Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Happy and Hope-filled New Year ...

There is no medicine like hope,
no incentive so great,
no tonic so powerful
as expectation of
something tomorrow.

Orison Swett Marden

A Happy and Hope-filled New Year to each one of you who supports or cares for others, be they patients, clients or loved ones.

Hope is one of the great gifts of a new year. The unwritten days spread out before us - wide open, filled with opportunities and possibilities.

Sadly, the stress of caring for others can diminish hope in many helping professionals and family caregivers. In a 1999 article published by "Health Care for the Homeless Clinicians Network", called Coping With Stress: Creating and Maintaining Hope, ten clinicians working with the homeless from different parts of the US were asked what internal and external sources of hope and inspiration gave their work meaning and how they sustain and renew hope in themselves and others. Here are a few of their answers:

Sources of Hope:

1. Self Knowledge: Knowing, trusting and depending upon your personal strengths.

2. Belief Systems:

- Religious - belief in doing the work through, and sustained by, a Higher Power.
- Philosophical - belief in a philosophy of compassion or The Golden Rule.
- Theoretical - belief in a solution-based, harm reduction model of care.

3. Care Recipients:

The inspiration that comes from the recipient's resilience, creative responses to challenges and appreciation of even the most minimal help.

4. Colleagues:

Colleagues' commitment, empathy, support and lack of condemnation.

5. Mentors & Role Models:

Both the desire to model the values of a beloved mentor and the hope to be a good mentor oneself.

6. Family History:

Working to help people overcome challenges experienced by our own families.

Sustaining & Renewing Hope:

1. Balancing work with personal time:

- "You can't give all the time and stay emotionally healthy."
- "You need time with younger people. They're the ones who renew my hope."

2. Seeking a broader perspective:

- Learning new things, trying new aspects of the work.
- Connecting with others doing similar work at a regional or national level.
- Travelling to other areas to see how they are approaching the work.

3. Taking time out to reduce stress:

- Exercising 30 minutes / day at something you really enjoy.
- Daily meditation or centering prayer, often during your mid-day break.
- Spending time in nature and noticing the endless hope & renewal of the seasons.

4. Having faith that you are making a difference:

- Becoming more philosophical about the work. Taking sustenance from beliefs like the old Chinese proverb that says, "A drop of water, very small and very soft, falling in the same place can make a hole in a rock that is very large and very hard." Or like Mother Theresa's belief that, "God has not called me to be succsessful. He has called me to be faithful." Or like the guidance at the core of Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer - to change what you can, to let go of what you can't, and to be wise enough to know the difference.

5. Focusing on the "small" positives:

- Listening with respect, touching the "untouchable", offering the basics of warmth, presence, focused attention.
- Celebrating and highlighting the baby steps forward with affirmations and creative rituals.

6. Reading inspirational materials:

- Pieces like Desiderata, Native American Prayer, or Water Balloon Fight or stories from your own favourite inspirational writers.

Now, for those of you family caregivers who face new losses every day, the notion of hope can be a distant and painful one at best. For you, I share again what I learned through years of caring for my husband - that the way to maintain the experience of hope, with its sense of destination and its fuel for continuing the journey, is to be willing to change what it is that we hope for.

With each loss we must grieve then reorient ourselves to a new, and often smaller hope - one more remission, one more vacation, one more Christmas dinner, one more night without pain. This can seem a poor substitute for the kind of hope we used to experience but it is still hope and it will carry us through the tough times much better than having no hope at all.

So, for all of you, may 2011 be a year of hope with all the strength and energy that hope can provide.

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