Monday, March 28, 2011

How to Feel Better in Five Minutes

It really works!  One of my favorite stress relievers is a book series, "Five Good Minutes" by Jeffrey Brantley, MD, and Wendy Millstine.

"Calm, focus and serenity are just five minutes away" promises the back of "Five Good Minutes: 100 Morning Practices to Help You Stay Calm and Focused All Day Long." (I pause so that those who actually have seen me all day long can enjoy their own jokes about how calm and focused I am. Well, I'm better than I would be without it!)

I use the morning, evening and work version of this series, and they are helpful.  You can find out more about Dr. Brantley in this interview from PsychCentral by Elisa Goldstein here.

I've been through the morning and evening book several times.  One favorite is Exercise 14: Push All the Right Buttons.  First, you visualize a volume knob for your stressful thoughts, and then you turn it down. Then you visualize a button for instant calm, and you push it.  Am I instantly tranquil?  No. But  I do feel better. 

The books have dozens of exercises, often focused on paying attention to your inner life, that actually help.  I do them regularly.  It's easier than vibrating with worry or getting addicted to Xanax. Just try and see!




Friday, March 25, 2011

Encouragement for Dads

My husband contributed this guest post.

I've been the Dad in a blended family with mentally ill children for 12 years. Along the way I've learned a few things that might be helpful to other Dads.

With your partner or wife:

Understand that the situation is devastating to the children's mother and adds to her everyday stress in a significant way.  Give her lots of slack as she works through learning to handle it.  If you can help by getting appointments handled...do it.  It will mean a lot to her.  Be prepared to pick up dinner or do other errands that will lessen the load on tough days.  Most of all....try to be a calming influence.  A Dad who is steady and even-tempered helps the whole family.

With your ill loved ones:

Keep in mind you are an important role model.  I know my son really notices when I'm gone on business.  It make him less anxious if I simply tell him when I'll be gone for a few days and when I'll be back.  Have those brief simple conversations on a daily basis.  Your loved one's self esteem is probably pretty damaged by their limitations.  So talk to them in a positive way at a level appropriate to their understanding.

For your self:

You have no doubt had to let go of a lot of dreams you had for your children and the relationship you hoped to have with them.  Allow yourself to grieve in healthy ways and reach out to other men for support.  Venting your feelings with their mother or, worst of all, with the children will probably not end with you feeling any better, but it certainly will end with the Mom and the kids feeling worse.  Educate yourself regarding the condition at hand.  You and your family will all do better working from realistic expectations.

In summary:

It is a high calling being the Dad and partner or husband in a family supporting mentally ill members.  God has trusted you to help care for some of his most vulnerable creations. If you can show love and be grateful that you have the opportunity to do such important work...everyone will benefit.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Transfiguration of a Caregiver

The Transfiguration  - that moment in which Peter, John and James saw the reality of  Jesus' being - was both preceded and followed by a discussion of suffering. Even in the moment of his greatest revelation of glory in his earthly life, Jesus alerted his followers that he was headed toward suffering and death.

In Matthew, the story is preceded in Matthew 16:24-25 with this statement: "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

Caregiving has a lot of losing your life to it. And if you are doing it, even in part, because you believe that God is asking you to, you will be blessed by it.  You will find your life. And you will find it as you drag a heavy cross through winding streets to a sad end.

You, too, can be transfigured. That's why you got this job to begin with.  The greatest honor that God gives to a soul, I once read, is not to give it great things, but to ask of it great things. 

How to be transfigured? It's in the sentence, too.  "Follow me." Or, in the final recorded words of the Virgin Mary at Cana, "Do whatever he tells you."

When the cross is very heavy, you may need help. Even Jesus did. We're starting a new Support and Recovery group at Vineyard Columbus on April 7 to help people who are caregivers to those with mental illness. If you'd like to know more, you're welcome to contact me at karentwinem@gmail.com

Sunday, March 13, 2011

One at a Time

People with bipolar disorder aren't the only ones with racing thoughts. Who has not had one of those moments when you start to contemplate the consequences of a situation? And one idea leads to another, leads to another, leads to another.

I am fairly good at sizing up people and calculating events for their effect. This is often known as "being negative" among people who are later shocked when things don't turn out as well as they had hoped (or, from my perspective, when things turn out exactly as I had expected.)

Those who teach mindfulness would tell me not to go there, to stay in the moment. This requires the ability to control your attention or focus. Those who are good at this ... certainly not I ... say this brings with it emotional stability. That's something all of us caregivers can use in large doses.

I can see this: A racing mind is either running into the future or hurrying back into the past. Getting disciplined about focus involves staying the present moment and bringing your full attention to the things at hand.

This is quite hard for me. After all, the only way I have ever successfully completed housework is to put an interesting podcast on my iPod and listen while I work.  This way, my right brain is distracted and does not come up with a suggestion every five seconds of better things to do than scrubbing the bathtub.

So before I risk visits from the Health Department, I need to start on something simple. Like actually paying attention when I eat or when I am talking to someone.  If I can tame my restless right brain, maybe my entire brain will be calmer. We'll see!!