Saturday, June 18, 2011

You Are Not Alone

Our sense that we are an island, 
an independent self-sufficient individual, 
bears no relation to reality.
~ Geshe Kelsang

Caregiving can be such as a emotional bootstrap operation —we try to pull ourselves up without much to hold onto. The way I handled it at first was to pretend  that, really, everything was all right. I was all right. I focused elsewhere, on the to-do list, on work, on anything that would let me sidestep the emotional pitfalls so as to stay in motion. Staying in motion felt like progress. Doing tasks felt useful. So much of caregiving is change, we caregivers need to feel we are having a positive effect on Something.

When we do talk about our emotional experience, it is often as a drama, focusing on the ways we feel stuck. In fact we can get stuck in our drama, one of the most prevalent energy sinks in caregiving. (Better to talk about our experience in ways that give energy rather than sap it.) But many of us don’t speak of our inner experience much at all.

Having never been taught how to do this complex work, it is possible in caregiving to feel horrendously alone, alone in a sort of double life—there is our personal experience of caregiving, and then there is our "life as usual" that we hope will keep rolling along. But this experience of isolation is, I believe, a state of our own making. In the long run, separating our caregiving from the rest of our lives weakens us. By refocusing on the connections in our lives, we can heal a good deal of the strain.

As Geshe Kelsang says in one of the Kadampa Lojong books, Eight Steps to Happiness:  “Without others we are nothing. Our sense that we are an island, an independent self-sufficient individual, bears no relation to reality. It is closer to the truth to picture our self as a cell in the vast body of life, distinct yet intimately bound up with all living beings.”  The new movement toward person-centered care-partering is finding that Elders whose carepartners focus first on human connection are measurably healthier and happier ( If that is true, then the divisions we impose on our lives are false. Caregiving has an effect on our home lives, whether we want it or not. By not focusing on our connection with the others in our lives, we diminish ourselves and our relationships. Our caregiving becomes functional. Our family and friends lose an opportunity—if we don’t let others in, we prevent them from helping, leaving them only to experience the residual strain that we bring home with us. Better to let our connection with others support and sustain us. So focus first on connection with your loved one, your family, and yourself. Everyone will feel the better for it.

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