Monthly Blog Archives: November 2019

The Exhaustion of Fear-based living

Probably the hardest part of my days as a young girl was coming home from school. I didn’t know whether or not my mom would be awake with a drink in hand, or in her room. When she was in her room, the tell-tale sign that she was probably passed out was the empty insulated glass in the living room that smelled of pine trees.

Not knowing what I’d find kept me in a heightened state of fear. I ran scenarios of what I would do depending on who I found–awake mom or passed-out mom. I dreaded coming home, so instead, I kept ridiculously busy with extra curricular school activities. But that, too, was exhausting.

When I’m exhausted my emotional brain gets triggered. I receive panic messages: “You’re not safe! No one likes you! You can’t fix this or anything!” It’s very difficult to accomplish anything logical when the animal brain kicks into high gear. I don’t find myself wanting to run, so much as wanting to crawl into bed and “sleep it off,” hoping all the discomfort simply goes away.

I’ve grown to understand all those deep-seated emotions can easily be triggered by lack of sleep, an overload of external stresses, or a casual comment that hits me the wrong way. I’m also learning that when I’m triggered, I need to stop, acknowledge the feelings, understand where they come from, and take a deep breath. Sometimes I need to dance or go outside and work. Sometimes I need to cry and call a friend for support.

Caregivers can often get triggered, especially when they’re already beating themselves up for not doing enough or being enough for either the person they’re caring for or their families. You’re already tired and stressed because of the job of giving care. It’s as if your animal brain is just waiting to pounce on any trigger and throw you into panic mode.

Understand that fear is exhausting, that you’re already in a tender place. Write a note to yourself that says, “This is my animal brain on high alert. It’s not reality.” And then reach out to your trusted friend for extra support.

I get it; When caregiving is unpredictable, it’s extra challenging to respond in a calm manner, especially if you hold deep-seated past fears. Now is the time to change your old, outdated messages. Let go of the irrational fear messages and replace them with a new mantra, such as “All is well.” That message will seem fake and uncomfortable at first, but will serve you better in the long run. It’s also much less exhausting than living in fear.

A poem for me

My brother wrote a very special poem for me during one of our camp sessions. Every fall and spring Dak works at “Skogfjorden,” the Norwegian language summer camp for kids, which is taken over by adults in the shoulder season. As the Director of this Adult Language Program, I encourage all participants and staff to set aside whatever issues are happening at home and be fully alive in the peaceful, northern camp setting. This is a break from the everyday. These adult camps allow us to focus on our shared interest of learning a foreign language.

This fall I was recognized for 30 years of service as Director of the Norwegian Language Adult Program, as it is called. During those thirty years, I’ve lost my mother to cancer, my grandparents to assorted illnesses, my best friend to Young Onset Alzheimer’s disease, and have attended the funerals of numerous Skogfjorden participants. Over the years, I’ve been able to provide a nurturing space to hundreds of participants and for myself. For those of use who have been giving care, this camp has been a godsend.

I’ve been extra fortunate to share (many of) these camp sessions with my brother. We are both family caregivers and have two siblings with Huntington’s disease. Our time at camp has given us the gift of togetherness without the duties of caregiving. In that space, Dak, aka my brother Steve, wrote a poem for me. I was awestruck. My wish for all family caregivers during November, National Family Caregivers Awareness month, is that you find time for yourselves–time that allows the magic of rest and time to play which, in turn, may bring forth your creativity.

In the Mountain’s Shadow by Dak Gustal
(Skogfjorden, 2018)

Let us slowly go up

the mountain together.

We’ll pass into it once again

as deep as shadows

Until not even a strong wind

can find a way between us.


Fjellskuggen av Dak Gustal
(til norsk ved H.C. Midelfort og P-I. Bergan, Skogfjorden, 2018)

La oss gå langsomt

sammen opp i fjellet.

La oss gå inn igjen

så langt som skuggene når

Slik at selv en sterk vind

finner ikke plass imellom oss.