Self Caring

Keeping the "I" in caring

When Friends Just Don't Get It

Last updated: May 19, 2016

お疲れサマー! Bye-bye summer!
Image by "KIUKO" used under the creative commons attribution no derivs license.

Do your friends "get" what you're doing? Not really? Not so much? Not surprising.

The hard truth is that it's difficult for people to comprehend day-to-day caregiving -- its demands, its tedium, its challenges, its hungry, 16-armed-octopus-consuming-your-free-time nature. Even if they're loyal, longlasting friends.

Not unless they've been there, too.

Gary Joseph LeBlanc, a book dealer in Spring Hill, Florida, knows this well. He cared for his father, Joseph, from his early memory loss to his death of Alzheimer's disease a decade later. "The average person doesn't have a notion as to what you're going through," he says. "Your phone rings less and less because you've had to decline time and again because it's hard to get away. And when you do see old friends, they don't seem to know what to say anymore."

This incredible shrinking social circle smacks a double whammy: Not only does spen

Mother's Day Gift Ideas

Last updated: May 02, 2015

Year 3, Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6 Art Projects - Spring 2011 (52 of 54)

On Mother's Day this year, you might skip giving her breakfast in bed or treating her to brunch, and instead give a gift that serves up benefits for both of you. Try a Mother's Day gift with a caregiver bonus built right in.

Here, seven suggestions (and please, share yours"¦):

1. A whole day of hello's, so she knows she's not forgotten

Arrange ahead of time for a roster of her favorite people to take turns calling on the hour: her children, a grandchild away at college, an old neighbor, the bridesmaid at her wedding 50 years ago.

Benefit to you: Just by sending out a few e-mails or making a few calls to set up the schedule, you get a happy mom all day long -- without the cleanup.

2. An iPod, with a playlist of her favorite tunes

Get her to focus not on the scary new technology of the device but on what it can give her: all the music she loves -- dozens of whole symphonies, musicals

How Closely Do You Track Your OWN Symptoms?

Last updated: October 10, 2011

analyzing mirror self-recognition

It's a paradox of caregiving that we can know our loved ones more intimately than we know ourselves. By that I mean, we track and monitor the care receiver's every symptom and complaint, but this laser focus too often diverts our attention from our own bodies.

Which may be screaming at us.

That's what symptoms are -- your body's way of saying, "Psst! Red alert! Something's not quite right here!"

Cancer is the health concern uppermost on many minds in the wake of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' terribly untimely death in October 2011. (Not that Jobs did anything notably wrong about his health; pancreatic cancer is a particularly insidious killer.) Then a key government task force recommended against routine PSA blood test screenings for prostate cancer for healthy men without cancer symptoms.

Both headlines underscore the importance of senior editor Melanie Haiken's series for

The Question Every Caregiver Deserves but Seldom Hears

Last updated: October 03, 2011

3D Character and Question Mark

Quick: When's the last time somebody asked you, "How are you doing?"

Emphasis on the "you."

Not lately? Not surprising.

People don't get involved in caregiving for the glory or the thanks. We do it because it's a job that needs to be done. We don't even think of it as a "job." It's part and parcel of loving someone, of feeling duty-bound. The person needing our care is the star attraction, after all, the focus of attention.

But wouldn't it be nice if you, the caregiver, weren't completely invisible? Wouldn't be a relief if the rest of your family paused once in a while to ask about your health, your sleep, or your well being?

There are many reasons friends and family fail to ask caregivers how they're doing. (I'm not saying they're good reasons, only that these are possible motivations for keeping mum). For example:

  • Lack of comprehension: They just don't fully understand the time

Let's Talk

Last updated: September 26, 2011

Nose to nose

It was a classic case of miscommunication. My sister-in-law -- a.k.a. the mother of all caregivers, with six school-age kids and, at one time, three live-in elders -- was under strict orders to call me at any hour she felt the need, for any reason. Her mother was on home hospice when the text arrived: "Can you talk?"

Eager to help, I texted back, for speed's sake, a simple "Y."

And then...she didn't call!

I waited awhile before texting back again, "Are you okay?"

Actually she was all right, had just been wanting to update me, until she got my message -- and that had made her a little miffed and hurt. She'd mis-read my "Y" as the word "Why?" As in, I was asking her why she needed to talk to me right then, as if I were screening her level of need. (No, no, I quickly clarified. My "Y" meant "Yes!")

Fortunately, our communication is normally much smoother. (For one thing, I'm much bette

Was Pat Robertson Right?

Last updated: September 18, 2011

Ewige Liebe

Few situations strain caregivers like the longtime, debilitating illness of a spouse while you're still vital yourself.

And that's exactly the issue that got a bit lost amid last week's furor over fundamentalist Christian leader Pat Robertson's comments that divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer's is morally feasible because the disease is "a kind of death." There was lots of talk but no frank discussion of the very real dilemmas of the unlived lives of longtime Alzheimer's caregivers.

On websites and at water coolers, commenters lambasted the very idea of breaking marital vows. Unclear, however, is how many of them were speaking from the shoes of an advanced Alzheimer's caregiver. Last year's Family Advisor columnist Carol O'Dell ignited a similar furious debate when she urged the depressed wife of a disabled man to allow herself to live her own life in a post about the stress

Critical Comments

Last updated: September 12, 2011

Water Wings

How often have you heard the advice, "Just let it roll off your back"? Pretty often, if you've read much of my work here at Caring, because I seem to say it a lot as a de-stressing tactic, whether in quoting an outside expert in caregiving or psychology, or when offering my own ten cents. I said it just last week in my post about how to cope with relatives who heap extra stress on caregiving.

In the comments on that post, someone asked for help on just how to do that. Good question!

How do you let criticisms roll off your back? How do you ignore busybodies who create chaos, not help? How do you make yourself impervious to the stress?

Try these self-psyching ideas:

  1. Ask yourself, frankly, if there's any truth in the comment.

    Better to get this part out of the way first: Deep in your heart, do you know it's true that, say, you can't continue dealing with Mom's incontinence without

When a Caregiver's Biggest Pain Isn't the Care Receiver

Last updated: September 05, 2011

2 : :rage:

"I Don't Know How She Does It" is the title of a new movie out later this month. It's about a working mom, but the line is an even better descriptor of caregivers, don't you think? Most caregivers (the "she's and "he's alike) juggle just as much, or more. And of all that a caregiver puts up with, sometimes the biggest stressor is an unexpected one: relationships with relatives.

I've been hearing frustrations galore lately about how it's not the care receiver, but another family member, who's driving caregivers nuts. Recognize any of these types in your life?

  • The long-distance second-guesser

A new report on long-distance caregivers says they're often more anxious, guilt-ridden, and disconnected than local caregivers, who can see what's happening with loved ones gradually. As a result, say researchers in the May, 2011 Oncology Nursing Forum, long-distance caregivers tend to swoop in

Pat Summitt's Son and Crossing Over to "Caregiving"

Last updated: August 29, 2011


Tyler Summitt is a caregiver-to-be. That's what I kept thinking as I saw him sitting in interviews beside his mother, the legendary University of Tennessee women's basketball head coach Pat Head Summitt, who announced last week that she'd been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease at age 59. At some future date, this college student will cross the line from supportive son into caregiving son.

Here at, we talk a lot about the "uh-oh moment," when you first realize undeniably that your parent, spouse, or other loved one has a life-changing -- or lives-changing -- problem. Tyler Summitt has been there already, wondering about his mother's memory problems even before her diagnosis by the Mayo Clinic. But he's sure to encounter another family-member milestone: Realizing that, wow, I've become a caregiver.

Caregiving is an identity that can sneak up on you. At first, you

If It's Monday, It Must Be a Chance to Start Fresh

Last updated: August 22, 2011


Mondays have a bad rap: End of the weekend, beginning of the work grind, another long haul of appointments and leftover To-Do lists. But what if Monday were re-framed as a day to look forward to?

Yes, even by caregivers.

That's the goal of Caregiver Mondays, a new effort by the Monday Campaigns, a nonprofit organization founded in association with Johns Hopkins, Columbia, and Syracuse universities. Their first health-inspiring effort, Meatless Mondays, has taken off in homes and in school cafeterias around the country (including my new-college-freshman's, I recently noted!)

The idea is to use Monday -- "the January of the week," they call it -- to course-correct what's not super-healthy or satisfying about your life. Research shows that most people already pick Monday to "start fresh" with health programs, like diets or quitting smoking. But you can start even smaller, with increment

About Self Caring
  • My mission: To help my 48 million fellow caregivers remember that the word "caring" has an "I" in it -- because it's too easy to focus on everything but yourself. I know this professionally (longtime health and family specialist and author) as well as personally (in the last two years, I've lost my mom to cancer and my dad to dementia and cancer). In Self Caring, I want to shine a little spotlight on you. What do caregiving's ups and downs mean for your health, household, work, spirit, and -- oh yes -- sanity?

    You can reach me at

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