Caring in a Coronavirus world

For the last three weeks I have been avoiding something difficult. The three weeks I am referring to coincides with the start of my realisation that the Coronavirus was going to seriously affect all our lives. Shortly afterwards, we were all advised we must stay at home except for the list of essential things that we are now all familiar with. We also had to get to grips with a new everyday language – self isolating, social distancing, lockdown being terms that we now use almost as if they had always existed. Throughout these three weeks, I have been able to consume my time on things that needed doing, many of them generated by my volunteering role. Whenever I stopped to think, I was able to pretend that I didn’t have time to do this “difficult thing”.

So, what on earth is this “difficult thing”? Well it was writing this, the next post for my blog. I had drafted something but it became increasingly inappropriate as the whole world and our own worlds within it changed beyond all recognition. The realisation that if I was to post anything, it would need to at the very least acknowledge the new world we are all living in, began to dawn on me. Unlike many situations this new world that I mention is indeed worldwide too. Sadly, readers I know of in Australia, in New Zealand and in the USA are all facing these same challenges on top of their usual everyday demands.

Usually I try to offer some ideas to help carers to cope with the challenges they face but such ideas almost entirely escape me at the moment even though I have spoken to and exchanged emails and messages with a number of carers recently. A couple of months ago I also had a conversation with someone who was reading my blog. She said to me that she often used to think she was wrong to think or feel certain things. Because she thought she was wrong, she didn’t talk to anyone else about what she was experiencing. So, it came as a great relief to her to realise that other people think and feel the same way. It also gave her confidence knowing she was not alone. It may be that some of you in a caring role feel more alone than usual so I have decided to share some of the issues which have been shared with me.

We may be caring for someone in our own home and have lost the few hours in the week when we were able to connect with others or enjoy some activity which recharged our personal batteries; we may no longer be able to visit the one we care for and be coping with not only our own loneliness and anxieties but also anxiety for them in their isolation; we may care for someone who lives alone and our frequent visits have been curtailed and have become entirely functional related to bringing shopping or keeping their home clean for them. Our fears and worries for both ourselves and the ones we care for are likely to be magnified as we deal with the fact that many of our normal coping strategies are not available to us. Little things that might normally give us some relief and sense of ourselves – choosing tasty treats to enjoy or tempt the person we are caring for may not be possible; valuing ourselves by treating ourselves to a trip to the hairdresser; meeting a good friend for a coffee – are all unavailable to us. 

Being separated from family and the grandchildren who never fail to lift our spirits is so difficult to bear. The absence of hugs and reassuring physical contact, simply not being able to be in the same room as those we love, are huge gaps in our normal lives.

Reports in the news and social media messages can feed our imagination and our fears about what might happen if we or the person we care for does contract the COVID 19 virus. Notice what triggers your fear and anxiety and try to avoid it. Limiting your exposure to news broadcasts and social media might be a simple change you can make.

Some of you may have lost their loved one recently either due to the virus or some other condition and will have been unable to share their grieving with their family and friends in the normal way.

All of these challenges are layered on top of the demanding situation carers were probably already experiencing before COVID 19 turned their lives and their routines upside down.

The only thing I can offer is to urge you to find ways of sharing how you feel with people you trust and care about. This could be by phone or things like Facetime, Zoom or Skype if you have the technology. The comments space on this blog may also offer a safe space to share your thoughts.

If none of these are possible the simple act of writing down what you are thinking and feeling can help to make it more manageable even if you tear up the paper afterwards! In a book I have just finished, Jan-Philipp Sendker wrote “Writing really does help. It helps with loneliness. It helps with fear. It helps with the melancholy of the everyday. Writing has an almost magical power – and I don’t need anything other than an empty piece of paper and a pencil.”

I am thinking of you all and promise to write again soon.

Take care and stay safe.


A new year and new ways to be a healthy carer

Happy New Year everyone!

As ever, January is the season of lots of conversations about New Year’s resolutions and even if we are not someone who makes resolutions, it can be a time of wondering about the year ahead. Wondering whether or not we can make any changes that would make our life healthier, more the way we would like it to be.

Would you like things to be different? What would you like to be different? Do you have any control over that? If not is there something related to an area where you do have control that you would like to be different? Maybe something about yourself?

Have you made any resolutions? It is still January, how are they going? The chances are it is difficult, up and down, some days easy, some days less so, since changing ourselves and the way we like to do things or the habits we have, takes effort. Some days you remember, sometimes it is the last thing on your mind. Maybe you remember when you are doing something else but forget when you are in the moment and you say “next time……..”

Don’t give up and don’t be critical of yourself and don’t set yourself too ambitious a target. Success with a tiny change is much better than failure with too big a plan.

One of the problems with New Year’s resolutions is that they have a tendency to be black and white – we either succeed or we fail. “I am going to stop being irritated when …..”, “I am not going to worry over things I can’t control”.

If we think we have failed, for example we did get irritated or we did worry about something we couldn’t control, then often that demotivates us. We blame or criticise ourselves and think perhaps we are not strong enough and then assume we will never succeed.   

I read an article this week that talked about having an ID – an intention and a direction. Having an intention and a direction are things that we can’t fail at. Progress might be slow but that’s OK.

So, what might an intention or a direction look like?

My intention might be to pay a bit more attention to myself and my needs. My direction may be to try to find a bit of time most days to do something I enjoy for a short time, even if that is sitting with a cup of coffee listening to some music for 10 or 15 minutes. Being rather than doing! Have you heard the expression – we are human beings but we spend a lot of time as humans doing?

Something else I discovered this week was a little tool to help when we feel overwhelmed by things. It’s called HALT and you can use it when things just feel too much. HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired.

You can ask yourself – am I hungry? If yes, then stop and have something to eat. Am I angry or anxious? If yes, then what am I angry or anxious about and can I pause and take a deep breath or two and let the feeling pass. Am I lonely? If yes, can I phone someone or plan to meet someone tomorrow. And finally, am I tired? If the answer to this question is yes, can I rest for a short while or do I need to take more care of myself to make sure I don’t let myself become exhausted?

Perhaps if you want an intention for the coming year it might be to do everything for the one we care for in a way which helps them feel safe, secure and valued as well as loved. Maybe it is not so much what we do but how we do it.

Wishing everyone peace in 2020.

Wishing you peace at Christmas and in the year ahead.

What a mix of emotions come with Christmas. Being surrounded by images of happy families makes it all the more poignant when Christmas isn’t going to be quite how we would like it to be. The carers I have worked with over the years have often spoken about a new set of challenges which come with Christmas – how they would love to have again the kind of Christmas they used to have; how they feel stress as a result of trying to meet everyone’s expectations; how they feel unable to express what they would really like for fear of disappointing others; how to manage their anxiety about how the person they care for will cope with the activity and energy that they might experience; even resentment at how things are for them and many more!

Someone they love may be absent either because of dementia or because they are in a facility being cared for or simply because they are no longer here. At Christmas, I find myself longing for my mum to be here again so that I can do all the things I used to do to make her Christmas good and I find myself wishing that I had done things differently when she was here. These feelings of wanting things to be different than they are, can eat us up and distract us from enjoying what we do have.

One of the carers I worked with a while ago, a very wise lady who cared for her husband, said to me that she had learned to accept the changes, alter her expectations and plans and achieve the best she can. It had not been easy for her but it gave her some level of peace and escape from all the emotions of resentment and anger and frustration at things not being how she wanted them to be.

Another lady I worked with longed for her children to have the kind of Christmases with their grandma, her mother, that she used to have. Sadly, these were no longer possible because of her mother’s dementia. Her sense of longing almost resulted in her missing out on the fact that the children had a wonderful time with their grandma – it was just different.

Being clear about what is realistic can protect us from the longing for something that is no longer possible. We might then be able to gain some clarity on what we would really like this Christmas. What we would really like may not be what the media promotes. It may not be what our families or friends suggest. But it may be what we know we can cope with and what will enable us to enjoy what we have. Once we have that clarity about what we really want, it is easier to find the confidence to express it and make it happen.  

So, I wish you peace at Christmas and in the year ahead, through the ability to accept how things are and freedom from longing for what is not possible. I hope you can then experience some joy from what might seem like small and insignificant situations. 

Emotions – positive, negative – all welcome?

I love Rumi’s poem below and have been reminded of it recently in a couple of conversations with carers I have been working with. Hope you might like it.   

The Guest House

This being human is a guest- house. Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honourably.

He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.


From “The Essential Rumi”, translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, 1995.

Carers doing resilience for themselves!

As I mentioned last time I wrote, I have been thinking about resilience recently and wondering what it is that enables some of us to be more resilient than others, what it is that makes our resilience vary from week to week or maybe even day to day. If you are caring for someone, being resilient is really important if you are to remain healthy yourself.

I have discovered a way of thinking about resilience which I find quite helpful. If we think about it as something we do rather than something we have, it opens up some options for us. When we think of resilience as something we have then it is static, but we know that how we cope can vary week to week, even day to day and sometimes within a day. So, if we think of resilience as something we do then we can choose to do it or not to do it. It might be a difficult choice but it is still a choice. Some time ago I wrote about making choices and there were some interesting comments about realising that there is always a choice.

There is another complication though. I have met and worked with many carers who appear to have tremendous resilience in that they can keep coping with what I might think of unsustainable situations. They have become so used to coping and being under pressure, that they have become acclimatised. It is sometimes only once they start speaking about it that they realise that they don’t want or need to experience the pain or distress or the negative consequences they describe.

It’s a bit like comparing running a marathon with running for the bus. Running for the bus, we can sprint for a short while, but we would struggle to keep that pace up running a marathon. We would need breaks and time to recharge our batteries. And we would be exhausted and suffer afterwards. What sometimes blinds us to the price we are paying in terms of our wellbeing, is the extent to which we believe we have to run that marathon! Or have to care in a particular way.

And there is another difficulty, we slip into patterns of thinking and ways of speaking to ourselves, perhaps even bullying ourselves. One of those patterns might be to do with our expectations of ourselves about how we should care for the person we are looking after. The more pressure we are under and the more distressed we are, the more difficult it is to think differently and speak differently to ourselves. In other words, to think more flexibly.

So, if we DID resilience what would that look like? Well, there is the long term and how we equip ourselves generally. And there is the short or immediate term, when we are in that moment of feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope, when thinking flexibly can completely desert us.

Equipping ourselves generally is making ourselves a priority. Things like getting enough sleep, eating well, meeting friends, having some fun and taking some exercise.

In the moment is a bit more difficult, but pausing and breathing deeply for a moment allows another part of our nervous system to calm us down. Feeling slightly calmer may make it possible for us to get back into what we might call our resilience zone where we can think more flexibly and make some choices. Instead of thinking “I can’t do that” shift to thinking “I can’t do that yet”.  Instead of thinking its your fault and that you are not a good enough carer, being a little more compassionate towards yourself, the way you probably would be to someone else. Instead of your emotions leaking out as you speak, you might speak a bit more calmly which in turn brings about a different response and winds things down rather than winding them up.

Try doing some resilience and let me know how it goes.