Monday, March 28, 2016

Bad with the Good

I wrote a couple weeks ago about our move and how exciting this time had been for us.  However, we've also had an unforeseen issue arise that I'm hoping we've nearly completed.  Being busy.  Now, in an of itself being busy is not a bad thing.  It's certainly preferable to having nothing to do.  But when you get so busy that it starts to have side effects, that can become a problem.  We're certainly not unique to this in the go, go, go world that is 2016.  The one difference we do have, however, is the drastic effect it can have on Shawna's health.  In the past couple of week this has begun to rear its head.

One of the big reasons we moved to our new location is so Shawna would have better access to health care and would be able to make use of all the programs and care available though the VA.  What I'm not sure we were expecting was that we'd be trying to establish everything all it at once.  As of now she's had two appointments at the Togus facility plus one with an outside provider.  Between the two she also has 6 more scheduled already, we've had my quarterly home care visit, and four home appointments regarding getting a ramp and/or lift chair installed to get her in and out of the house. Honestly, I can't complain about the access to care she's receiving because it's certainly much better than many others have experienced.  What's unfortunate are the effect's all the running has on her health.  She's not sleeping well which is turn impacts the following day, the trips to get things done wear her out and she went down a little over a week ago with the most sever seizure she's had in awhile (It was till much less sever than the ones she was having a couple years ago ).  Because we currently don't have a good place to set up a studio to get her pottery up and running again to the degree it was at our previous location, she also hasn't had her hand in clay very much and the impact that's had has been tremendous.

But while there have been some negative side effects to the last couple of months, there have also been many positives to moving to our new location.  She had a new lift chair installed a week ago that allows her to get into the basement and outside with less risk of injury (we've still dealing with the VA on that), we signed up for a membership to the local YMCA so she's been able to get into the pool (she was a competitive swimmer in high school), the new house isn't as long from one end to the other so she doesn't get warn out and doesn't seem to have as much pain as she did in the previous location, and though all the appointments can be tiring for her, the fact of the matter is is that she's receiving much more medical care than she had been.  Whether is leads to any answers in the immediate is up in the air, but we no longer feel like answers to her health are stalled.  Even if the current doctors don't end up moving in the right direction immediately, eliminating causes can be incredibly important to finding the final diagnosis.

The truth of the matter is that on most levels our life isn't really different from anyone else's.  With every positive generally comes some negatives and with every negative there are some positives.  It can be difficult to separate the two at times but if you look hard enough they're there.  What can differentiate people is how they handle those situations and I've found that looking for the positives is key to continuing to push forward and improving one's situation.  Shawna's health is something within our life that is in constant flux and while we could get down about it, we've both found that it generally doesn't aid us to do so.  This week there will be more appointments, more errands to run.  Sure they're time consuming and sometimes lead to issues for her when we get home and in the following, but it certainly beats the of alternative not gaining ground of the questions surrounding her health.              

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


I've touched on this before, but one of the key points made, both when going through the training requirements to join the VA caregiver program and by the nurses who do our home visits, is managing stress.  I mentioned it a previous post but it's worth repeating that I honestly didn't believe it would be a big deal and I was very wrong.  As a caregiver, it's vital that you take care of yourself and don't fall into the trap of giving all your attention, all of the time, to the person you're caring for.  You must find time for yourself to decompress and relieve your own stress.  What you do and how you choose to do it will be unique to everyone.  For me personally, I've found my return to the gym last year is a vital part of my life that I need to insure I include regularly.  Doing this particular activity I get not only the emotional and mental benefits that lifting weights provides, but it also helps me physically.  Being down for the past 3 months following surgery has only reaffirmed how important it is for me to make time for this at least two or three times per week.

Another activity that provides me a great deal of satisfaction and stress relief is spending time outside working, especially running a chainsaw.  The house we bought is very enclosed by trees with almost no yard or even area for the dog to get out and run without risk of injury.  We also have a wood stove to help offset the heating costs during the winter that will require feeding.  In this case, I have a double whammy of good fortune because we have work that requires accomplishing that doubles as a chance to ignore the outside world and relieve stress and decompress.  As with the gym, this is something that's not only mentally refreshing but physically as well. To me my physical and mental well-being go hand in hand.

Of course my two examples of relieving stress are not going to work for everyone.  You have to find not just what's right for you but what's right for you in your situation.  While some people think that my caretaking responsibilities seem difficult, I feel compared to what others are faced with and going through, we're relatively well off.  Sure Shawna has her bad days, and even really bad days but she doesn't require the constant care that others do.  When I think of someone who's providing care to those with serious brain or spinal injuries, illness, cognitive disorders, ect my heart goes out to them.  For those who do not have the benefit of the VA caregiver program, who are doing it while holding down employment and others while trying to raise their own families and with zero of the other benefits the caregiver program provides such as training and outreach, I can't express my appreciation for what you do enough.  I feel as though I only get a taste of the stress those folks are under and my hat's off to them for the herculean task they undertake when they agree to accept that responsibility. For those folks, finding activities that help them to decompress and relieve stress is especially vital.

For the most part I really have no idea who reads this blog.  Going off the assumption that you're not a caretaker, stress is an important thing to manage in your life too.  Find something you enjoy, that makes you feel good, and leaves you feeling energized.  It certainly doesn't have to be lifting weights or cutting wood. Perhaps yoga is your thing.  Maybe bird watching. Reading, writing, playing pool, going for a walk with the dog, hitting the spa for a tan and a massage.  The point is to get your focus off the stressor and onto something that stimulates you positively.  That makes your brain fill with something you enjoy or shuts it off entirely.  To get the weight of life off yourself for a short amount of time so that when you get back to it, you're starting fresh.  This not only benefits you but the people around you.  In the case of a caretaker the importance of this can't be understated.  If you've taken on this roll you've likely done it out of love.  They deserve to have you at your best to whatever extent possible and you, yes you, deserve to be at your best as well.

A trap I fell into and many other's do as well, is the willingness to care for others without taking the time to make sure you're taking care of yourself.  You get amazingly wrapped up in their needs and neglect yourself. This works for awhile but eventually you'll fail.  There is a story I've seen many times that helped me understand this concept more thoroughly: You're on a plane with your kids and for some reason the cabin loses pressure and the oxygen masks fall.  Your instinct tells you to get their mask on first. However, your instinct in this case is wrong.  You'd be better off putting your mask on first, thus insuring that you're not overcome by the situation before you can help them.  Caretaking is the same way. If you break down you'll be unable to do your duties properly and proficiently the same way that if your oxygen is cut off in a plane you'll be unable to aid your children.  While as caretakers we've made the choice to make someone else's needs a high priority in our life, we must make sure that we're meeting our own needs at an equal too, if not greater than, rate required.

If you're a caretaker and reading this and haven't yet figured out how to take time for yourself (especially without feeling guilty), I hope the words in this post are the release you need to know that it's ok, you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to feel guilty about, and that it's actually a beneficial use of your time. I know you have appointments to handle, dishes in the sink, laundry waiting to be completed, and perhaps some more in-depth tasks that are in-need of accomplishing.  Sit down and figure out what can wait while you refresh.  Are there some tasks that can't wait (handing out meds, helping them to the bathroom, ect)?  Of course.  But I'm willing to bet if those tasks are not on an absolute regular schedule, they're pretty close and you know that waking up in the morning.  Where you have some time during the day is when you're loved one may be sleeping.  Or, the dishes and laundry wait a little longer before getting done.  Perhaps you sit down and schedule your days more thoroughly so you have time to relax built in, if not everyday, a few days per week.  Take advantage of other human resources that are willing to help.  It's OK to accept an offer to step in and give you a break, even if it's only for an hour here and there.

Dealing with stress is something everyone from all walks of life has to contend with.  Most of us are not all that good at it and often times we tend to stress about things that in the long run aren't really that important. However, finding ways to manage that stress is vital to our mental, physical, and emotional health.  Sure regurgitating saying's like, "don't sweat the small stuff", can make one feel better and more in control but those are just words and while words no doubt can have an amazing impact on people, telling yourself something is true does not make it so.  The best way to handle stress is from a position of strength and to be strong, you need to take the time to relieve that stress.  So get out there and find something you enjoy, something your passionate about, something that allows you to forget the world around you and focus on the task at hand. You're loved one will be thankful and just as important, you'll be thankful too.                                  

Friday, March 11, 2016

Big Changes

It's been awhile since I've been on here.  Hell, it's been awhile since I've spent any time on my computer for anything other than paying the monthly bills.  In that time, our household has seen some major changes.  It all started in December when we made the trip to Portland so I could go under the knife, or laser as it was, to have a microdisectomy with the hope that removing the large piece of disc that was protruding into my nerves would finally bring some relief to the back and leg pain that had been impacting the life of myself and my family.  It's been nearly three months and rehab is progressing but it's impossible to say this early how successful the procedure will be in the end.  As of right now though, I'm pretty happy and excited about how much better I feel.  The impact on my ability to fulfill my duties as a caretaker was pretty minimal given the seriousness of surgery, the pain was more than tolerable ( I went med free following), and the biggest issue I faced quite honestly was taking it easy and not doing too much, something I'm still struggling with.  For anyone reading this, if your doctor is recommending the procedure I underwent, thus far I'd have to give a big, "Go for it!".

Though that was pretty big within our household, it wasn't the biggest thing that happened in the past couple of months.  What was it then you ask?  If you've been following this blog since the beginning than you know that we've been looking for a new home for a couple years.  Something much further south than where we had been residing with more access to healthcare, help if we needed it, closer access to my family and Caden's, and somewhere that would allow Shawna to become more involved in the art community.  Two days before I had my surgery, in an absolute Hail Mary home viewing, we found that home.  Now, I will say, that I do not, in any way, shape, or form, recommend moving posting back surgery but this was a house that we simply could not pass up.  It was one of those places where you walk into and say to yourself, "yes, this is the one".  All things considered, the whole process went pretty smoothly with only a few hurdles to jump and we moved in on January 29th.

While we're certainly excited to have found a house that we love for a lot of reasons, there's a lot of work to be done to make it more user friendly for Shawna.  Both areas of entry have stairs and no good way to put a ramp on.  We did get measured for one but it would have to be exceedingly long and would go directly over our leech field; not to mention to get on it we'd still have to get her up a hill.  The other door is simply too high off the ground to put an ADA approved ramp on.  So, we've been working with both the VA and a local company in an attempt to have a lift chair installed to make use of the daylight basement entry.  It's the safest, easiest alternative to solve our problem and will allow me to build a ramp on another area of the house that likely won't conform to ADA standards but will allow her to evacuate in-case of an emergency. Together with this is the fact that there was no ready made studio space for her to resume her pottery.  I'm currently working to throw something together in the basement but even that won't be sufficient so we're also in the process of gathering the tools and equipment needed to build one just off breast of the house where she'll be able to access it safely no matter what the weather or time of year.  Just working to set this place up properly has kept me busy busy.

Together with working to make the house a home, we've also been getting set up and attending a variety of appointments.  I had to get into physical therapy, we've had visits from people within the home care program, as well as those outside concerning the ramp and lift chair.  We've already been to the Togus VA a couple times for appointments, including one of the most incredible visits I've been to with her  when she found a doctor who really seems to care and has already ordered a variety of new tests to try and find the why's of her declining health.  We've also obtained a family pass to the local YMCA so Shawna has been able to begin swimming again.  I'm not sure which makes her happier, clay or swimming, but both seem to have a vast impact on her mood and mental health and as such have become staples within our life.

It's been an exciting time within our family in the past months and this is just a brief overview.  There were a lot of up's and downs during our time living up north and by the end we were ready to begin our new chapter.  Thus far this move is proving to have been a wonderful thing for our family and I can only hope that the longer we're here, the better things will become.