According to several online news sources and social media, November has been designated National Muslim Appreciation Month by President Obama. Being a less than zealous fan of the current administration, I can very well believe this particular Presidential edict. However, the “news release” was actually a piece of satire from the National Report, a web site that publishes outrageous fictional stories such as “IRS Plans to Target Leprechauns Next.”
A devious touch at the end of the article was a phone number for the 24 hour National Muslim Appreciation Hotline. It’s actually a real number — for the Westboro Baptist Church.
Many “real” and serious observations take place in this month. Like Pancreatic Cancer Awareness, National Novel Writing, Alzheimer’s Awareness, Transgender Awareness, American Diabetes, Lung Cancer Awareness, National Homeless Youth Awareness, Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis Awareness, and Adopt a Senior Pet. On a more whimsical note: National Pomegranate Month and National Peanut Butter Lovers Month
Something close to home for me is November’s National Family Caregivers Month. According to Connie Siskowski, RN, PHD, and favorite mother-in-law of my pastor, there are more than 65 million adult caregivers and — surprise — 1.3 million youth caregivers between the ages of 8 and 18. That means millions of Americans taking care of parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
The National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) reports most caregivers sacrifice their healthy behaviors, such as exercising, good eating habits, and having regular doctor and dentist appointments. Many report weight gain/loss, depression, stress or anxiety, and sleep deprivation.
The NAC study also found that 43 percent of caregivers provide more than 40 hours a week of care. Of the 68 percent who had jobs when they started caregiving, 47 percent had to stop working or take early retirement.
And, who knew?
Many caregivers are very young people who have given up friends, outside activities, time, energy and sleep to care for a loved one. Dr. Siskowski, who was one of the top 10 CNN Heroes for 2012, was one of these youths. As a child, she assumed the role of caregiving for her 84-year-old grandfather. At the age of 13, she was sleeping in the living room, close to her grandfather in order to administer his medications in the middle of the night.
That year, she would be the one to find her grandfather dead. Her experience led her to found the American Association of Caregiving Youth (AACY), an organization that provides resources for this unrecognized population of caregivers.
Caregivers go through a roller coaster of emotions, such as anger, frustration, guilt, sadness, worry, exhaustion, depression and even suicidal ideation.
But there are remedies and recommendations to prevent “caregiver burnout.” First, learn all you can about your loved one’s illness; preparation helps reduce the panic of not knowing what to do in a crisis episode.
Connect with community resources such as companion services, Meals on Wheels, home health care, hospice, or respite care.
Ask others for help. If they offer even before you ask, trust them to be genuine in their desire to help you. Then, go shopping, take a nap, light a fragrant candle, take a hot bath, catch a movie.
Use relaxation techniques — yoga, meditation, massages, journal writing.
Make a realistic schedule of the things you need to do, and make sure you prioritize.
Attend a caregiver support group. Find comfort in spiritual services or prayer, and consider speaking privately with a clergy member. Seek counseling from a mental health professional if you think you’re mentally at risk.
Often, however, the effort behind seeking assistance is overwhelming for caregivers who feel they can’t take on one more “to do” thing without snapping. So, this good advice will go unheeded by many who take care of an ill family member.
Especially, if you’re a control freak caregiver who won’t let anyone help and won’t take any personal down time. But, at least TRY not to feel guilty about the things you can’t handle or have left undone. Give yourself credit for the devoted care you give to the person you love, but don’t buy into it when people call you a “saint.”
If your patient is angry, frustrated, and/or humiliated by his miserable circumstances and venting on the people who love him the most, it’s tough to respond to his bad behavior with saintliness. Just keep chanting under your breath, “He can’t help it; don’t take it personally.”
As one of the millions of caregivers to a critically ill spouse, I can relate to the challenges and to the love that fills my days.
In sickness and in health.
Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.