Sunday, February 27, 2011

There's an App for That

Do you have the App-itude to make your life easier? Amy Drouin, RN from the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, who blogs for the organization's A Day in the Life blog, did two good posts on iPhone apps for caregivers. 

My favorite among Amy's choices:

Pillminder: A medication reminder for you to help your loved one keep track of daily medication. This one is free.

Cleveland Clinic Stress Meditations:  This $1.99 app is on my phone. It has Body Scan, Mindfulness, Guided Imagery, Letting Go, Self-Confidence, Loving-Kindness, Miracle Around Us and Calm Mind meditations.

Crock-Pot Slow Cooker Recipe Finder: Another free app that allows you to get dinner on the table even on bad days ... if you start early enough. My trick: I cook in the Crock-Pot overnight and then warm up the next day. This way you won't be late for work.

Several additional apps that I like in dealing with caregiving:

YOGAmazing: Chaz Rough, a yoga teacher in Louisville, is a good teacher and a social media wizard. This $2.99 app allows you to have a yoga class pretty much anywhere.

Simply Being:  Good guided meditations for relaxation with soothing music and the voice of Mary Maddux from Meditation Oasis for 99 cents. She also offers the $1.99 app "At Ease: Anxiety and Worry Relief."

iTalk to God: A free app that links you to Bible verses based on your emotional state at the time.
NIV Bible:  Easy to read, easy to use app. It's $5.99.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Slowing Down to Sustainable Living

Getting pushed around? Probably. 

One of the hallmarks of the 21st century so far is that people are increasingly pushed to do more things faster so that they can do more things, period. This is how people have ended up having crucial conference calls while they drive 70 mph down a freeway.

In response came the rise of the Slow Movement, which is said to have been ignited in this century when someone tried to build a McDonald's in a scenic part of Italy. Now there's Slow Food, Slow Parenting, Slow Gardening, Slow Travel, etc. Plenty of well-written material on this is found at the Slow Movement and Slow Down Now, home of the International Institute of Not Doing Much.

It's a good idea - although counterintuitive - to slow down when you are asked to do more. My experience in cutting back to a 30-hour work week is that I had two choices: a) work at warp speed or b) figure out what has to be done and what can be left undone.

When you are a caregiver, slowing down is a morale imperative. Burning yourself out will damage more than just you. So you need to take care. Some of the best advice I've ever gotten from this comes from Berkeley's famed meditation teacher Eknath Easwaran, particularly his book, "Take Your Time: Finding Balance in a Hurried World."  He notes that all negative emotions are fast: anger, fear, compulsive cravings. Slowing down makes it possible to think more clearly, even in an emergency, and to be more caring.

His thoughts on how to do this:
1. Get up early.
2. Don't crowd your day.
3. Ask "What is important?"
4. Take time for relationships.
5. Take time for reflection.
6. Don't let yourself get hurried.
7. Respond with patience.
8. Slow down the mind.

Slowing down to me doesn't mean missing deadlines or being late. Punctuality has always been more about integrity (doing what you said you would do when you said you would do it) and respect for other people's time. But it may give all of us clearer thinking. The way the century has turned out so far, we certainly need that.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Tone of the Voices in Your Head

So how kind are the voices in your head?

I'm serious. One of the most interesting concepts I learned while reading How People Grow by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend centers around the idea that a harsh internal critic ... a mean conscience ... can actually inhibit spiritual growth.

Cloud and Townsend, whom many know from their excellent book "Boundaries," talk about how external relationships become internalized as "voices."  A woman in one of their groups slept with an abusive old boyfriend, causing her to berate herself in front of her group. The author made a wise observation to her that, while she knew internally that the action was a bad idea, she did it anyway in part because "The voices in her head that correct her and warn her are meaner than her boyfriend's." So she didn't listen to the mean voices and moved toward the boyfriend, who became abusive again shortly thereafter.

The point? Building relationships with caring people who correct you lovingly is an important part of stilling the harsh voice in your head. Your conscience is there to guide, but it should be a loving, kind voice. If it's not, it would be good to find a loving small group to be supportive as you deal with your problems.

Eventually, Cloud and Townsend say, a caring voice will replace the harsh one.  And maybe you'll listen to that voice before you get yourself in a bad situation. The authors report that the woman in their group actually said, in another encounter with the old boyfriend, "I was getting into him ... and then ... it sounds strange ... I could hear you talking to me saying, 'Don't do it! He will hurt you. ... We will be here for you.' " And she went home without Mr. Bad News.

Now, if that's true for the worried well, it's also probably true for the mentally ill.  None of us want to be one of the harsh voices of criticism and derision that they hear, particularly if they are dealing with auditory hallucinations (voices in the head) anyway.

Dealing with a person who has a mental illness may often feel like dealing with a person who is willingly being difficult and defiant. But our behavior actually should be the same toward both: Move toward grace. Encourage with love. And go vent in your journal. You can always destroy a written entry, but never can you take back a harsh word.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What the Good Days Can Teach Us

When living with a person with mental health issues, it's common to obsess about the bad days. Here's a wise idea: Rather than noticing the problems, notice the exceptions. Look for the times when the difficult mood or the problem behavior does not happen.

When is it when your loved one doesn't feel so sad, so depressed, so angry? When is it that your teenager turned in his homework on time? When did your spouse act in a loving way?  Sometimes you will find clues to things that will make life easier.

It's also useful to use this approach to help your loved one, even a child, see things with some insight. Conversation starters include:  "I need your help.  I'm worried about things, and I know that you are not happy either. How would you like things to be? When was the last time they were like that? What did I do or you do to make that happen? What can we try for a week?"

Trying something for a week to see if it makes a difference is usually good enough, unless you are dealing the medication that takes time to take hold. Overall, focusing on the behaviors rather than the emotions may make improving things easier.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Major Advance: Schizophrenia Gene Mutation Found

A major advance in schizophrenia research was announced this week. An international research team has found a gene mutation that is strongly linked to the development of schizophrenia, which is, in effect, finding a pathway to the development of new drugs to treat the disease.

Dr. Jonathan Sebat of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, leads a large team of researchers - the list of researchers is 28 lines long in the press release - from the United States (Harvard, Columbia, University of Washington, McLean Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and UCSC), Chili and Ireland.

In the release, Dr. Sebat said, "This is the kind of gene that the pharmaceutical industry has been waiting for. Its activity can be modulated by synthetic peptides, and some have already been created."

Frankly, I don't understand much else of the press release, but it was announced as the first conclusive evidence that rare mutations can cause schizophrenia.  The illness occurs in 1 percent of the general population and 10 percent of people who have a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, with the disorder. Good news at last.