Sunday, May 29, 2011

It's Official: Caregivers of Mentally Ill Suffer .. a Lot

It's official.  It's harder to be a caregiver for a person with a mental illness than for a person with dementia. Not that I would wish either on anyone.
A study from Concordia University, the University of British Columbia and AMI-Quebec released this month reports that being a caregiver for a person with a mental illness is a difficult experience often characterized by high levels of stress, self-blame, substance abuse and depressive episodes.

The finding that most surprised the researchers:  how hard it actually is, the Montreal Gazette reports.  "We found it (the level of burden) was substantially higher than for caregivers of dementia patients.  They (the caregivers of the mentally ill) are extremely burdened and it constrains their lives," said the survey's lead author, Concordia psychology professor Carsten Wrosch.

Caregivers who do the best are those whose expectations for their own lives change the most.  They are willing to drop career goals and even goals for vacation and travel. The caregivers who adapt also are those who use alcohol and drugs the least. 

The scientists followed 121 people over a 17-month period. "Some people can disengage from unattainable goals," said AMI-Quebec executive director Ella Amir. "People who can do that move forward. People who can't adjust pay with their own well-being."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

My Life as a Lighthouse

Once I asked God for an image of my life's meaning. What I saw was a lighthouse.

That won't seem unusual to those who've been to my house in summer when lighthouses become a decorative item.  We've always been drawn to them, and we generally buy an image of each lighthouse we visit.  Only my husband has been brave enough to climb the scariest of old spiral staircases to the top. But we both love them.
A non-codependent lighthouse at work.
Being a lighthouse is also an image of the difference between being loving to someone who is experiencing a storm of mental illness and being codependent.  The lighthouse shines its light to guide the ships to safety.  It does not drag itself off its rock and wade into the storm in an attempt to grab the ship and drag it to safety.  It sounds the foghorn, it's true, but it doesn't engage in a lengthy argument about why the ship should head in its direction.

Fortunately, the lighthouse is attached to its rock, just I am attached to my Rock. So we allow the ship to use us as a guide or to ignore all our sound advice. We look strong, maybe even stronger than we feel, and we shine our light so that all can see it. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Best Medicine for Caregivers

About 28 percent of the U.S. population serves as unpaid caregivers for someone, generally a relative.  That figure is from a 2010 report by Emblem Health and the National Alliance for Caregiving.  I find that to be a shockingly high figure.

Debbie Wilburn wrote a piece in the Gainesville Times about this, pointing out that the stress of being a caregiver can make for an exhausting, even humorless life.  To counter that, she suggests deliberate use of humor.

I'll use any excuse to laugh, but, until I looked into Debbie's comments, I didn't realize what good medicine laughter actually is.  Here's some information from the  Mayo Clinic:

  • Laughter stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles.
  • It increased the endorphins released by your brain.
  • A big laugh fires and then cools down your stress response, increasing relaxation.
  • Laughter improves your immune system.
  • It causes the body to produce its own natural painkillers.'s article on Stress Management and Laughter says laughing reduced the level of the stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), dopamine and growth hormone.  Laughter as a stress management tool is also "free, convenient and beneficial."

So fire up that DVR and record your favorite funny shows. Buy a bunch of funny books. And take a laughter break if you haven't laughed hard by 5 p.m.  About a third of the U.S. population needs it!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Four Steps to Dealing with an Overwhelming Life

How are you feeling this Mother's Day? Loved? Appreciated? Over your head?

In case you are more overwhelmed by your to-do list than by appreciation, here is some of the smartest things I've hear about dealing with a busy ... make that VERY busy ... life.  The tips are from Joanna Weaver, author of one of my favorite books, "Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World."

When your responsibilities get to be too much, do this:

  1. Invite Jesus to rule your life.  Present this day to Him, and ask Him for wisdom and guidance.
  2. Ask God to reveal the next step, the one thing you need to do next.
  3. Have faith that what needs to get done will get done. What you couldn't do either was unnecessary or is being taken care of by God.
  4. Be open to the Spirit's leading during the day.  You may find your schedule interrupted by a divine appointment. Instead of resisting, flow with God's decision to insert something new in your day. 
My days lately have included the beginning of the "Loving Someone With Mental Illness" support group at Vineyard Columbus.  We meet at 7 p.m. the first and third Thursdays at Vineyard Columbus in the Pastor's Lounge, with no meetings scheduled in March, July and November.  If you are in Columbus and need prayer to help you love a person with mental illness, you are welcome to join us!