What do you do when life hits the fan? – Janet Fouts

What do you do when life hits the fan?

The older we are, the more we are likely to become a caregiver for family and friends or need care for ourselves. In fact, a survey of family caregivers from Caregiver Action and AARP tells us that 29% of the U.S. population provides care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one).

Yet very few, if any of us are prepared for what it takes to care for others. The financial, physical, and emotional burden can be crushing.

In my case, I started caring for my partner when she was diagnosed with breast cancer about 12 years ago. Like many of us, I flew into action thinking I would ride in and save the day on my trusty white horse! Geez, what an idiot.

I had no idea how to care for her, to deal with the medical system, to help her through the horrors of chemotherapy, countless medical procedures and emergencies that pretty much come with the territory. But I did it. Not as well as I thought I would, but she survived the medical system and my learning curve. It was messy and ugly and heartbreaking, but we both survived it.

Ah, but then, when the doctors told her she was done with the medications, and the testing, and the rest of the mess? That’s when life took a new turn for me.

See, I’d been mostly holding it together, caring for her and our family, learning about the medical system and how to help decide what protocols were best. I was an action machine! (with a few breakdowns when no one was looking).

Now, with the worst “over”, I fell into a deep depression.

It seemed ridiculous. Wasn’t she better? Wasn’t she beginning to regain her strength, her amazing sense of humor? Wasn’t she getting back to work and being her usual take-charge self? Yeah, she was, and now she didn’t need me as much (my words, not hers) and I felt lost and afraid it would come back and I wouldn’t be able to handle it again.

I thrashed around for a very long time, trying to find a way to manage my emotional roller coaster. Drugs, therapy, alcohol, none of those were the answer.

I turned to something I’d done years ago; when restaurant life had me all wound up, I’d practice tai chi to relax. That led to more investigation of the effects of mindfulness practice on our wellbeing emotionally and physically. I took a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class, and then learned about cultivating compassion, and before I knew it I was feeling stronger, more grounded, and yep… naturally happy! Well, more of the time, mindfulness is not a panacea, but it’s close enough for me.

All of this is why I wrote When Life Hits the Fan, as a guide for other caregivers who feel overwhelmed, anxious, panicked, depressed and yet want nothing more than to be there for those they love.

The book is written from the perspective of my own experiences and those of more than 50 caregivers, with small, mindful practices anyone can do to improve well-being.

Even if you aren’t a caregiver, the book will help you see that you can take charge of how you respond to your life. You can give yourself the gift of calmly approaching life as it comes and knowing that you have the inner resources to manage it more skillfully. Get When Life Hits the Fan on Amazon.

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