Sunday, July 27, 2008

Summer Savoury...

A long number of summers ago, I came across these wise words printed on the cover of a wedding bulletin.  They are well worth savouring by any of us who are caring for others:

In this special moment of life...

Think freely.    Practice patience.    Smile often.

Savour special moments.  Live love's message.  Make new friends.  Rediscover old ones.  Tell those you love that you do.  FEEL DEEPLY.  Forget trouble.  Forgive an enemy.    HOPE.  
G   R   O   W.

Be crazy.    Count your blessings.    Observe miracles.  Make them happen.   Discard worry.     Give.  Give in.    Trust enough to take.

Pick some flowers.    Share them.      Keep a promise.    Look for rainbows.
Gaze at stars.    See beauty everywhere. . .

Work hard.    Be wise.    Try to understand.    Take time for people.    Make time for yourself.        LAUGH HEARTILY.        Spread joy.       Take a chance.    
R E A C H  O U T.     Let someone in.      

Try something new.     S   L   O   W    down.     Be soft sometimes.    

Believe in yourself.    Trust others.    See a sunrise.   Listen to rain.    Reminisce.    Cry when you need to.    TRY LIFE.     Have faith.     Enjoy wonder.    Comfort a friend.
Have good ideas.    Make some mistakes.      Learn from them.

. . .  CELEBRATE LIFE!    

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Word About Words...

Some of you have asked about definitions for terms used in the blog so it is my intention today to explain them as clearly as possible.

But before getting to that, I would like to offer a word of thanks to two colleagues and friends without whom this blog wouldn't exist.  The first is to compassion fatigue specialist, Francoise Mathieu ( who introduced me to Blogspot and then patiently and generously responded to all manner of technical questions.  The second is to Janet Ritchey (604 437 9992) of the Burnaby Home Library Service, a talented photographer whose beautiful pictures graced the second and third posts and will appear again from time to time.  Both women are strong supporters of caregivers of all stripes and I am especially grateful for their support in this work.

Now, on to the words:

Burnout:    A concept to describe negative responses to a demanding work environment. Burnout is not just tiredness that can be relieved by a vacation.   Rather, it is a cumulative state of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual exhaustion that develops when there is low job satisfaction, high work volume and the perception of powerlessness in the workplace.  Burnout can occur in any occupation.  

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):     A normal psychological response to an abnormal amount of stress.  Known over the years as "shell shock" or "combat fatigue", it is now recognized as an anxiety disorder that can develop suddenly or over time in response to any traumatic event.  PTSD includes symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, nightmares, avoidance of things that remind one of the traumatic event, a sense of hyperarousal or hypervigilance and disruption of relationships to self, others and the community.

Primary Traumatic Stress (PTS):    Symptoms of PTSD caused by the direct, personal experience of trauma.

Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS):    Symptoms of PTSD caused indirectly by observing or hearing stories of another's traumatic experience.

Vicarious Trauma:  A form of secondary traumatic stress.  A cumulative and permanent negative change in a helper's world view as the result of repeatedly hearing trauma stories.  A natural, fundamental, negative shift in one's beliefs about the world.            

Compassion Fatigue:   Secondary traumatic stress plus burnout, CF occurs when helpers are chronically unable to renew their resources and become profoundly physically and emotionally worn down.  This erosion culminates in an inability to empathize with or feel compassion for others.   CF and VT can occur at the same time in the same person and both are occupational hazards for all helpers.  Most of us experience different degrees of these conditions at different times in our helping careers.   

Chronic Sorrow:    A normal, profound, pervasive, continuing and episodic grief response found in those with significant, permanent impairments and in those who love them.  The grief stems from the discrepancy between how life is and how it 'should have been'.  Because this discrepancy lasts until the end of life, so does the sorrow.

While academics still debate some of these definitions, the descriptions listed here should give you an initial understanding of words that will turn up from time to time in the posts.  



Thursday, July 10, 2008

Family Caregiver Retreat... October 17-19

You may be wondering if I've had a little too much sun this week, choosing an image of fall foliage for a July post.  But my reasonably clear headed intention was to use that incongruity to draw your attention to the new Caregiver Wellness Family Caregiver Retreat to be held at the Bethlehem Retreat Center in Nanaimo, BC   (Vancouver Island) this October.

This retreat is a response to the oft repeated desire of family caregivers to, "get away somewhere close",  to rest and re-create.  The Bethlehem Retreat Center is a 1 hour and 45 minute ferry trip from Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay or 2 hours from Tsawwassen to Duke Point.  You can travel inexpensively as a foot passenger and then take a $20.00 taxi ride to the Center on the shore of Westwood Lake.  Or you can take your own car - there are plenty of parking spots.  

The ferry ride provides a perfect natural boundary between the stresses of home and the peace of the retreat, yet it also allows a reasonably quick return should you be needed back on the mainland.

The retreat, itself, runs from 7 pm Friday night until after lunch on Sunday and there will be times of silent rest and reflection, times to connect with other caregivers and times to walk the tree-lined path around the lake,  curl up in a chair by the fire or fit in an extra nap or two.

This is not a religious retreat though the Retreat Center is run by the House of Bread Benedictine community and there is a lovely chapel overlooking the lake where one can sit in quiet prayer or meditation.  Our group discussions will focus on the emotional journey of caregiving and on developing a personalized self care plan to build resiliency to burnout and compassion fatigue.

Every caregiving situation is unique and sometimes it is simply impossible to get away from home, but I encourage you to at least consider treating yourself to this weekend away. Dare to ask for the help you need to make it happen.  (You might be surprised to discover how many friends and acquaintances want to help but don't know how.  Tell them that you need someone to stay with or visit the care recipient.  Someone to drive you to and from the ferry.  Someone to lend you the $200.00 for the registration.   Someone to take your loved one to appointments or to care for your kids.  Whatever you need.  

What's the worst thing that could happen if you asked?  They might refuse?  Try not to take it personally if that  does occur - others have their "stuff" as well.   Then give the gift of being asked to someone else.   And if you're too exhausted to even think about all that organizing, is there someone you trust who could do it for you...?  Or even part of it..?)

Although my husband became anxious and reluctant each time I went away on retreat, we soon discovered that, provided he felt safe with the temporary caregivers, he benefitted as much as I did from these short absences.  He ended up with a much happier carepartner and his world expanded as I shared with him, "...all the places I'd been and all the people I'd seen".  

For further information or to register, please email or phone me or the Bethlehem Retreat Center for a brochure.  My contact information is listed in the column to the left.  (Phone number until August 1st is 604 926 0609).  The Retreat Center can be reached at or at 250 754 3254.

And if you are a helping professional who would love to attend a similar self care retreat, please email me about your interest and,  if there is sufficient response,  we can look at planning a retreat for professional helpers as well.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Pause that Refreshes...

Years ago, there was an advertisment on TV describing the drinking of tea as, "a pause that refreshes".  I remembered that ad while drinking a wonderful cup of tropical green tea this long weekend and I thought of the many caregivers, both family and professional, who say to themselves, " I don't have the time to care for myself".  No time to pause.  No time for refreshment.   

It's true that few of us have an abundance of free hours to focus on ourselves, but self care needn't take hours.  It is possible to, "start small", and, if necessary, to continue that way for a while.  There are ways to refresh ourselves that take only a minute or two.   

Pausing to notice the veins in a leaf or the way a ray of sunshine passes through the trees. Slipping off your sandals to feel the grass beneath your feet.  Singing a favourite song from beginning to end.  Taking in the colours of fruit, vegetables and floral bouquets over a latte at your local market.  The small things are do-able.

I visited a wise grief counsellor during the years that my husband was ill and I knew that she understood end-of-life caregiving when she suggested, not getting out of the house for hours at a time, but finding five minutes three times a day when I could sit on the doorstep with my face to the sun.  A pause that refreshes...

Sabbath:  Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives,  by Wayne Muller, describes how the Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, periodically rings a Mindfulness Bell in his Buddhist community, Plum Village.  On hearing the bell, everyone stops and takes three silent, mindful breaths.  Muller suggests that we can all take these restful pauses throughout the day. We can choose any common thing to remind us to pause - the phone ringing, a stoplight while we're driving,  opening a door or a cupboard.  Whenever your reminder arises - stop, take three mindful breaths, then go on with your activities.  See how it changes your life to take these short pauses every day.

Photo by Janet Ritchey