September is Menopause Awareness Month! We're so glad there's a month to bring attention to the needs of perimenopausal and menopausal women. Here at ellendolgen.com, we do this all year long and will continue to make sure you have the information you need to take care of yourself, even while you are called upon to take care of others. September also happens to be my birthday month, so look for a special "Happy Birthday to Me" post on September 17th. Today, we kick off the month with a reminder for you to be your own caregiver, and to take care of your own needs as well as those you love.
One of the lessons I had to learn in my journey towards hormone happiness was to place myself on my own to-do list. This would be easy to do if we lived in a vacuum with no one else depending upon us. However, priorities battle for top position in most women's lives. In my Menopause Mondays Blog: Menopause is the New Puberty™, I spoke of menopausal Moms sharing a home with pubescent teens going through similar changes and emotional swings brought on by out-of-balance hormones. This situation, appropriately called dueling hormones, is when your hormonal swings and those of your teenage children collide. Another ironic twist of timing is that if you are a boomer, you might find that you're now called upon to care for your elderly parents while simultaneously tackling the challenges of perimenopause and menopause. How can you handle these situations in a way that takes care of your own needs as well as the needs of your family? Everywhere you look, there's someone who needs some TLC, including you!
You might expect that caring for one's aging parents is very different from caring for your children; however, surprisingly, in many ways it's very much the same. Some think being a caregiver requires putting your own needs second (or third…fourth?). "There will be time later to take care of me," you might say to yourself, or, "this person needs me more than I need to deal with the changes going on in my life." Well guess what? It isn't true. It is true, as the proverb says, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?" So yes, we have to care not only for our developing children but also our ailing parents as they did for us. But we must also remember to care for ourselves. As I wrote in Shmirshky: the pursuit of hormone happiness, you must make yourself a priority.
Depending upon your own or your parent's financial situation, a decision may need to be made between admitting your parent to an assisted care facility, moving your parent in with you or a sibling's family, or perhaps keeping your parent in their home with caregivers. These are really tough decisions. You may find that you, your siblings, and even your parents, do not agree on what is best or how to proceed. This adds another hurdle to already difficult challenges. Remember, you are allowed to feel overwhelmed. However, our emotions don't have to rule our actions or immobilize us. Like so much of what I advise in dealing with perimenopause and menopause, it is essential to prioritize your own needs, make a plan, move away from reaction or inaction and into action.
My mother is 92 years old and recently I have been pondering this intersection, where my life and her life now meet. I lost my father many years ago when he passed away from a heart attack at the young age of 58, the same age that I am now. My mother never remarried or even wanted to date for that matter. She felt she had been blessed with a wonderful marriage and decided to devote her energy to family and giving back to her community. She is a strong, amazing, and beautiful woman.
Unfortunately, I can no longer hop in my car and zip over to see my mom, as we are separated by hundreds of miles. Every two weeks, I fly to Tucson for the day to visit my "Mommy." We share wonderful and true quality time together. These trips are very precious, and I'm very lucky that my mother is healthy and able to get around with only the assistance of a cane. She's surrounded by treasured family pictures and an incredible elephant figurine collection. Often we walk around her house and she tells me about all the elephants she has collected. There are so many, there could be a stampede at any moment! We enjoy reminiscing while looking at her voluminous scrapbook collection. She may not remember what we had for lunch, but she shares the most amazing stories about her childhood, her years as a teacher, how she met my father and their life journey together. I cherish my time with her. I'm also grateful that I had the strength to find hormone happiness, to reach out and get the help that I needed to be the healthiest I could be, so that I can celebrate these special days with my mother.
Whether taking a plane, train, or automobile, menopausal daughters all over the country dutifully care for their parents, providing love and whatever assistance they are able to give. You may have brought a goodie bag for your parent, but your menopausal baggage is with you as well. Unfortunately, you can't leave your menopause at home. Too many of us are not getting the help we deserve for our health, wellness, and our menopausal challenges. If you assess your own needs, you'll see that your own well-being is connected to the well-being of your family members.
Bottom line: don't suffer in silence! Reach out and get the help you need. Make sure you are a priority along with the other priorities in your life. There may be times when a crisis requires your attention for longer periods of time than driving your Mom or Dad to a doctor's appointment. Still, put yourself on your to-do list! If you don't take care of yourself somewhere, sometime, then you eventually won't be taking care of anyone. Start each day by checking in with yourself. Come up for air and breathe when the pressure builds and you feel stress mounting.
Reach out to online communities of caregivers who can be a wealth of advice and support. You can start with the AgingCare.com online caregiver support forum. Creating a free account allows you to begin posting questions to a wide variety of caregiver conversation topics specific to your own situation. Also, find a caregiver's support group in your area. Talking to others who are currently in a similar situation or who have gone through what you're experiencing can be incredibly empowering.
Back in Tucson, when it's time to leave Mom's house and begin the journey back home, I often find myself smiling and happy about our day together. Then, the tears come. Perhaps it is the worry that this could be my last time laughing and talking with Mom. These are tears of joy and of loss, because with each visit, I see that she is moving a bit slower. That's why I treasure each minute with her, each hug, and each goodbye kiss. I'm so thankful that now I can be present when I'm with her and soak up each wonderful moment of our visits. Find your own hormone happiness, so you can be fully there for special times with your family and loved ones.
Stay tuned in to you. Assess what needs to be done. Communicate. Act.
Remember: Reaching out is IN. Suffering in silence is OUT!
Tell me: What's on your priority list?
Care for the caregiver:
- Eight Tips to Managing Caregiver Guilt, caregiver.com (You can also subscribe to their bi-monthly magazine, Today's Caregiver).
- Amazing resources can be found on the pbs.org site, Caring for Your Parents.
- Aging Parents: What If They Don't Want To Move?, Marlo Thomas discusses this in her online talk show, Girls Night Out.
- Browse products from over 60 companies and organizations that "make life easier, safer or just plain better for those you love and care for" at the not-for-profit Aging Technology Alliance™ site, agetek.com.
- Tips on getting the help you need and caring for your own needs while caring for others from helpguide.org.
- From HuffPost 50, Alzheimer's Caregivers: Smart Ways to Decrease Your Distress, by Marie Marley, author of Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy.
- Resources for caregivers and families to help navigate the challenging post-stroke recovery journey, stroke.org.
- Can You Placate Your Aging Parent Who Resists Moving?, by Carolyn Rosenblatt, Forbes.com.