Tag Archives: mental fitness

I See that you’re suffering; let me provide relief

“When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily. Dementia, as it descends, has a way of revealing the core of the person affected by it. My mother’s core was rotten like the brackish water at the bottom of the weeks-old vase of flowers. She had been beautiful when my father met her and still capable of love when I became their late-in-life child, but by the time she gazed up at me that day, none of this mattered.”

The first paragraph in Alice Sebold’s novel, The Almost Moon, hit me in the gut. A frustrated daughter relieves her mother’s suffering while also setting herself free from the pressures of caring for someone who no longer recognized her as her daughter.

But this is a novel. This is not real life. As soon as I finished the book, I sighed and silently asked the unthinkable, “When will we see a headline about a daughter ‘relieving’ her mother of suffering?”

And then this article appeared. Is that what this is about? When we see a mother-daughter murder-suicide in the news, alarm bells ring. I discussed this with Dak and these are our thoughts in his words:

 

It’s just one case, right? It’s not like this is happening all over the place. This is not an epidemic. It’s just a weird thing is what it is. It’s an isolated incident, that’s all.

And yet, there is a whole lot of mystery to this that opens out into many possible worlds. This story offers very little detail. The authors won’t speculate. This one will.

I can imagine reasons for this happening from many angles.

The mother had a dread disease and no one would listen to her except the daughter who decided to act to alleviate her mother’s pain and then couldn’t live with herself.

The tyrannical mother finally became weak enough for the abused daughter to overpower and kill. Then killed herself.

Sorrow at loss of being useful.
Sorrow for being a burden.
Without hope.
Interior demons hide in the dark and they look like competence to everyone else.
Despair. So many reasons for despair.
Why did she choose a gun?
A belief that there is a better afterlife.
The weight of living is too heavy.
Too much of a burden on the ones you love.
Too much of a burden on the country you love.
Loss of community to death, to convenience, to entertainment and long distance.

What are the solutions here? How do we feel when we read a story like this? I feel my mind reach out to try to comprehend what happened, but why? Do I think I might become a woman whose mother is still alive and have to face this situation myself? No. But I can imagine how it could have felt and I think it would have felt pretty bad. No matter what the story behind the people is, at least one of them was suffering and had no relief in life. We can moralize about her choice, but that doesn’t seem like a solution to me. I feel that it’s wrong to kill, but happy people have no reason to kill. A satisfied society is a safe society.

So these two…hey one of them lived to be 93. That’s some persisting. I don’t think people live to be 93 without figuring a few things out and my feeling is that she had a good way of coping with stress, one that worked. Her daughter made it to 60 and that’s saying a lot as well. (I know we’re not supposed to be impressed with how long we live now compared to the entirety of our previous existence, but I’ve been watching “Cosmos.”)

She was suffering and we were in no position to offer relief. I think the fear is that one day we will be suffering in such a way that we need help for relief and it doesn’t come, or it’s slow to come. What kind of help?

We seem divided from our heritage. We have social media instead of being social, and I think many of us are fooled into thinking that the two are equivalent. There will always be suffering, but what if we were so kind to each other and considered ourselves together as a body rather than individual and separated pieces that we all shared the suffering so it ceased being so awful to any one of us?

I think it’s easy to forget that there are solutions to our problems and they are going to be found whenever two or more of us gather together. Remember who told us to do that? Again here it is easy to get hooked into the story, but the story is alive in us. We are telling the story of ourselves right now. I know I’m not alone in preferring kindness to suffering.

Dak Gustal is a freelance writer and poet living in Randoph, VT. You may contact him at st.augustus@gmail.com

Getting Unstuck

“Open your new brain” I suggest to audiences and individuals. This means setting aside the rote response “I can’t do this; this won’t work in my situation.” By opening your ‘new brain’ you listen to ideas with the attitude, “I wonder how I can apply this new information?”

We all get stuck now and then. For some of us, it feels like we’ve been stuck in those glue traps set out to catch unwanted mice. And we continue doing the same thing over and over, hoping that today, the result will magically evolve. When it doesn’t it can easily throw us into a maelstrom of emotions.

Here are my suggestions to loosen the grip of the proverbially glue trap and open your new brain:

  • Get creative. I know, hard to manage when feeling stuck. So get up and dance! Call a friend or sit and color. Just do something. Don’t think about it. I have adult coloring books, if you’d like to order, and I also provide excellent suggestions for creatively interacting with your loved ones when giving care in my book.
  • Stop the mind chatter. Focus on someone else. Turn your attention to listening to another person and set your self talk on a shelf. This small act brings a double blessing—that person is truly listened to and you let go of your mind chatter for a bit.
  • Walk outside. In all weather. Look up at the trees. Breathe deeply. Listen for nature’s conversation and let it take over your mind chatter if just for a little time.
  • Use humor. Watch a stand up routine or just listen to people laugh. If nothing else, humor will shift your physiological makeup and automatically make you feel just a little better. What will it hurt?

If there’s any way I can help you get unstuck—either with caregiving issues or aging issues or heck, just living issues, let me know. I’m here to help.

What older adults know

This is where I started working with older adults. 24 years ago, I fell in love with teaching and directing adult learning programs. The experience shaped my career. My brother and I attended camp together as kids and now he’s back as an adult, sharing what I know to be a very special week:

Dak and KBBy Dak Gustal

What is knowing? What is not knowing?

I am at the Norwegian adult learning program at Concordia Language Village’s “Skogfjorden” in northern Minnesota and I am feeling good but also a little torn apart. Things move fast here, and there is a sense of motion that cannot be denied but also does not want to be fully explained, like a wave and a particle trying to compete for the same space in the mind. And this is only day two.

Here is a program predominantly led and attended by older adults and when you hear that, you might be tempted to think there should be a slow pace going on. You would be wrong.

These are not people waiting around for some kind of reward; they are teaching and reaching out to all that is around them, embracing their interests and uninhibited by learning.

DSC_0069

These are people that are willing and able to tell the truth of their lives and they share readily of themselves here without reserve.

They are not growing old despite their aging; they are also not burdened with the idea that they are more than what they are.

They are comfortable with their lives and because of this, they are able to offer themselves up with a kind of joy and openness that you don’t find in youth.

Contrast this with the serenity of the setting—the deep, northern woods, beautiful rustic cabins and pristine lakes in the cooling colors of autumn—and you feel life in a way that is its own reward. The mix of active and strident work learning a new language with the natural pace of deep nature is life itself lived fully.

***

At Buck Lake, Late September, 2013

Few look
But if you do
Come open
Fly apart
The leaves
Falling here
Are your heart
The wind
Breathes
For you
Forever here
You will not survive
This kind of beauty
Look anyway

Dak Gustal is a freelance writer and poet living in Randoph, VT. You may contact him at st.augustus@gmail.com

I don’t need training. I know my Mom

What do you do when your mom has Alzheimer’s disease, your father denies it, and your siblings are of no help? Caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease has a steep learning curve. Yet may family caregivers feel they “should” be able to handle it—No training needed. You must ask for help. Read what you can get your hands on. Attend support groups. Instead of arguing with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease, use my favorite phrase: “You may be right.” And walk away.

I recently interviewed Pam Brammann, who provides training for family caregivers. She shared with me brain brain images (PET scans). First you see a normal, active brain compared to an Alzheimer’s brain. You see very little activity in the diseased brain. The second set compares a normal infant’s brain to that of someone with late stage Alzheimer’s disease. It becomes clear just why you can’t reason with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease—their brain is working at the level of a 2-year-old.

Normal Brain vs Alzheimer's Brain Late Alzheimer's Brain vs Normal Infant's Brain

As Pam explained in our radio interview, “If a two-year-old runs across the street, you don’t sit that child down and elaborate the dangers of running across a street; the child won’t get it. Same goes for someone with Alzheimer’s disease.” Reasoning with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias doesn’t make sense.

Even if you think you know your Mom or Dad, you may not understand how the disease has changed their brain. Getting a little training to better understand the disease and just how you can handle the symptoms (or behaviors) will do wonders to keep you sane.

Wait until you retire to travel

Good thought, but doesn’t always work. How many times have you heard stories about your neighbor who put off travel until retirement, only to be met by a stroke and have to give up his dreams to travel.

My maternal grandfather waited. And then his Huntington’s disease spoiled his dreams of a retirement full of adventure.

In The Unexpected Caregiver, I provide creative suggestions of how to physically travel and also mentally travel from the comfort of your own home. Add to my suggestions the ideas of Thomas P. Stern of Assisted Vacation. Whether it’s Alzheimer’s disease or physical issues, the Assisted Vacation team will build a travel vacation that supports both caregivers and care receivers. Read more »

Time to Reboot

I’m worn out. I’ve had it. I don’t know where to turn.

I have heard these three statements in various forms quite a bit lately. With my private caregiver coaching clients, my friends, my family. I get it. Being tired after a good workout or a long day of work is one thing. Being worn down from day after day of not getting ahead, not accomplishing your to-do list (let alone your mother’s or husband’s), or feeling defeated from all you’re trying to be for everyone else…that is a whole other beast.

And the voices in your head! How do you turn them off? The non-stop judging of how little or well you’re doing, the old tapes that seem to be stuck on repeat…Those voices seem to have moved in permanently and do not listen to you screaming “Stop!”

Whether you’re a caregiver or not, my interview with Robin Collins on “The Unexpected Caregiver Radio Show” will provide you with down-to-earth, accessible advice for how to reboot your core thinking. Her wisdom resonates to the heart of your being. If you haven’t yet listened, I offer you this gift from Robin. And here’s how you can get in touch with her: lovetothe5thpower@gmail.com

Robin Collins offers that reboot we all need. And I am so grateful.

Monsters are only scary when we don’t face them

As a little girl, I was afraid of monsters in the closet. When my parents came to tuck me in, I made sure Dad shut the closet doors tight. Once the lights went out I never looked in the closet. The fear of growing old is just as scary to many. We buy products to help us cover it up, reverse it, or change its color. And even though demographics paint a clear picture that we are moving from a predominantly youth nation to a “mature” one, we still try to outrun the unknown that comes with aging. It’s almost as if we want to stuff anything having to do with growing older in the closet and shut the door tight.

2013 Marge and Kari

Marge recently presented me with one of her beautiful gourd creations

Marge Engelman, a professor and now a dear friend, was the first person that asked me to look at myself as an older woman. For a class exercise, she had us draw ourselves as an 85-year-old person—how we envisioned looking, what we were doing and with whom. This was my first course in aging studies during my Master’s work in 1994. What an eye-opener! I now teach that exercise in my presentations and like me, people experience many “ah-ha” moments. Once the door is open and the conversation rolling about what aging is all about, fear drops off. Looking at this mysterious, oftentimes-scary part of our lives called “aging,” is much like the monsters I imagined in my closet as a little girl. When I bravely looked in my childhood closet, the only thing frightening about the inside of my closet was if my parents decided to open it and discover my secret cleaning methods. I was afraid of what could be in there.

I am blessed that I have spent a great deal of time working with and around older adults. I have many elderly friends. I love them and embrace their aging…so why not my own aging? When I look at myself in the mirror, I see the aging changes. I also see the future possibilities and the many crazy times that have formed my face. I encourage you to look into the face of aging—have conversations with friends, talk with an older person, look in the mirror and observe the changes without judging. I hope that one day we all embrace aging instead of ignoring, fearing, and trying to make it—aging—go away.

Boosting brain health in Salt Lake City, UT

A 10-year-old asks questions about dementia

http://www.slcolibrary.org/le/lelp/index.htm

It wasn’t coffee that got me going today. My brain was in gear as I followed carefully plotted directions of how to get from the Avenues in Salt Lake City, UT, to the Sandy Library, about 30 miles south. I don’t know about you, but driving Interstates in an unfamiliar city with hand-written notes of how to get “there” shifts my brain into drive. Read more »

Kari’s Brain Class Challenges

The goal of my brain classes seemed simple: look at the five areas of brain health, brainstorm what you’re currently doing well, what you’d like to add/change and how you’re going to support those changes.

It always seems easier in theory. Read more »

Looking for the proverbial proof in the pudding

When faced with making changes and taking on new challenges, many of us struggle with patience. We want the results to come immediately. After one set of pushups, we want defined arm muscles. We tend to give up and look for the promise of a quicker fix. This mindset has crippled our ability to achieve long-term goals. Need proof? Just search the Internet for “keeping New Year’s resolutions. Read more »