact that he noticed that their homes weren't particularly clean. He wasn't exactly pleased with their choice of husbands either. They reminded him of his poor choices in spouses.

His parents would say that Jim came into the world angry. His recollections of his childhood brought feelings of loneliness. He could never do anything right. He was just not good enough.

One might argue whether the anger was caused by nature or nurture. Was Jim really born this way or was he influenced by his surroundings? The fact is that we are all born with temperaments. Some of us are more gentle and easygoing. Some are more patient, more plodding, and slower to anger. Others are stubborn, determined and more assertive.
Nurture is also a contributing factor. Our home environment can also determine how we will view the world. In fact, by the time a child reaches the age of 5, his emotional and psychological well-being are set into place.

If you feel as if you walk through the world angry, it is time to learn some new strategies to keep rageful anger at a distance and to manage your emotions in order to turn anger into a positive, motivating tool of assertion. Begin by learning some relaxation techniques including soothing imagery to help calm down angry feelings. Reframe situations by seeing variations rather than taking an "all or nothing" approach. Eliminate words such as "always" and "never" from your vocabulary.

Learn to negotiate. Stay out of accusations. Become solution-oriented, rather than nitpicking at all the things that might go wrong. Remind yourself the world is not out to get you, but at this moment you are experiencing some rough spots. Stay out of the "I want it now" mode; become less demanding and more accepting.

It is normal to experience frustration, disappointment and even hurt. Don't let these feelings drift into anger. Remember the flip side of anger is sadness or depression. Anger serves to hide the pain. Anger gone unchecked is harmful to your health and well-being. It can cause strokes, heart attacks, and even raise your blood pressure.

Life is unpredictable. You cannot control the actions of others. There will always be some type of loss, hurt or frustration. You can, however, change the manner in which you let these events affect you. Controlling your anger will ultimately make your life a more positive and welcoming experience.
 
The world can be either a frightening place, or a pleasant place to live, depending on the attitude one takes. This doesn't mean needing to look at the world through rose-colored glasses. It also doesn't mean that one has to walk around with a glum expression and keep away from people.

Self-doubt and fear can prevent us from interacting with others until we become so removed from the very essence that is our deepest self that we become isolated. As humans, we were not meant to live in isolation. So the question then becomes, "How can we get our needs met in an often uncertain world?"

It is logical to want to reach out, to ask for assistance, to want to be loved and to love in return. But the nagging feelings of self-doubt and our lack of self-confidence makes reaching out difficult, if not impossible. Our inner critic has a field day, tormenting us with comments such as: "You would be made to look like a fool"; "You have nothing in common with those people"; or, "They would probably think that you are boring."

Richard M. DeVos once said, "The only thing that stands between a man and what he wants from life is often merely the will to try it and the faith to believe that it is possible." In other words, we must believe in ourselves first in order to accomplish that which we wish to achieve.

How then does one fill up the empty vessel of the self? The reality is that you have never really lost what I call our "inner treasure." It is my belief that we all have, deep within our souls, these wonderful treasure chests that keep very safe our personal traits and attributes. This is the part of us that is loving, compassionate and caring. This is the source of our power that allows us to take healthy risks in the world.

The task then is to silence the inner critic by bolstering and affirming that positive side of ourselves. You must be your own best cheerleader, standing on the sidelines, encouraging the team and urging it on to victory. Keep those positive comments coming!

A daily dose of upbeat, positive self-talk is one way to begin. Each day, look at your self in the mirror and say something positive, like: "I like my smile;" or "I make the best chocolate chip cookies;" or "I'm a good friend." I'm sure you get my drift. Do this at least 250 times in the week--oh, and be sure to write down what compliment you say. Keep that posted on your mirror. Every time you pass a mirror, mention one of the phrases you have chosen.

What would it look like to be your own best and loving parent? You would be supportive, caring, affirming and loving. You would search out, every single day, for at least one thing that makes you feel good about yourself. You would avoid perfection.

In addition, we can reach out to others with the sole purpose of helping them to feel better about themselves. Make eye contact. Smile.

You have the power to create a heaven on Earth by helping yourself and each other to become the type of person that you would like to have as your own best friend.

As Peter Pan told the Darling Children, "Think happy thoughts and you will fly."

It may be the season to be jolly, but for many people, the holidays can bring up losses, sadness and disappointments. Many of us enter the holiday season with fantasies often based on what we see in the movies or in a Norman Rockwell painting. The holiday joy that we are taught to expect often eludes many of us. Unfulfilled expectations and anticipated disappointments can lead to the "holiday blues," more commonly known as "seasonal depression."

How can we help ourselves to minimize the stresses of the holidays while maximizing our blessings? Perhaps we should begin with the true themes of this season, which are based in spirituality. This is a season of giving of ourselves, of taking the time for self-reflection, of consideration and compassion for the plight of others. It is a time to be charitable. It is also a time to be with people, whether with family, friends, or through volunteer work.

It might be helpful to try to anticipate difficulties that may arise from family visits or festivities. Try to plan ahead. Remember that simplicity is often the safest path. Establish a new set of rituals around the holidays. Sing songs. Tell stories. Write poetry. Paint a picture. Creativity, flexibility and openness to change can work wonders in letting go of expectations. Reach out to a loved one or friend and share your feelings, fears, and disappointments. Also remember to express your thankfulness for your blessings: a roof over your head; food on your table; living in a land of democracy and freedom.

Sit down with someone special and make plans for the holidays. Don't take on more thank you can handle. It's fine to negotiate, to compromise, to collaborate, or to even say "no!" The holidays offer many temptations, which, if you overindulge, can be dangerous. alcohol, overeating, overspending and over-exercising to fit into that sleek New Year's Eve dress, are unhealthy. You don't have to give up everything. Moderation is the operative word; a little can go a long way.

If overcrowded stores seem scary to you, try shopping on-line or through a catalog. A handmade gift or a handwritten note is always nice to receive. For some, holidays can magnify feelings of loss of a loved one. Tears are natural. A good cry may wash away your sorrows. Don't push feelings aside. Holidays are often a bittersweet and poignant combination of happy memories mixed with the reality of the present and the sadness from past disappointments.

Also try to lighten up. Light is a universal symbol of renewal, hope, faith and promise. Use it to your advantage. The night can take on a new glow with homes displaying holiday lights. Take a moonlit walk. Gaze at the stars or share a candlelight dinner. Treat yourself to a bath lighted by candles. Offer support to one in need, thereby lightening his load as well as your heart. Learn something about a different culture. Experience a religious service in a denomination different from your beliefs. Take a few moments from your busy day to meditate and find light in your own answers. Appreciate who you are and be gentle on yourself. Share your blessings or celebrations with someone who might otherwise have a lonely or disappointing holiday. Get involved in community service or volunteer organizations.

Wishing you and your loved ones blessings, health, comfort and peace of mind now and in the coming years.
 
 
The year 2010 is quickly coming to an end, and the new year of 2011 is just around the corner. Can you believe it? I can remember stressing over the New Year of 2000 and what that would mean to computers around the world. And now we are about to enter the New Year of 2011. What would you like for yourself for this upcoming year? What do you plan to do differently? What can you do to make the world a better place? What can you do to turn your home environment into a sanctuary of peace and contentment?

How about taking time to take an inventory of successes from this present year, and find joy in any achievement, no matter how large or how small. It is my opinion that the life we are given is ours to do with as we wish. We can resign ourselves to whatever comes along, or we can face life with passion and zest. Attitude is a choice.

There is a story about Robert Louis Stevenson which I would like to pass along to you. Robert Louis Stevenson was bedridden much of his life with tuberculosis. One day, his wife heard him hacking loudly and said, “I suppose you still believe it is a wonderful day.” Turning toward a window ablaze with sunlight, Stevenson responded, “I do! I will never let a row of medicine bottles block my horizon.”

Take a moment to appreciate the wonders in the world around you: the whisper of the wind in the trees, the aromas from a bakery, the beauty in a sunset or sunrise, the majesty of the ocean, the peacefulness of the forest after a snowfall.

And then, take another moment to give thanks that you are given another day, to open your eyes to opportunities to do something with this day. As my husband has occasionally reminded me, “the days go by whether we do something with them or not.”

It is time to take off the blinders of negativism and replace them with a positive attitude adjustment. As Anthony Robbins stated, “Our beliefs about what we are and what we can be precisely determine what we will be.” And as Dale Carnegie said, “Believe that you will succeed. Believe it firmly, and you will then do what is necessary to bring success about.
Enjoy life. After all, it beats the alternative!

Wishing you a new year filled with a positive attitude, the realization that life is filled with choices, and peace of mind.

Happy New Year—Make it a good one!

CAN YOU CHOOSE HAPPINESS?

My husband’s favorite motto is, “The days will go by whether you choose to do something with them or not.” “Do you mean that I can’t wait until Monday to start that diet?” I ask. I guess he’s right. Typically, for most of us, we wait until Monday to begin a task, however, Monday comes and goes and we are no closer to our goals than we were the Sunday night before. Then we browbeat ourselves. We give ourselves 50 lashes with a wet noodle and feel downright crummy for the remainder of the week. Just to feel better, we go out for an ice cream. That certainly does the trick. Now we can beat ourselves up even more for adding additional calories.

While this is not a column about dieting, this example certainly illustrates how we are our own worst enemies. We procrastinate, make excuses, lose the passion and then get depressed that nothing in our lives has changed. Well, I say, it is time to stand up and take action. We can indeed choose to be effective and happy each and every day of our lives. After all, the sun rises and sets. We awaken from and return to sleep. What happens in between affects how we perceive our lives. In other words, it is feeling good about the day-to-day activities, being connected to people, and apportioning time for ourselves which dictates our happiness or unhappiness. The question then becomes whether or not we can choose to be happy. I believe we can.

Here are some suggestions to get you started. First of all, I do not believe that good moods just happen. If we feel confident, competent, enjoy our jobs, and have a few good friends we are well on the way to contentment. Beginning each day with a smile, even if it is a half smile, helps tremendously. Appreciating what we have is also essential to happiness.
Getting a handle on stress will help to keep the doctor away and is a key to maintaining good health. I don’t know about you, but I know exactly where I hold my stress—it is in my neck. When I start to feel tightness there, it is an instant message that I’ve got to either change what is happening or manage it more effectively. Think about where stress settles in to your body. Some people complain of neck pain; some have headaches; others hold their stress in their stomachs, which can then lead to irritable bowel syndrome or other gastrointestinal disorders. Fibromyalgia is exacerbated by stress and is often brought about when we feel out of control. Others hold the stress in their backs. It is important to identify the stressors in your life. It is impossible to fight something that you do not know.

Start looking at the cup as being half full rather than half empty. Take an inventory of what you have going for you: a roof over your head, clothes on your back, a few good friends, a job, someone significant in your life, family. Count your blessings. Celebrate even the smallest of successes. Walk with your head high.

As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe stated, “There are eight requisites for contented living: health enough to make work a pleasure; wealth enough to support your needs; strength to battle with difficulties and overcome them; grace enough to confess your sins and forsake them; patience enough to toil until some good is accomplished; charity enough to see some good in your neighbor; faith enough to make real the things of God; hope enough to remove all anxious fear concerning the future.”