Sobering Options

A fellow caregiver emailed me, “How is your health? Do you have days you feel lousy and don’t really know why?”

Recently I have had days I felt completely lazy and unmotivated. I have been tired but shouldn’t have been. I’ve had less self-control with eating and using my time. This evening I found some insight.

Don has an appointment next week to check the growth of his abdominal aortic aneurysm. For several years, these appointments have come around every twelve and more recently every six months. Each time, we wonder if the aneurysm has enlarged enough that Don will need surgery.

This is big for Don. He is a poor surgical risk for various reasons and could die or have profound complications from the surgery. As he approaches his appointment, he has been mulling over sobering options. Like some people who receive a grim cancer diagnosis, Don wonders if he should choose treatment with its risks, or if he should instead decide to “live until he dies.”

Tonight Don said, “I think I’m leaning more toward having the surgery. When I think of you and the grandkids…” This marked a change of thought from recent weeks.

I know this issue has weighed on Don, but I didn’t realize or admit until tonight the effect on me. It now makes sense why I have felt lazy, unmotivated, tired, and lacking in self-discipline.

What helps us cope and gives us hope: Family members and friends have listened to Don’s sobering deliberations and supported him. Their love and our love for each other, along with prayers for wisdom, give us confidence that when the time comes, we will know what to do.

Questions for our readers: What sobering inevitabilities sometimes weigh you down? What helps you cope?

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Aim Toward the Future, Not the Past

Don used to tell his clients, “If you tell yourself, ‘I don’t want to be like my mother – I don’t want to be like my mother – I don’t want to be like my mother,’ before you know it, you will be just like your mother. Instead, you need to turn 180 degrees and  focus on the kind of mother you want to be. Then there will be hope you can break away from a bad example.”

It’s the same with living in the past. If we always long to be like we were before the stroke or some other tragedy, we will never move on in life. We will only make ourselves miserable. We need to aim at what we want our future to be like. Disability does not have to dictate an end to having joy and meaning in life. THERE IS LIFE AFTER DISABILITY.

What Helped Us Cope and Gave Us Hope: We had to acknowledge our past life was gone and would never return. We needed to let it go and then try to develop our new, post-stroke life. That released us from the miserable trap of longing for something that was not going to happen. Of course, we are tempted to dwell on our memories, but when we are grateful for the good in our past life and then turn around to develop our new life, we find hope and joy.

Question for Our Readers:  Do you sometimes struggle with longing for how things used to be? What helps you escape those thoughts and move on?

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Positive or Bitter – a Choice

Don made a significant choice as he settled into his rehabilitation. One day he said to me, “I didn’t intentionally cause my stroke. It just happened, and I can’t change that. I don’t want to become bitter about it.”

Don’s choice of attitude was consistent with his personality. I was amazed he could make that decision so early in his illness. Don’s resolution made a huge impact on his life and on our family. I watched his positive attitude help his disposition and draw people to him instead of drive them away. Don’s model inspired the boys and me to choose the same approach. We all benefited from Don’s wisdom.

Don and I agreed that we simply did not want to focus on bitterness and waste energy we could better apply to his recovery. We did not have to deny the pain; we just did not want to let our losses fester and control our lives.

The stroke just happened. To grow angry and bitter would only hurt Don and strain his relationships with our family and friends.

Don’s decision not to become bitter was difficult, and he occasionally needs to revisit his choice. However, his determination to be positive, instead of bitter, has affected the quality of our lives in such a positive way that we highly recommend it.

What helps us cope and gives us hope: Don had the wisdom and the inner strength to choose not to get bitter after his tragedy. We did not choose Don’s stroke, but we can choose how we deal with it. That gives us hope!

Question for our readers: How do you struggle between the choice of becoming positive or bitter? What helps you avoid bitterness?

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Fear – a Recurring Issue

In a few days, Don and I will talk with a group of counseling students about issues faced by people with disabilities. As I compiled a list of issues people like Don and I struggle with, I pulled from our experience to try to give insight to the students. Although everyone’s experiences are different, we probably have a lot in common with other individuals and families who struggle with disabilities.

One issue we deal with is fear. At first when Don had his stroke, I feared he would die. As it appeared that fear wouldn’t happen immediately, I moved on to worry about our children, finances, safety issues for Don…the list was long. Don worried about our family’s pain if he died, about falling, about having another seizure, about me leaving him, about saying the wrong words, about getting back to work… We didn’t worry all the time, but fear crept into our lives over and over.

Fear appeared again for me last week when I questioned Don about going out for breakfast with a friend in 5 inches of new snow, and he said, “I need to get out.” There was a period at the end of his sentence. He went, and he returned safely. Things could have turned out differently, but again, all my angst was for nothing.

Last week I heard a quote from Mark Twain, who wrote, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Isn’t that the truth! Actually, fears are not the truth. They amount to negative, misguided speculation that runs rampant in our minds.

What helps us cope and gives us hope: We acknowledge that fear is not usually productive. It helps to ask ourselves what truth is and try to let go of unrealistic fear. Don is better at that than I am. We try to be kind and not provoke each other’s fears, and when we fail, we hopefully apologize.

Questions for our readers: What fears plague your mind because of your disability or your loved ones disability? What helps you cope?

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