thanks projectThis month I have been writing more about Alzheimer’s and caregiving. I’m doing this because November is both National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month. The AARP’s latest figures estimate that there are over 42 million caregivers in the US. I was one of them.

I’m also writing about these topics because every time I do I get to revisit with parts of my life that I have boxed away and shelved and I really do need to look at them again. I chronicled my caregiving journey with Millie for years on this blog. It was tremendously helpful to unwind to a blank screen and purge the day. Most of my writing was done without many edits, I just simply needed to get it out.

There are hundreds of posts I published and then never read again. In looking back at my caregiving life I have been carefully opening the lid. It has been hard. So very hard. Everything is raw: my feelings, my concern. What I am relieved to read, not that I had much doubt, was how much love and heart is wrapped up within my caregiving posts.

I wanted to share some excerpts from a post I wrote on November 10, 2008: Awareness- It’s not just a t-shirt.

I remember sitting down to write the post. For some reason I was bothered by the word “awareness” and where I was in my life. Aware? OF COURSE I WAS AWARE. And yet once the month of November rolled around the Alzheimer’s awareness campaigns kicked in and mainstream media suddenly became interested in making sure people were AWARE of Alzheimer’s. It rubbed me the wrong way. Then I realized that was my problem to fix. I could do my part to help make people aware of other sides of Alzheimer’s, from my perspective, as a caregiver. Millie was no longer able to write so her journey became my responsibility to share.

From my 2008 post: “Care-giving. I just looked it up and the definition given seemed so sub-par. “A person who attends to the needs of another.” It just doesn’t seem full enough of a definition. It doesn’t cover the bubble that you live in when you take on the role of care-giving. The loss of self that happens, the loss of time, of creativity, of years.”

I then confessed something that, at the time, was hard to admit: I was depressed. It was a very specific kind of depressed. I had just been diagnosed with caregiver’s depression.

More from 2008: “The medication that came with the diagnosis helped me climb out of the darkest of spots, but it was really up to me to change how I faced each day. I needed to stop trying to be a hero every day, stop trying to be perfect, stop trying to do it ALL. Honestly it was a huge lesson to learn that the sun will still rise if the kitchen is not scrubbed down every night and the clothes in the dryer are still damp when I go to bed.

I also needed to learn that just as Millie has specific needs I do too. I need to have a creative outlet. I need to be able to get out of the house by myself at least once a week. I need to have time where I can unplug from the task of caregiving and just sleep or watch a movie.”

This is when my life as a caregiver changed, completely. I found respite care. For the rest of my caregiving experience I had this wonderful backup support named Delores. She came once a week and sat with with Millie for an entire afternoon. I gave myself permission to try and fit in a bit of a life during those afternoons. I would go for a walk, sit alone in a coffee shop, even get a pedicure. It was life saving.

When AARP launched The Thanks Project this year to thank caregivers I instantly thought of Delores and how she was so much help. SO MUCH HELP. I love the idea of people pouring their thanks into the project like a quilt of appreciation. It is all user generated content so as soon as you share your thanks your message becomes part of the fabric of love for all to see. Seeing all of the collective thank you’s is a work of art and you can easily get lost in all of the small snippets of stories revealed in the messages.

What I would love for all of you to do is to add a thank you message to a caregiver you have known in your life. Is there someone who helped you recover from an illness? Someone who brought your family meals during a hard time? Someone who sat with you on the darkest day? Someone who helped you plan the care for your parents or grandparents? Put your thank you out into the universe, even better you can email the thank you or send the message to them over social media. If you can’t think of anyone to thank you can thank Delores for me and my family.

The Thanks Project

{Disclosure: I am so pleased to share that I am a new member of AARP’s Blogger Kitchen Cabinet on #caregiving, #caresupport, #carekc issues. All opinions are my own.}

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