Tag Archives: self-care

The thing about a good night’s rest

I admit it. More to myself than anyone else. It’s been a long haul lately.

I came back from a week’s writing retreat and boom, whatever demons that had been lurking, engulfed me as so many microbes of infection. Seeping in everywhere at once, I’ve spent days that have morphed into weeks swatting away the no-see-ums of depression, hopelessness, and the nagging sense that I have no where to go. And in between, the daily stuff. Writing. Aiming for vulnerability. Spending time with Jed so that he feels loved, and wanted, and needed, and relevant.

And we’ve been through Jed’s rounds of medical appointments. His latest MRI showing progression, but only a small amount from last year to this year. Of course, adding them up, one year, plus one year, plus one year, and so on means more than a little when counted together. But it only confirmed what I already touch. The new realms of confusion. My own sadness at facing this new normal masked by a determined bravado, but in truth, as palpable as Jed’s “I do not understand” expressions.

Back in my late-30s, I experienced a major depression. Each day was a buzz of activity from my early morning runs on through my exhaustion as I rolled off to sleep having worked till 7:30 or 8:00 at night, and socialized or something else till late in the evening.

In the spaces in between, my eyes would leak tears as I tried to suppress the misery I felt. The aloneness. The despair. All wrapped in the package of not knowing what it meant to be. And how ridiculous I felt at being so late century. So post-modern. So wrapped up in the throws of my existential crisis. Not for a minute allowing myself the truth of it all.

In moments where my guard was down, I could hear my own ironic inner core whispering that the payment was due for an adulthood spent existing without making certain I’d examined all the nooks and crannies of hurt and trauma. For not living the truth of my own existence.

“Not those, again,” I’d decry, while also knowing that my life was as precarious as my sense of being. That I really was tipping over the line a bit, so much so that friends talked and queried, and offered me sanctuary.

So, here now, 30 years later. So much of a brilliant life later, I feel the edges of it. Not that tears leak, or that I despair, but that it is easy to lose sight of one’s reason and place in the world if one remains cut off from living it. From the touchstones that are the little bits of the jigsaw puzzle that is life and has just as much meaning as the larger corner pieces that anchor one’s self to the reality of one’s life.

Yesterday, I woke up having had a brilliant night’s sleep. I was so well rested and in turn felt so refreshed and happy. It’s not necessarily that the no-see-ums had spent their annoying course till next time, but I was reminded that life is this wonderful panoply of joy and fun intermixed with the range of stuff that can sometimes feel like quicksand and at other times like the sweetest of clouds scented by the privet flowers that have permeated the air in this part of Brooklyn.In other words, it’s just life. A moment’s blip in the scheme of things. And truly, nothing like a good, restful night’s sleep to bring on the brilliance again.

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A reminder that caregivers can face special challenges–and that you are never alone. Here are a few resources:

Alzheimer support for caregivers

AFTD caregiver support

Caregiver.org caregiving and depression

 

 

So much done

Sometimes we all need to remind ourselves that we do a lot — and not so much rest on our laurels as to acknowledge the good work accomplished, with a nice “atta-girl” pat on our own backs.

For caregivers, that is especially essential because we can feel our lives to be nothing more than a Sisyphean task wending its way as so many cycles of frustration and grief.

Successes though, do happen, and should be celebrated!

My big success has been the introducing companion care to Jed. For three hours, two days a week, he meets a lovely lady who hangs out with him. It is a bit rocky at times — because it is kind of hard to get to know someone new in the best of circumstances — but they persevere!

Jed and his companion have chitter-chattered, gone for a walk to our favorite local Pizzeria, tried and failed to do a crossword puzzle and two or three art projects, but through it all, it has given Jed someone new to engage with, no mean feat in the pandemic era, which has enforced isolation.

The other laurel I am allowing myself to take a bow for, is gaining approval for Jed to have in-home physical therapy. Provided by the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, he will have two weekly sessions aimed at helping him regain his physical stamina, muscle tone, and flexibility. And the timing couldn’t be more perfect! With Spring underway, there is no better period to walk about the side-streets and parks of Brooklyn as flowers begin to bloom and bird migrations fill our skies with beautiful sights and sounds.

And finally, Jed had his jab number four yesterday, with the fervent hope that he continues to remain COVID free!

So, yup! Three-cheers to myself for this week’s accomplishments. I’ll take them where I can find them.


The Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY), is part of a national network of organizations providing home health care services.  A doctor can put in an order for a range of services including, skilled nursing, home health aid, and rehabilitation services.

 

Up before sunrise

 

It’s been a while since I was up before the sunrise.  I’d forgotten how noisy my street is at 5:00 in the morning with trucks making deliveries and buses idling before rush hour begins.

Before I retired, it was the time I had to myself. I’d get up around 5:00, patter around a bit, and then shower and dress for the walk to Gleason’s Gym or on off days, perhaps practice yoga before getting ready to leave for work.

Being up now feels like a holiday. An extra bit of time I hadn’t counted on. So far I’ve been filing away the huge pile of stuff that had obscured the wooden patina of my old pine desk, the one piece I have from my aunt. And yes, grabbing the tax papers I’d missed to send off to my accountant who is still doing taxes remotely.

The new cat, Sugar Ray, is not quite certain what to do. So far, he’s pretty much been letting me sleep until at least 8:00 am. He was certainly happy to be fed earlier and has been sleepily following me from room to room as I’ve been filing things away. And as is his way, now that I’m at my desk, he’s back at his perch on the window sill watching the early morning traffic go by. My perfect little sentry who has thankfully found something more interesting than my laptop.

As if on queue, with the perceptible lightening of the sky, I can hear the first faint sounds of bird song above the din of traffic noises. The sounds floating in on the top register as little bits of sweet chirping. Locating my city dwelling space within the urban landscape of life that flows in and around us if we bother to look.

Soon the birds will fly by as ephemeral whisks of light. Fleeting glimmers frozen in memory as something to delight. And so it goes.

Another week

Sugar Ray in the afternoon

Is it a week already since my last post?  What a blur.

I went to Gleason’s Gym on Monday and Thursday. Even added crunches in the sit-up chair at the end my workout. I felt a sense of accomplishment. The reminder of what a touchstone the gym has been and how much I miss it when I don’t go on a regular basis. The moments of self-care so revitalizing to my sense of well being.

The emotional rollercoaster has been moving forward to find part-time companion care for Jed.

I feel he needs an interesting someone to have contact with for a few hours a couple of days a week. Someone who isn’t me and who won’t invoke feelings of being infantilized from time to time. Still it gives me such an overwhelming sense of responsibility as I make decisions on his behalf. I admit that it is tangled up with my sense of helplessness and failure. And yes, I know I do not have the power to fill in the missing spaces in his brain. Or unknot the tau protein clotted ends of his neuron cell axon terminals that can no longer communicate. And no, me beating myself doesn’t help either, but the feelings are there for me to work through.

Meanwhile, plowing forward, I made a connection with an organization that specializes in matching folks up and will have a first preliminary meeting this coming Tuesday. The challenge will be figuring out how to introduce the companion caregiver to him so that it will be something that he wants to do. We shall see, but I have the hope that once we get past the introductory phase, it will help Jed engage more. And maybe even pry him outside when the weather eases up a bit more.

And so it goes.

At the dentist

 

One of the issues caregivers face is ensuring proper dental hygiene for their loved ones. As memory slips, so does the concept of the kind of routines we take for granted as part of our normal day. The wakeup, hit the bathroom, shower, shave (if needed), floss, brush teeth, et al., becomes an illusive construct. The end of day wind down is the same. A foreign movie without benefit of subtitles.

“What? Brush my teeth, you’re so bossy!”

Caregivers know it hits straight into the dilemma of an individual’s sense of self and autonomy in the midst of an on-going memory meltdown.

At the dentist last week for Jed’s six-month check-up, we ran into the issue of dental hygiene. I’d warned our dentist on the phone when I made the appointment so she was prepared. What struck me though, was her incredible gentleness as she cleaned his teeth even as she used quite a lot more rigor than usual.

Sitting outside, I felt by turns sadness for what he was going through, guilt for not having implemented the secret sauce for twice daily brushing, and a sense of being beholden to her for her kindness.

“You’re doing good, Mr. Stevenson,” she said. “I’m so proud of you. I know this is hard.”

Jed didn’t complain and then in speaking with us afterwards she said, “Mr. Stevenson, I do need you to brush your teeth twice a day. And your wife, Malissa, is going to get you a special new toothbrush. It will be a lot of fun.”

One new Philips Sonic electric toothbrush plus a special new heavy duty prescription floride toothpaste later, we headed back to the dentist this week for a followup appointment to top off a filling that had come loose.

Sitting in the waiting room, I observed again the kindness the dentist showed Jed.

“Did you use your new Philips Sonic toothbrush today, Mr. Stevenson?”

He didn’t quite respond, and then taking a look inside his mouth said, “ah, it looks as if you did. Very good, Mr. Stevenson. That is wonderful. Keep up the good work.”

Yes, she was speaking to him like a six year old, but her manner had a sweetness, that disarmed his sense of violation at being told what to do.

What I felt was beholden to her. In what can seem like an indifferent world, her tenderness touched me deeply. I tear up now thinking of it. Just calling him Mr. Stevenson gave him an agency that was powerful.

Reflecting on it, I realized that it also gave me the sense that I wasn’t alone.

For further information on dental care for dementia patients, the Alzheimer’s Association has a very good primer, the link is here: Dental Care.

Aging Care also has some good suggestions: Oral Care Tips for Dementia Caregivers.

As always, please feel free to contact me if you need help with caregiving.

 

 

 

The moments I’m not prepared for

Mount Everest, Photo credit: The Tribune, India

Caregiving for a person who is losing themselves is the Mount Everest of experiences. One puts one foot in front of the other for some sort of forward momentum, but without really looking too far ahead. To do so is to risk one’s own break down and that plaintive, wistful, despairing question, “how can I do this?”.

As I ponder it all, I’m realizing the moments I’m not prepared for seems to be a growing list. This morning, Jed asked, “Who are you?” and I really didn’t know where to go from there.

I smiled.

Sweetly.

In the moment.

Said, “I am Malissa,” paused and added “we are married.”

Jed said, “I don’t remember things.”

He then smiled and said, “well Sheila, how are you!”

Now that was typical Jed. A moment of clarity in his fog of a mind, covering his sense of embarrassment at not being on top of things and making a joke of it all. We carried on with the Sheila joke for a bit before focusing on breakfast: a toasted slice of leftover cranberry walnut bread, our Christmas morning family tradition for years. He said, “hmmm, this tastes good, where did you get it?”

I explained, the Christmas morning stuff and he looked at me with wide eyes and a big smile and said, “you made this? It’s delicious.”

And so it went. Through breakfast. Through discussions about haircuts. Showering. the scabs on his arms and upper body from his newly acquired OCD habit of scratching and picking.

And no, none of it is ever something I thought of. I mean, really, who does? At our age, one thinks of the bad luck of cancers or heart aliments, diabetes or COPD from all the smoking we did as kids, but something that slowly erodes one’s ability to think or even recognize or put words to the people they know and love? No. Believe me. You don’t think of it. Not even if it is all around you, never for your own spouse or loved one.

As I write this, we’ve conquered the confusion of waking up and not being able to understand the most basic of things. Slowly though, I am watching as cognition returns. Yes. Morning meds and vitamins. A shower (no fight about it either), shaving using his electric razor, putting on spanking new duds from his Christmas haul. A pet to our kitty Mimi who is on her last legs from chronic liver failure. Sweet words to me about how much he loves me. Appreciates me. More talk about getting a haircut. And then an actual walk, our first in almost two weeks since he accompanied me to the Post Office to pick up stamps.

All went well, but the haircut didn’t happen. We lost the window, too soon when he turned from our apartment house entry way and too late when we passed it on the way home.

Walks are in fact, really tiring both physically and mentally, even our very short ones. He becomes overstimulated by the sights and sounds. People on the street. Noise. Shops. And today from wandering around the first floor of Barnes and Noble, the colors of the fruit stand, the plants and trees lining the brownstones on Clinton Street. And needing to stop as well. The sweat beading on his forehead, needing to catch his breath, this from the man who has circumnavigated Manhattan at night in a kayak by himself and written about it for a Weekend Warrior column in the NY Times.

Once upstairs, he remembered about the haircut. “Maybe tomorrow,” he said. He had to go to bed, to drift for a while in the darkened room with drawn curtains and to eventually asleep.

Meanwhile my day. Yay to getting my delivery of Covid home tests after a pre-Christmas frantic search of medical supply companies on the internet. Yes to laundry, churning its way through rinse cycles and the dryer. Yes to a quick text touchpoint with my daughter. Yes to realizing just how overwhelmed I feel — and to the bits of tears in my eyes as I blink my way through a minute or two of silent meditation to keep myself together for the next steps of the day.

If yesterday morning was self-care at Gleason’s Gym, today, through chores (garbage out, laundry, vacuuming), I’m giving myself the sense of order externally. Sure, not spanking clean, but at least with some of the holiday disorder at bay.

And then I locate myself again. Clear my mind, breathe, inhale, exhale, and start it again. This is the way.

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For more information about dementia and caregiving resources here are some helpful links in NYC as well as two of the main national organizations. And of course, always feel free to contact me.

CaringKind is a caregiver organization in NYC with remarkable resources, courses, caregiver groups, and other information. Link here: Caring Kind.

NYU Family Support Center has programs for caregivers to include a fully array of “zoom” meetings that range from looking at art with museum curators to music and caregiver “KaffeeKlastch” meetings. Link here:  NYU Family Support Center.

Alzheimer’s Association, website for information and resources for this disease. Link here: Alzheimer’s Association.

The Association for Frontotemperal Degeneration, website for information and resources for this disease. Link here: AFTD

Boxing Saturdays

Double end bag, Gleason's GymI admit to a certain inconsistency when it comes to my boxing training at Gleason’s Gym. Most weeks I am there two days a week, trying for Monday and Thursday mornings, but this week, as with several other weeks this Fall, days slipped away from me. And so … I found myself at the gym on a Saturday morning for the first time in months.

For many years, Saturdays were my mainstay of boxing. I’d drop my daughter off at her Aikido dojo for her three hour class and then make the quick dash to Gleason’s to train before turning back around to make the pickup.

Sparring at Gleason's GymThose were sacrosanct hours. Gleason’s was on Front Street then, the space encrusted with decades of sweat, grime, and hard work, and yet still cavernous.

Getting there by 9:30, my trainer, Lennox Blackmoore and I had our standing date to spar. We’d grab the little ring which remained pretty much unused at that time of the morning, and became so much “our” space, folks who thought to use it would immediately vacate when they saw us gear up.

It was a lot of fun.

Fun in learning the intricacies of the game. How to feint. How to double jab over the guard followed by an overhand right. How to throw a quick jab to the body when Lennox tried to trick me by switching to a south paw stance. Oh, and how to take a punch, which was way too often because I never could get the hang of slipping well or knowing when to put on my ear muffs.

Saturdays also had a lot of camaraderie. Sure there were pro fighters, but there were a lot of folks like me. In love with the sport and with the sense of boxing as a family. And so we would nod and acknowledge each other with waves, and “hi ya’ doing champ,” fist bumps, and mostly a lot of acknowledgements of the work being done. Of progress being made. Of dedication. Of the process of perfecting the lexicon of the sport as both science and art.

Next month will mark twenty-five years since I first started boxing at Gleason’s Gym. I trained with Johnny Grinage then–about as old school a trainer as one could get. We bonded over our mutual love of bebop, and I didn’t even mind when he’d tell me the same Miles Davis or Wynton Kelly story for the umpteenth time. When it came to boxing training, however, it wore out pretty quickly, so after about 8 years of on and off training, I switched to Lennox.

Lennox Blackmoore, Trainer, Gleason's GymI feel kind of proud of the fact that Lennox and I are still at it.  We haven’t sparred since before Covid, but have talked about restarting. After the switch to Water Street, Lennox even got up at the unthinkable hour of 5:00 in the morning (or frankly, never went to sleep), to train me at 6:30, before I went to work. Now that I’m retired, we tend to meet up some time between 9:30 and 10:00 and have not yet gotten back to our pre-covid three day a week schedule.

Neither of us is young, or as spry, but the fun never stops, and there’s always Don Saxby, another mainstay cheer leader of my old Saturday mornings to keep me sharp on my skills when I need a different view of the game,.

Caregiving and the holidays …

Greek Kourembiedes CookiesFor many Americans, the period from Thanksgiving through the New Year is fraught with tensions and anxieties, coupled with moments of exuberance and joy. if you are a caregiver, it can add yet another level of complexity in the ever evolving landscape of illness whether physical or lodged in the recesses of the brain.

I will say things have been fairly smooth so far and actually seemingly less fraught than prior years because the fact is so much of our lives is now lived in the moment. After all, when one’s loved one can’t really remember that tomorrow’s Thanksgiving, or even what Thanksgiving is, the celebration gets quite easy. So my daughter and I set it up such that we’d spend lunch with my sister and other members of our family, and afterwards came home to celebrate “Thanksgiving” with Jed.  Thanksgiving 2021It was fairly simple, consisting of his favorite roasted veggies, a lovely dressing, fresh orange cranberry relish plus a yummy French Apple Cake and voila, we were done. No fuss, no muss. And no hurt feelings because Izzi and I had spent part of the day with my sister.

Our six-week run usually consists of Thanksgiving, the anniversary of when Jed and I met, his birthday, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s.As it happened December 6th marked 25 years since Jed and I first got together.

I admit to sadness at the fact that he didn’t really understand it, but did enjoy the pizza I brought in and otherwise marked it in my own way.

And no. No stroll through Tribeca to Puffy’s on Hudson and Harrison where we met, or any particular reminiscence, though he did recall that I’d gone there with two of my oldest friends. Still, it remains wistful. Speaking of another place and time where our senses had felt so heightened and together.

His birthday comes up next … which will also be low key no doubt. Yes to family cake and a visit from Izzi, plus a few presents, but it doesn’t really register, except as a big surprise each time I bring it up.

As for the rest … well, Hanukkah has come and gone, along with a wonderful visit from Jed’s oldest friend. And after Jed’s birthday, we’ll have Christmas, and maybe even a small tree because he seems to associate it, and then lovely chocolate truffles and a split of champaign for New Year’s Eve.

The lesson of it all to myself is to remain in the moment.Boxing at Gleason's Gym

To stay calm.

To give myself the self care I need to feel contained whether that means ensuring I get to Gleason’s Gym to box or to take an hour to sit in the cafe across the street tarrying over a cappuccino as I write in my journal.

And yes, I’m making the events as special as I can, without overtaxing myself or attaching to the idea that it will remain as “that time at Christmas when …” because, the fact is he won’t particularly remember.

The best I can ask for is see to his sense of happiness from moment to moment. And really, what better gift is there than that.

And please, if you are caring for a loved one … know that you are not alone and can always, always reach out.

Reflecting the positive

Gleason’s Gym, September 23, 2021


I admit it. Not every day is stellar.

I’d walked to the gym at my usual clip, feeling as if I’d work through my 16 rounds or so with reasonable ease, already planning out the things I wanted to work on: Moving with the jab, followed by a sidestep for a quick right to the body, left hook, straight right combination, before moving on to the next jab. As I shadow boxed, that worked for about a minute of the first round before I started to slow down.

“One of those mornings,” I thought, as I took the pace down a notch.

And yes, Gleason’s Gym was still fairly summer-hot and very, very humid, but today, the stickiness in the air seemed to be getting to me more than usual.

By the fourth round I found I needed to slow it down even more. Still feeling that I could make it work I boxed four progressively slower rounds on the heavy bag and one last attempt at a fifth, making my total nine for the day.  And yep, that was it. I knew I had to call it quits. This was not my morning.

In trying to analyze it, I realized I was still a bit unnerved by news I’d received the night before. Someone I am close to suffered a TIA* – a mini-stroke that left her unable to speak in the middle of a zoom call. She was pretty much back to her self within 30 minutes, but on the advise of her doctor, went to the Emergency Room and was admitted overnight for monitoring and further tests. I had just seen her the week before our first true outing since before the pandemic, so it all came as a surprise. At 76, she is robust, but the reality is at a certain point, things just happen.

As I walked back home, still slow, slow enough that my walk wasn’t even registering as “exercise” on my iWatch, I reflected on it all. I realized that knowing when to pull out was just as important as pushing forward. That there is a moment when the positive of exercise or any of our actions gives way to something that may be less than brilliant. That knowing one’s limits is another aspect of self-care.

So … yes, reflecting the positive sometimes means listening to your body when it says, you are done working out for the day. Time to go home.

There’s always tomorrow.

 

*TIA: A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a temporary period of symptoms similar to those of a stroke. A TIA usually lasts only a few minutes and doesn’t cause permanent damage. Often called a ministroke, a transient ischemic attack may be a warning of a future stroke and an opportunity to prevent it. (Mayo Clinic)