As many of you know, I write the Sanity Savers newsletters with a hope of being helpful. Some of the articles are more personal than others and I appreciate the feedback you offer. It means a lot. I had written and was ready to post a different article this month.
And then Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine.
Once again, we are witnessing a war. Once again, we see the faces of people in disbelief. They are stunned and terrorized. They are trying to save themselves and their loved ones as they fight back with deep resolve against the war machine of a tyrant. We watch as another refugee crisis unfolds.
When we see people suffering, we may feel that suffering within ourselves and it can become overwhelming. We try to help. We collect and give what we can: prayers, money, blankets, overcoats, food, refuge.
Let us help them and learn from their courage and refusal to accept a false revision of their history and a complete denial of who they are.
As we watch this war unfold commentators offer historical perspective and context. Apt comparisons are made to “other wars, other tyrants” and many of the people we see experienced those wars and those tyrants firsthand. The President of Ukraine lost many in his family because of one of those tyrants. The people of Ukraine remember their history and they remember World War II.
The people of Germany remember World War II and a visitor to the country will see memorials and plaques and museums dedicated to the millions who were systematically slaughtered: Jews, Romas, Homosexuals, Communists, Persons with disabilities and others who defied the Reich’s rules. The school curricula, recommended readings, and field trips, compel students and teachers to address Germany’s history in order to try to understand how and why and what happened. They do not pretend it did not happen. They do not forget and move forward. They move forward because they remember and are committed to learn from their past. They remember and watch carefully so that those horrors will never happen again. They recognize and call out the covert and overt signs of deceit and revisionist history. They do not stand for it. Incredibly, Germans are still facing voices trying to revise that history and pull them back with destructive ideas that the majority of the country strongly rejects. When someone creates a false narrative it must be challenged.
Another way we can help is to learn from them. We can be sure we are not complicit with attempts to erase, ignore, or revise our history. In our own precious country, there are attempts to erase our past by refusing to learn the lessons that are available to us by studying it. It is vitally important that we not be afraid of or refuse to face our history. If our fear is this powerful, we cannot be the strong, moral people that we would like to imagine we are. We must not be afraid to listen to generations of our citizens’ stories, to confront our collective past, to examine the ways in which we deal with one another. We have a responsibility to those who came before us and to those who will come after us to boldly name that which is unfair and unjust. When we censor books about real life experiences — that open people’s minds to different AND familiar experiences — we stifle opportunities to develop empathy and to learn about another’s life. Why be afraid of someone’s truth?
With this invasion, we are witnessing the importance of examining history and understanding its impact. Because the Ukrainian people know their history, they are not fooled by what Putin says about who they are, their value, and their right to freedom and sovereignty. They will resist in order to prevent what happened historically (to them and to Europe more broadly) from occurring again.
May we pay attention to Ukraine and do what we can to support these brave, courageous people. The fact that they know their history fuels their courage. Knowing our history gives us wisdom to deal with the challenges we face in the present. We have the opportunity to learn many lessons from what we are witnessing. One such lesson is to bravely face our own history.
When we serve as a caregiver for a loved one, we can find the experience highly rewarding. At the same time being a caregiver can be exhausting and demoralizing; leading to feeling overwhelmed, impatient, insecure and even resentful. If we don’t address these emotions and feelings promptly, we risk burnout, and we risk these feelings adversely affecting not only ourselves but also the person for whom we are caring and other people in our lives.
It’s not unusual to experience myriad emotions when responsible for someone else’s care: anger, resentment, guilt, uncertainty, anxiety, disappointment, frustration, sadness.
The important thing is to recognize when we experience these feelings and acknowledge them. It is essential for our quality of life AND the person we care for to find ways to recognize, accept, and then diffuse our negative feelings. They are part of the experience of caregiving. Becoming attached to them and making them the center of our narrative can contribute to putting our health in peril and making our role more challenging.
Here are some tips to consider:
Confront our feelings: We are human. As a human being it is natural to have a variety of feelings at any moment, especially when we are challenged or exhausted by caregiving. We can take periodic breaks and honestly consider why we have those feelings at that moment. What is at their foundation? Can we identify disappointment, anger, disbelief, fear, loneliness? We may feel guilty about even feeling a particular emotion which inhibits our ability to work through it compassionately. As a caregiver we need to develop and practice self-compassion, leaving judgement at the door.
Accept our limitations: We are not superhumans. However, humans have an amazing capacity to adapt depending on the situation. A key to adaptability is being present in the moment. Understanding what we are dealing with and adjusting our expectations with an open heart and a realistic perspective. Caregiving offers an incredible opportunity to learn about ourselves as well as the person we are caring for in addition to becoming “expert” in a particular illness or way of life that we may have known nothing about. By taking care of ourselves and realizing what our own boundaries and limits are, we will have more of a reserve from which to draw as we move into the myriad roles required of us. In the process, we develop resilience. We may not be able to improve someone’s health or outcome, but we can be conscious of the importance of preserving their dignity and offering them a quality of life that we can feel proud of. We can intentionally attempt to help them be comfortable and to feel loved, appreciated, and valued. This is especially true when the person for whom we care feels vulnerable. We can find countless small and large ways to bring and share joy to the person in our care.
Seek positive outlets: It is helpful to have a “non-judgmental someone” we can confide in about our situation and our difficult feelings. This person may be a close friend, a therapist, or someone going through a similar situation. Whether or not we have that confidant, it is essential to recognize other outlets for those feelings. When we ignore or refuse to address them, we are more likely to become resentful and take those feelings out on ourselves and the people for whom we care as well as others in our life. This contributes to loneliness and burnout.
Writing our thoughts and feelings in a journal, creating poetry, art or a craft, joining a support group, doing the things WE love to do in ways we can do them (if we love art and cannot go to a museum, view exhibits online or sign up for an art class), regularly moving our bodies in ways that make us feel good (exercise, dance, yoga) helps as do meditation, relaxation exercises, eating healthfully and sleeping enough. As I have often said, time in nature heals the body and soul. We need to remember that our needs as caregivers are essential for our own wellbeing as well as determining the quality of care we then will be able to offer.
Take a break from caregiving: This is an important way to reset and return to the person and the situation refreshed. Time apart can also give us a renewed perspective on our situation. Keep family members and friends involved with what is going on (with us and with the person for whom we are caring). Share care with a family member who can step in for some hours or a day or week or more. Each care situation is unique and often we feel we are the only people we trust to do what is necessary. Sometimes this is true. But when we are open to sharing some of the caregiving responsibilities, we may lighten our own load in ways that allow others and the person we are caring for to feel and be safe. In some cases, professional care can augment our own caregiving, even if it is to offer respite care. Whatever we do to try to help ourselves be empathic and patient, we also need to consider the needs of the person for whom we are caring.
Caregiving is challenging. Being honest about how we feel and working through those feelings in healthy ways gives us a better chance to be present with empathy and kindness for ourselves and the person we are caring for. This can open a route to experiencing the positive feelings related to caring for someone we love.
Each day we see examples of kindness and unkindness. How do we process what we observe? Whether we are watching someone attempt to intimidate someone else or witness an entire country defend its right to exist we can pay attention to the feelings we have and if we feel compelled to take the action connected to that feeling. Each of us can choose to engage by being a spectator, a witness, an ally or a bystander. How do we live, on a daily basis, in concert with “treat others the way you would hope to be treated?”