Recipe for a caregiver:
Grab a piece of paper and pencil, a computer, a phone, or an audio recorder, and put your thoughts down.
If your thoughts are scattered or you don’t think they’re profound, fine. Jot them down anyway.
One thing you might do is, at the end of the day, write down three emotions you’ve had, or three things for which you’re grateful. Do this each day. Keep at it.
Pretty soon you’ll be actively journaling, a form of writing, therapy, and self-realization that three Florida authors recommended for caregivers attending the virtual Family Care Partner Conference Friday.
The four-day conference, sponsored by Coping With Dementia of Inverness, attracted 770 registrants, said Ed Youngblood, marketing and communication director with Coping With Dementia.
Speaker Susan Straley of Inverness said one thing journaling does is “gives you empathy for yourself.” She said it also helps you remember the good times when you read through your entries.
Straley has been journaling since she was 16. She said after her husband was diagnosed with dementia, she moved her journal online to help her family and friends keep abreast of what was happening.
She has published “Alzheimer’s Trippin’ With George,” about the couple’s three-month tour of the United States on recumbent tricycles, and “The Journey Continues: Alzheimer’s Trippin’ With George.”
Speaker Vicky Veasey of Homosassa said journaling “will help you confirm you’re a much better caregiver than you give yourself credit for.”
Veasey has published, “Good Morning, I Love You: Maintaining Sanity & Humor Amidst Widowhood, Caregiving and Alzheimer’s.” Veasey took care of both her parents when they had dementia and during this time, her husband died. Now, she cares for an uncle who has Parkinson’s disease.
Speaker Linda Burhans said journaling “is inviting you to come home to yourself.” She said caregivers need to dedicate at least five minutes at the end of their days — or really at any time of the day — to be just for themselves. Journaling can help stay calm.
She told of one caregiver who said, “I’m just so damn mad.” But the woman journaled about her anger and later reported, “In four days, I wrote away my anger.”
Burhans is a national speaker and radio host who has published “Good Night and God Bless: Celebrating Love, Laughter & the Lessons of Loss.” She was a caretaker for her mother, who had cancer. Burhans’ husband passed away in October after a terminal illness.
Veasey said journaling doesn’t have to be anything fancy. She said when she started, she put her mother’s doctor’s appointments at the top of a notebook page and jotted notes about her mom’s behavior on the bottom. Later, when her father also developed dementia, she could note differences in his behavior around the full moon. The notebooks helped her see patterns.
Burhans said jotting thoughts or observations on a calendar can count as journaling. You don’t have to use full sentences when you journal. You can even doodle. She said one woman who hates to write has cut out pictures and made a collage to represent her thoughts and emotions.
Veasey said her family members who read her online journaling said, “I had no idea what you’re going through.”
As Veasey said, “If you don’t communicate, how are people going to help you? Sometimes you just need that shoulder to cry on.”
During a question-and-answer session, Debbie Selsavage, who founded Coping With Dementia, said journaling allows caregivers to express the many feelings they are experiencing, including such feelings as “I can’t do this.”
Straley said when her husband was diagnosed with dementia, she felt, “I didn’t want to sit in a rocking chair alongside him. I was ready to run away.”
The couple had had a happy life in which they rode bikes, hiked, and socialized. Straley didn’t want to lose that. So, she said, she finally decided to run away, “but I took him with me.”
She said when a loved one dies, the surviving caregiver has a tendency to focus on the last hard days. However, she and her husband had been married 41 years when he died. Journaling helped her remember the good times.
An attendee at the conference pointed out that Straley’s books are funny and wanted to know if the incidents she wrote about were funny at the time or only in retrospect.
“Sometimes they were not funny when I was experiencing them,” Straley said. “But I always say, if you’re not having a good time, at least you’re making a good story.”