Caregiving 101: Sometimes, you have to hit the ground lounging

After nearly three months of going nonstop seven days a week while taking care of my father after he suffered two strokes, I found myself with three unscheduled hours in the middle of a day last week.

My first thought was a nap, but because it was early in the day, I wasn’t that tired. It was then that I took off my sneakers to relax and caught sight of my neglected, half-polished toes. It had been months since I had been to the salon. “I could go get a pedicure,” I thought.

The go-go-go side of my brain, trained from these long hours and many miles of being a caregiver (running two businesses, and trying to keep up with two houses and yards and multiple pets) said, “I don’t have time.” And then, I nearly burst into tears. “Seriously,” some small part of me said, “I don’t have time for myself? I don’t have time to take care of me?”

I knew then I HAD to go get that pedicure. I hadn’t read a book or magazine in many months. The winter had been hard on me. I got really sick in December and I had fallen on some ice in January, seriously injuring my back and a knee. Both required long recovery periods.

I needed some time to just sit and breathe and maybe do nothing while someone spoiled me with a sweet touch and added some beauty and color to my life.

I took a book I was excited to start and headed for a salon. The wait there was long and I walked out in frustration. I Googled another salon and found it was almost empty. The woman took me to a chair in the back where I put my feet in wonderful-smelling warm water and she turned on the massaging, vibrating chair. There wasn’t another soul back there; everyone else was up front getting manicures.

She said it would be about five minutes before someone got to me. It was more like 25. I read many pages in my book, my mind immersed in the glorious Kennedy years of the 60s before his assassination and far from medical procedures and various types of therapies. And for part of that time, I just sat and breathed with my eyes closed. And maybe sensing my need, the woman who did my pedicure quietly gave me an extra long foot and leg massage. I can’t describe how refreshing that was.

The next day, I hopped back on the hamster wheel of appointments with a different attitude, in beautiful sandals and with a spring in my step. I started thinking of ways I could get some breaks in each day, even small ones, just a little time for myself to refresh, renew and restore my exhausted spirit.

I thought back to a text conversation with a friend a few days earlier where he told me he was sitting outside for hours after work. I recalled my outdoor recliner, folded up on my porch collecting dust since fall. The weather had turned warm while I was constantly on the go – driving, running errands, taking my dad here and there, researching treatments and medications, interviewing specialists.

I got that chair out the first chance I had and sat in the sun for just 15 minutes, reclining with my feet up. I was revived for the rest of the day. I am finding time each day to do this now. And every time I see my chair, even when I don’t have time to sit it in right away, I smile. The same thing happens when I see my beautiful toes.

I was texting with the same friend one morning a few days later. The night before, when I told him how tired I was, he told me to get some sleep and then hit the ground running the next day. That morning, he asked what I was doing. I was sitting outside in my chair, watching my German Shepherd romp happily in the grass, and I told him so. And then I added, “So, you could say I am hitting the ground lounging.”

And that’s when the message really hit home. You have to care for you and love yourself every day, which I usually do, but it’s especially important, even crucial, when you’re caring for someone else.

I am tired today, but instead of running my dad around for his errands without a break, I took him to breakfast and we just sat and talked and breathed for a time. And then I took him to his house to rest before our afternoon appointments, and I am writing, one of the things I most love in my life. We’re both having the better day for it.

 

I wish you much peace and love today. And as always, if this resonates with you, please share it with your family and friends.

Life 101: Is yours what you really want it to be?

I’m down for the count with a minor illness, which always makes me more contemplative than usual.

I quit my soul-sucking, bleeding-the-life-out-of-me job nearly two years ago to try to live a better life. People have asked me how I did that and/or why. The job, which I had loved for quite a few years, just became something I didn’t.

Less than two years before that, my younger brother (whom I adopted as my own, and he me, when we were in our teens) and my mother died, both of them unexpectedly, just nine weeks apart. Couple that with the death of two beloved German shepherds, one three months before my brother died and another just eight days after my mother died. That six-month period – which included getting two new dogs after the one died and finding out one of them was terminally ill just weeks after I got them – shook me to my very core.

After I wandered around in a fog of grief and pain for several months, my mind started asking questions, just a few of which I will mention here because they are important.

Why did all of my beloved family members die well before their time should’ve been up? They had hopes and dreams and things they were living for and boom, it was over, and all of those hopes and dreams were gone and wasted.

That led to: What do I still want to do with my life? What things do I really want to experience before I die? What places do I really want to go? Who are the people I really want to meet? Are there any things that I really want to purchase? And are there changes I want or need to make to make my life the best it can be before I die?

Answers came quickly. What to do about each of them took longer.

The first thing that came to my mind was Star Trek. Really. I remembered watching “The Original Series” when I was a child, when it was on in syndication. I loved it so much. That got me thinking about what I truly loved that I needed more of in my life and what I didn’t that needed to go out of my life.

Before Star Trek, when I was younger, I saw the animated “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” for the first time. I realized immediately that I was a misfit toy and that there were other misfit toys out there for me to be with who would accept me and love me for me. I just had to find them.

Spock made me feel the same way, but on a deeper level. He helped me know that I would find my place in the world, even though I was different from others, and I would find people who would not only accept me but even adore and care about me just the way I am. That was profound and it echoed throughout my life, as it continues to do to this day.

Well, there it was, the answer to question one: Star Trek. I had watched “The Next Generation” when it was on television, but since I had given up TV for other pursuits, I hadn’t seen any of the other series. My first goal was to watch them all.

That first revelation happened to come to me in December, just in time for a new year. I only make one resolution every year. (You can read more here about that.) I decided to watch everything Star Trek I could get my hands on, starting with all the series, every episode, and then move on to the movies and then any documentary I could find. I started Jan. 3 and I finished Dec. 27. I watched at least one Star Trek episode every single day. I had daylong and even weekendlong marathons. It was glorious.

In February, I starting thinking about those conventions they used to have. Surely they didn’t still happen, did they? A little Internet research showed they did and that the longest (in terms of days), biggest one (in terms of number of celebrity guests) was in Las Vegas. A few more clicks and a not-so-small amount of money purchased me a Gold ticket for that very year, at the end of July/beginning of August.

That trip changed my life. I had found my Island of Misfit Toys, my tribe, my new family. I was home. (You can read more here about that.) I now go every year and it restores my mind, body and soul.

Next, I started focusing on my health. I had been in a car accident less than a year before my family losses. I still wasn’t 100 percent recovered, and all the grief had halted my healing in its tracks. I started working on getting better and losing weight. That has been a long journey in its own right, but I still work on it every day. (That’s another post for another day.)

Next, I quit that job and moved across the country to live near my father and spend time with him while he still has time left on the planet. There have been ups and downs in this new life, and some hard times, but I’m now in a much better place than ever.

I’m now a freelance writer who writes what I want for whom I want when I want. I’m not making a lot of money, not like when I was managing four newspapers for a multimillion-dollar corporation, but I am making enough. And for the first time in my life, enough is good enough for me.

I have time to spend with my dad, to play with my German shepherd, to work on my beloved Camaro, to figure out who I really want to be, to make those changes that I want and need to make to get there, to make a new life and more good friends, and to spend time each year with my new family. Life is good.

Are you right where you want to be now? Are you living the life you want to every day? I’m happy every day. Maybe not all day every day, but every single day of my life is happy and good.

Every journey starts with a decision, one that you have to make with your heart and your head (I’ll write more about that later, because they are two very different things). And then you have to make a real commitment and take small steps toward your goal. That’s it. It really can be that simple. If you let it be; if you make it be.

Now, what is it you want for your life that you don’t yet have? Think about it. This isn’t a dress rehearsal and there are no do-overs. Get out there and be the real you. And be happy.

If this post speaks to you, I hope you will share it with others.

You aren’t what you eat; you’re what you do

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I recommend changing careers if you wake up one day and realize that the thing that has always made you happy is making you deeply unhappy.

Oh, it isn’t like it happened to me overnight. It was more of a wearing-down-over-time kind of thing. First, an unkind boss and then the company becomes less than caring paired with long hours and low pay and there I was wondering, “What am I doing here?”

So now I’m on one of the biggest adventures of my life. I made the best plan I could, fashioned a type of parachute moneywise and jumped out of the corporate plane for freedom. And I’m not looking back.

I decided that rather than write and edit for someone else to make them money, I would write and edit for myself to make me money. It’s exciting and fun and scary as hell.

They say you never know what you’re made of until you risk it all and find out. Well, I’m finding out, day by day. It’s been nearly five months since I left my job of 10 1/2 years. It was a job I loved, until it wasn’t.

The pay was never great; the hours were terrible. Sure, I could take a long lunch often when I wanted to, go to the office later in the day if I needed to and make up hours sometimes when I wanted to. Sometimes, I was even allowed to work from home.

But there were times when I called in sick and I would get asked, “Are you sure you can’t make it in anyway? What’s wrong with you? We need you here.” I once worked a 15-hour day, and workdays that lasted 10 hours or more were not the exception, but rather the rule. Some weeks, my dog walker saw my dog more than I did.

For years, I wasn’t allowed to take vacation when I wanted to, and sometimes not at all. There were years when I was told, “You can take one of these weeks here, or don’t go.” Honestly. I have the emails to prove it.

I missed events I had bought tickets to, family events, things I wanted to do with friends and even funerals of family members. I missed too many holidays to count because I HAD to be at the office.

More than one man broke up with me because I always had to put my job first. I never met a relationship that stood up to that test, at least not for very long.

But that is all behind me now and I’m working for myself. I can spend the day in my pajamas if I want to, watching episode after episode of “Star Trek” (The Original Series) and I have. I can also write all day, but do it in my pajamas if I want to, like I did today. I can play hooky when I want to, and I am spending a lot of time with my dad, my last family member. See, two years ago, I lost other family members, unexpectedly, in the space of a few months. That can really change how you think about your life and what it means to really live it.

After I grieved until I could grieve no more (although that never really ends), I took a look around and thought about the time I have left in life. After all, maybe I won’t live to be as old as I want to be. My mom didn’t. She had dreams and goals and things she was going to do. And then she was no more, and the dreams and goals and things were gone. Because of that, I thought about what I really want, and want I really don’t want. Lo and behold, that job was the first thing that I no longer wanted.

I’m freelancing now, and working on a few books. I spend time with my German shepherd and we go for a lot of walks. She loves chasing her tennis ball in a field near where we live in the little town into which I have disappeared. She’s snoring away at my feet as I write this. But it has been hard to find a groove, to set and/or stick to any kind of schedule, to get things figured out.

Turns out that when all you are is what you do, you don’t quite know who you are when you don’t do that anymore. That’s OK. I’m happy now. And that’s what really matters.

If there is something in this post that speaks to you, please share it with family and friends.

I’m not getting older; I’m getting better!

I have a birthday this week. For some reason, recent birthdays have me feeling nostalgic and contemplative like never before. A few years ago, it became clear to me that I likely have fewer years in front of me than I do behind me. John Cougar (Mellencamp) said it perfectly in the song “The Real Life:” “It’s a lonely proposition when you realize that there’s less days in front of the horse than riding in the back of this cart.”

It makes me feel sad, because I really love my life. It also makes me push harder to do the things I want to do before I die. Life seems to get more complicated as you age, and many things become harder than they seemed years ago. I’m trying to be bolder as I get older, but in truth things scare you as you age that didn’t scare you when you were younger.

I was in a car accident a few years ago. It didn’t seem that major when it happened, but it has had long-lasting effects. After a few years in physical therapy, I am nearly back to the condition I was before it happened. Unfortunately, losing the weight I gained during the time I was off my feet has proven to be more than difficult. It took much longer to heal from this accident than more serious things that happened in my past.

And then there are simpler things. Remember when you were younger and you’d sleep on the sheets or pillow the wrong way and then you’d wake up with those lines embedded in your face? Heck, they’d be gone before you finished your Froot Loops. When you get older, those lines can stay on your face until noon, or later. Nothing like being at the office at 11 a.m. and having someone come up and say, “What did you do to your face?” (“I aged,” you mutter under your breath. My mom’s secret tip to prevent wrinkles: satin pillowcases. Try them. You’ll be surprised how much better you look in the morning.)

I don’t know if I would call it a bucket list, but each birthday after 30 I’ve tried to take a look at my life and determine whether I’m on course. Some years, I feel right on track. Other years, I feel like I don’t know who I am or what I want.

In the past year, I began downsizing my life. I recently moved into a much smaller home. I got rid of a lot of things before the move, but I still have way too much for the house I live in now. So as I unpack each box, I am taking great care to decide whether I really want to keep each item or whether it should go to another home to live.

(Instead of setting something perfectly good out with the garbage, call your local Salvation Army. They find other people who would love to have the things you cast off, if they are still in good condition. If you don’t have a Salvation Army near you, find another such organization. Many of them will even pick things up!)

I am also considering what I really want from my remaining years. You don’t think about those things when you’re younger, when you feel like you’ll live forever and nothing can harm you. But as you age, physical injuries take longer to heal. Emotional wounds last longer than when you were young and you would brush things off, knowing you had plenty of time.

Gretchen Rubin, the author of three books about happiness, said it best. “The days are long but the years are short.” Think about that for a minute or five.

We all want to be remembered. We all want to make it count. It’s never too late to start fulfilling your dreams. No one is promised forever, and you never know when your life will be over. You should make every day worthwhile. Figure out what makes you happy and go for it, no matter how old you are.