How to Make New Friends after A Divorce or Break Up

friendsThere are so many losses that you feel when you get divorced or go through a bad break up.  One unfortunate loss is friends, probably just at the time that you need them the most.  When a couple divorces, it’s not absolutely necessary for friends to take sides, but in reality it can be difficult for people to remain friends with both you and your ex.  You might think that it’s cruel and terrible timing for them to stop spending time with you, and there’s truth to that.  But from their point of view, it can be awkward and sometimes they are put in the middle hearing both sides of a story that they don’t want to hear.  Also, the fact that you’re getting divorced suddenly makes them nervous about their own relationships.  I’m not defending fair weather friends, just encouraging you to accept the facts if it has become obvious that a friend has stopped being a friend or chosen to side with your ex.  At that point, you will likely have to get out a bit and make more friends.

The easiest way for you to make friends after a divorce or break up is to join regularly meeting classes or groups in something that really interests you and is fun for you.  Classes where you go out on a limb, such as improvisation, acting, singing, and dancing are great for making new friends.  The act of being vulnerable and being willing to possibly make a bit of a fool of yourself unites everyone.  In these classes, people encourage each other and applaud each others’ efforts, because awkward as your attempts might be, they’re pretty courageous.

If you’re at all athletic, joining a softball, volleyball, or soccer group could be fun too.  Anyone who played sports in school can attest to the feeling of camaraderie that comes from being on a team.  Plus afterward, people usually go out together to enjoy their glorious win or commiserate over their loss.

Some classes like yoga and meditation, which encourage people to go inward, don’t lend themselves to chatting during or after class, much less going for a coffee or drink afterward.  So while they are certainly helpful for your emotional and physical health, they don’t necessarily offer the best opportunities for making new acquaintances.

Also, if you’re looking to start dating, the acting, dancing, and singing classes are especially good choices for men because the women tend out heavily outnumber the men in these classes.  (FYI men: There’s nothing women love more than a man willing to be vulnerable!)  As for women, go the sports route if you’re looking to meet men.  Meeting people this way also gives you something in common to talk about, such as each other’s scenes, songs, and missed shots.  Whereas with online dating, people often spend so much time just talking about how long they have been doing the online dating thing.

So after years in a relationship with a regular routine, your life may have revolved around your partner, your kids, your work, and a few friends.  Now that your spouse and a few friends are gone, you may not be used to meeting new people or trying new activities.  Joining a new class or group that interests you is an easy way to get to know new people and fill some of the social void left in your life.  Now go break a leg or score a goal!

From your own experience, do you have any suggestions for how to easily make new friends after a divorce or break up?

How to Survive Divorce while Making Your Dream Come True

I work wdreamith people going through divorce and it’s an incredibly painful time in their lives. One thing that I encourage people to do is to have some sort of hope or dream, something to inspire them while going through this difficult preriod. What I mean by a dream is that often, during marriage, you end up compromising on things and perhaps not realizing a dream of yours because it’s not feasible when you’re married. When you’re married, you have to take into account someone else’s wishes and you have to make compromises. But when people are getting divorced, I like to ask them about some of their secret aspirations and dreams; things which they didn’t consider seriously, much less bring to fruition during their marriage. Then I encourage them to try to add some of that dream into their life.

So let’s say you always wanted to be an actor. Fine, then sign up for some acting classes and get involved in your local community theatre. Or, if you already know how to act, but had put it aside for whatever reason in your marriage, then go on some auditions just for fun and get your feet wet! Suppose you wanted to be a writer. Well then take a class on writing and sit yourself down and start writing! Have you always wanted to own a hair salon? (And I know someone who has.) Well start doing some research and read some books and online articles about owning your own business, and go talk to an actual hair salon owner. Perhaps you’ve always secretly wanted to craft the perfect rocking chair. Well then find a woodworking class and watch some youtube videos on how to build a rocking chair.  Yes, there are actually videos about that!

Whether any of this becomes your full-time job or not isn’t the point. The fact is that when something terrible has just happened in your life, when it feels like the life you had has just fallen apart and the future that you thought you were going to have has been blown to bits, you need to have something to look forward to in order to balance that out and, at times, distract you from the pain. It’s true that if you’re in the depths of despair, you’re probably not going to have the energy to write your great American novel. But as some of the despair starts to lift, you can actually take some steps toward realizing that dream. Also, in a lovely way, you’ll see that realizing your dream helps to lift you out of the despair. So your hope or aspiration can be something as grand as going back to school for your law degree or as simple as taking those dancing lessons that you never took because your soon-to-be ex had two left feet. It can be as lofty as starting a non-profit or as fun as backpacking across Europe. Just looking up travel websites and picking up brochures at a travel agency can give you a little emotional boost during the day, and they’re much better to look at than what your ex has posted on Instagram!

An important point to keep in mind is to choose something that you have always wanted to do. Don’t pick something specifically to spite your ex, because then you’re still basing your decisions on someone else. Sort of like the teenager who does things just to rebel against his parents rather than because he thoughtfully chooses to do them, therefore his decisions are still based on his parents’ wishes. This is about liberating yourself from considering what your ex likes or doesn’t like and just doing what you want to do.

So while going through divorce, one way to give yourself something to look forward to amidst all the despair and confusion you might feel about the future, is to pick that one dream and somehow start turning it into a reality in your life.

Dating After Divorce: 3 Mistakes to Avoid On A First Date

first date

So your divorce is final and you’re beginning to date again. Whether you met online, via app, or in person, now that you’ve got that first date lined up you don’t want to blow it! Here are the three top first date mistakes to avoid:

1. Talking about Your Ex

Nooo, don’t go there! This first date is all about new possibilities. Why rehash the past? Talk about what’s interesting in your life now. Ask your date about what good things they have going on in their life. No one, other than psychologists like me, wants to hear about your ex. Even if you’ve got a healthy perspective about your divorce or past relationship, it’s way too soon to talk about that stuff! Did you see that movie Enough Said with Julia Louis Dreyfus and James Gandolfini? That movie had the best example of the worst first date talk that I’ve seen. They both talk about their exes and bash them! Talk about being stuck in anger and bitterness. Stick to the present day and your ambitions for the future. I’m not saying that you can’t talk about anything controversial, like politics. That can be fun and a little debate can be a turn on. But leave out the, “He done me wrong,” talk because bitterness is a turn off and detailed analysis is fun only for you and your therapist.

2. Arriving Late

Don’t start off on the wrong foot by being rude, which is exactly what arriving late is. Your date’s time is as valuable as yours. When you show up late it suggests that you’re inconsiderate and self-centered. When you pick a location, make sure you pick a place or at least a neighborhood that you know. If you are running late due to circumstances beyond your control, like a conference call runs long or a traffic accident, make sure you’ve got your date’s number handy to send a text. Also, send that text as soon as you realize you’re going to be late, not at the appointed meeting time.

3. Overselling Yourself

Don’t give it all away right away! That reeks of desperation and lack of self confidence. Leave a little mystery. Even if you’re not all that mysterious, there has to be more about you than can be related in a one to two-hour date. Think of it as giving them a trickle of water, so that they get a taste and want to come back for more; don’t make them drink from the fire hose!

Desperation – it’s the world’s worst cologne.” (Singles)

Are you worried that if you’re not super impressive your date won’t be interested? A date isn’t supposed to be a recitation of your resume. More often, it’s your demeanor that attracts, not the actual words you say. Calm, confidence, and friendliness are attractive. Anxiety, desperation, and tension are not. Just be your usual, likable self and enjoy getting to know a new person.
So relax and take a few deep breaths and realize that first dates are more often just about weeding out weirdos and psycho killers…ahem, I mean inappropriate people. Just stick to your normal, friendly self, which was good enough to get you a first date, and you’ll get to the next round. Remember that the past doesn’t have to repeat itself. Be relaxed and realize that most people are pretty interesting. So enjoy finding out what’s interesting about the person in front of you.

These 2 Questions Will Solve All Your Problems!

These 2 questions wstart stopill solve all your problems!

Am I sounding too much like an infomercial?  And…I’ll even throw in this paring knife!

Ok, now seriously. If you have a problem, then here are two killer questions to help you hone in on a solution.  Ask yourself:

What am I doing that I shouldn’t be?
What am I not doing that I should?

Simple huh? But brilliant. Why? Because, let’s be honest, we all know that there are things we say we’re going to do but don’t. And, there are things we’re doing that either create a problem or make one worse. Right? Right.

I love to help people figure out what they want out of life. It’s a joy to discover what you long to do, how you want to be, and what would make your life more meaningful. Then I usually help you get out of your own way so that you can make your dream happen. But if you’re not going to be sitting in my office next week or talking to me via Skype, you can get the party started by asking yourself those two simple questions. Then start doing what you need to or stop doing what you shouldn’t. If you still can’t, then that’s where people like me (psychologists) come in handy to help you figure out why and get past it. Most of the time, the only one stopping you from getting what you want out of life is you. So what are you waiting for? Get out of your way!

Whoosh! (That’s me throwing the mic down.)

 

“The answer to all your problems is in this bittle lottle.” ~ Lucille Ball

Pain – The Great Change Motivator

Sometimes I get a paincall or an email from someone who is interested in beginning therapy. We talk, they tell me a bit about their situation, we set up an appointment, and they cancel. We try again and they cancel. At that point, I know they’re not going to start therapy and I know why: they’re just not in enough pain.

Pain is the great change motivator. Pain is what causes you to say, “I never want to go through that again. I’m willing to do something, anything different!” Pain is what leads you to therapy.

But why wait so long? Why not get help when it’s just recurring discomfort instead of waiting until it’s overwhelming and debilitating pain? Perhaps it’s the old “devil we know vs. the devil we don’t know” syndrome? A low-level pain can be tolerated; the regular dose of discomfort can be borne.

People seem to know this on some innate level, because they often exaggerate the pain in order to justify change. The boss can’t just be a regular person, biding the time until retirement, and unmotivated to try your innovative ideas. No, the boss must be a lazy lout, who is purposely ruining your career! So now you can give yourself permission to look for another job.

But instead of waiting so long, I say, “Feel the pain!” No, this isn’t some old aerobics slogan. I’m just saying to pay attention to what your pain, your everyday, low-level, tolerable pain is telling you. Stop ignoring it and listen. Maybe it’s telling you to find a different job or even change your career. Maybe it’s saying to start painting again or tell your partner you don’t want to go to your in-laws for dinner every weekend. Who knows? Well your pain knows and it’s sending you a message that you need to figure out. Hey, I’m happy to help you figure it out, but you don’t have to show up at my doorstep practically bleeding out from emotional pain. No worries, I’ll bandage you up and help you figure it out, but you can also save yourself a world of hurt by starting the process early and paying attention to your pain before it becomes overwhelming. Give yourself permission to make a change or seek help because you want to and not because you absolutely have to or will keel over from excruciating pain. Give yourself permission to want more, to dream big, to listen to yourself. Give yourself permission to have better than good enough and to fix what ain’t broke.

Achieving Balance

balancing actBalance is a new buzzword of late.  People often talk about achieving work-life balance.  Usually that means trying to spend less hours working in order to fit in more non-work activities, such as spending time with family or friends.

I’d like to discuss a slightly different form of balance: a balance of your inner and outer worlds.  By the outer world, I mean what you do that is external or directed outward from your physical being.  In other words, what you create in the world, whether a work presentation, a meal, a new business, or a book.  These all entail expending your energy outward and creating something tangible in the world.  We’re very achievement oriented, so understanding what I mean by expending your energy for external achievement should be easy because it’s likely what you do most of the time.

So what is the internal part of this external/internal balance?  Well that’s the emphasis, effort, and energy that you put into going inward.  It is often alone but can also be done in a group, such as yoga, meditation, and tai chi.  It’s not necessarily about being still either, as there are certainly walking meditations.  It is all about where your attention is focused: outward creation or inner awareness.

Yoga is a wonderful way to bring your awareness back to yourself, combining both movement and stillness.  Tai chi is a powerful way to learn to focus inward and manage your energy.  In these kinds of practices, such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, and even journal writing and psychotherapy, your focus is on yourself: knowing yourself, observing yourself, perhaps reaching deeper insights about yourself, as opposed to the external focus that we usually maintain.  In our everyday life, especially at work or school, we are more often focused on others and events external from ourselves, perhaps understanding them or working with them.

When we are too externally focused we lose touch with ourselves and can feel disconnected from ourselves; we may not know what we really want out of life and too often don’t enjoy life.  When we are too internally focused we can lose touch with others and the outside world; we may become disengaged and have difficulty achieving in the outside world.

The healthiest goal is to seek balance between our external efforts – what we create in the world – and our internal awareness – what we come to know and understand within ourselves.  Neither external nor internal is inherently better than the other, we need both for a fulfilling life, and we all have our own unique balance of external and internal that feels healthiest for us.

Please give this idea some thought and consider whether your life is too heavily focused in one direction and could use some rebalancing.

4 Tips for Dealing with Anger

angry man

Anger has gotten a bad reputation.  As I always tell my patients who have trouble acknowledging their anger or expressing it in a healthy way, “Anger is a healthy response to being disrespected.”  By suggesting tips to help you understand and handle your anger, I’m not at all saying that feeling anger is a bad thing.  But acting out of anger often turns into a bad thing.  These tips are to help you deal with anger in a healthier way, not to eliminate the feeling from your emotional repertoire.  Anger about injustice has given birth to many a good cause.  I’m sure Martin Luther King Jr. felt anger, but he didn’t act out of anger.  As a peace-promoting man, he likely used any anger he felt over injustice to fuel his efforts.  But I suspect his actual actions were guided more by conviction, a desire for peace and justice, and the knowledge that anger-fueled action often becomes violence.  So please feel your anger and recognize that it is telling you something, namely, “There’s something going on here that I don’t like.”  But don’t let anger rule your actions.  Let your actions come from a more centered place.

1.  Accept that you can’t control others

Plainly and simply put: Anger is your response to someone not being or doing as you want them to be or do.  You feel angry when others don’t behave or respond as you want them to.  But if we can’t control others, then fortunately for us, they can’t control us either.  Trying to control another adult is so utterly disrespectful.  Do you remember how you felt when someone tried to control you?  I bet you were angry.    Other people are as free to make their own choices as you are, even if their choices hurt you or don’t make sense to you.  All you can do is feel your anger but let your response, whether it involves verbal or physical action, come from a clearer, more centered place.  This is what Martin Luther King did when he responded to violence with non-violence.

2.  Realize that it’s not personal

This one can save you from feeling anger over a lot of the silly, everyday nonsense.  The best explanation of this comes from Don Miguel Ruiz in The Four Agreements.  He states that he can see someone one day who says, “Miguel you are so wonderful!,” and he knows that the person is in a good mood.  The next day the same person can say, “Miguel you are horrible!,” and he knows that the person is in a bad mood.  Miguel hasn’t changed who he is overnight; the other person’s mood has changed overnight.

When you feel angry in response to someone’s actions, realize that their actions usually have nothing to do with you.  If you think the customer service representative on the phone isn’t being helpful, then know that he is likely the same with everyone.  It’s not personal.  Is it frustrating?  Yes.  But is it personal?  No.  The person who is kind to you is kind to most people and the person who is rude to you is rude to most people.  Even if a colleague does something that is deliberately aimed at you to make you look bad and him look good, let’s say to position himself for a promotion.  Know that he would have done it to anyone whom he deemed a threat.  That still doesn’t make it fair, but it does make it not personal.

3.  Take a beat

It’s an important lesson to learn in life that things that are said can’t be taken back.  Couples often tell me that they have said things in anger that they immediately regretted and even apologized for, but their partners never forgot it.  In the heat of anger, you might verbally throw your partner’s weaknesses at him or her or threaten to leave.  Those kinds of remarks are not forgotten and the more it happens the less safe your partner feels about you.

Take a moment before you respond, even if that moment lasts much longer than a beat.  You can say something like, “I need a minute to think so that I say this clearly.”  If you are so angry that you know you won’t be able to think clearly in a minute, say something like, “I have to clear my head a little.  I’ll be back in ‘x amount of time’ when I’m calmer and we can talk about this more then.”  But don’t leave without an explanation or just stomp out.  To just walk out on someone is also disrespectful and then nothing gets solved.  So do your best to calm down with the intention to get back to the topic a.s.a.p.

4.  Learn what calms you down

You need to try different things to see what calms you down when you’re angry.  Again, that doesn’t mean ignore your anger.  It means feel it and then manage it so that it doesn’t overwhelm you.  Maybe taking a few deep breaths, going for a quick walk, thinking of what you could potentially lose, or meditating will work for you.  It may be that you already do or think certain things when you are anxious, such as, “Everything is going to be okay,” or “Things always work out well in the end.”  Perhaps those same thoughts could help you with anger too.  You need to be willing to try different things to see what works for you.

People say that they can’t control themselves in those moments of anger.  But that is not true.  You always have a choice; you always can take a beat.  A split second before you say it, you know that what you are about to say will hurt your partner.  If you think that you can’t control yourself in those moments, then that’s precisely what you have to learn and why you need to practice.  Keep practicing; it will make you more mature and it will teach you self control.  So if you do blurt something out, then try to do better the next time you’re angry.  If you do stomp out, then apologize when you get back and pick up the discussion.  Just keep trying to do better because we seldom get things perfect the first time around and life will certainly give you plenty of opportunities to get angry and practice some more.

 

4 Tips for Getting through Divorce

Divorce is painful.  Tbroken ringshere’s no getting around it.  Whether you were the one who initiated it or not, it is still likely be one of the most painful periods in your life.  These tips are for getting through the first month or two after it’s decided that you’re getting divorced.

1.   Be kind to yourself and don’t overdo

You’re getting divorced and it feels like a shock.  It seems like life is moving on, carrying your body along with it, but your brain and heart are stuck in limbo.  You’re still in shock over the realization that your marriage is over and the future you had imagined with your spouse will never happen.  Don’t make yourself do too much, i.e. work or social activities.  You may have to take some time off from work, ranging from days to weeks.  Each day you’ve accomplished something if you can get one thing done, whether it’s the grocery shopping or getting to one appointment, and that’s great.

2.  Lean on your support system

If they don’t already know, then tell your closest friends and relatives that you are getting a divorce and let them help you by taking care of some things that you can’t quite handle yet.  Get a therapist, or contact one you saw in the past.  Family can be wonderful, but the fact that they knew your soon-to-be ex can make them less than impartial and unfortunately some “helpful” remarks may even blame you.  Get a therapist in place, who can help you get through this in a non-judgmental way at the pace that you need.

3.  Stay in the present

It’s inevitable that you’ll be sad, after all you’re grieving over the end of your relationship.  There’s no pretending that it isn’t over or that you’re not devastated.  But try not to add anxiety to the mix.  There is nothing that causes anxiety more than jumping into the far-off future with thoughts like, “Will anyone ever love me?”, “Will I ever get married again?”, or “What’s my life going to look like?”  As soon as you start thinking like that you’re going to feel that tight vice-grip around your stomach and be overwhelmed by anxiety.   Stay in the present.  That means get yourself through the day.  Take things a day at a time and at the most, a week at a time.

All of those questions will get answered in the future.  There’s no use torturing yourself with them now when you can’t possibly answer them.  Just stick to the present day with questions like, “What am I going to have for dinner?” (By the way, almost everyone I’ve worked with in this situation has lost their appetite and had a period of barely eating.  This is completely normal as deep sadness tends to rob people of their appetites.  But this will most likely pass within a month.)

4.  Accept current reality but have goals

People often balk at the Buddhist tenet of practicing acceptance.  They mistakenly think it means to not have goals or want to achieve anything.  What it really means is that we have no choice but to accept what currently is, i.e. you are getting divorced.  But you can accept the present while still having goals for the future.  They are not incompatible.

Give some thought to what dreams you’ve had about your life and what you’ve wanted to achieve, even if they seem far-fetched.  Now is the time to start thinking of them seriously.  Your life is about to have a lot of space in it, which was once filled with a spouse, marital obligations, and possibly a home to maintain.  What are you going to fill that space with?  Don’t fill it with mediocrity or things that you are expected to do but feel uninspiring.

I’ve worked with people who have created entirely new and more fulfilling lives after divorce.  It usually helps to fill the emptiness with something creative.  Do you love to write, dance, or paint?  What have you always wanted to be or do or learn?  Perhaps you’ve wanted to learn to speak Italian or to cook French cuisine?  It’s your choice.  You’re at a point where life is giving you both the burden and the opportunity of recreating your life.

So these are a few points about how to survive divorce, which I hope will help you.  There is a lot more that I could add, but these are some basics to get you through that initial, “Oh my God, I’m getting divorced,” period.  You’re in a lot of pain and probably think it will never end.  But you’ll notice after a few weeks that you’ll feel a little better, then in a few weeks you’ll feel a little better still.  It happens little by little and it takes time.  There are no shortcuts, but you’ll get through it.  Then one day you’ll find that you’ve gotten through most of the day and you’ll realize, “Wow, I haven’t thought of him/her all day.”  You may even feel a little sad at this realization that the person who was once so important in your life is no longer in your thoughts, but that’s what will happen.  Life goes on and so will you.

How to Prevent Recurrent Depression

Close up of young couple fightingSome people have certain susceptibilities, such as getting depressed or overly anxious, and rather than denying these susceptibilities, it’s best to accept them and learn to manage them better.  Take depression, for instance.  Studies show that people, who have experienced a Major Depressive Episode (MDE), have a 50% likelihood of reoccurrence.  So if you have gone through depression in your life, then chances are that you will go through a similar episode at some point again.  While you don’t need to be nervous about it all of the time, which would only add anxiety to the mix, you can accept the likelihood and do your best to recognize and manage the precursors to a MDE.

If the best predictor of the future is the past, then take a careful and honest look at your previous depressive episode(s).  What thoughts, feelings, and behaviors preceded them?  For example, did you wake up hours before your alarm and have trouble falling back asleep?  Did you start taking longer to return people’s calls?  Did you let your home get messier?  Did you start ruminating about how you were a “failure, hopeless, single forever,” etc.?  Were you feeling overwhelmed or stressed in at least two key areas of your life, such as relationship, career, or health?

Take note of what preceded the last time you became depressed so that you can take preemptive measures while you are still near the top of that slippery slope, before you slide fully downhill and land in a Major Depressive Episode.  You know how hard it is to pull yourself out of there.  Thankfully, studies also show that MDE’s can end within 6 to 9 months without any kind of treatment.  However, no one wants to feel depressed for months, and no one wants to see a loved one depressed for months.

Understanding what thoughts and behaviors precipitate a MDE is imperative.  If your memory is a bit hazy regarding this time prior to a depressive episode, then ask your spouse, a close friend, or family members.  I guarantee you that they will remember a change in your behavior that they either took note of were concerned about before they realized that you were depressed.   Then once you can see your pre-depression pattern more clearly, you can fashion some sort of a preemptive plan to halt a downward emotional spiral.  Again, look to your supportive partner, family, and friends, and give them permission to call you on your “pre-depression behavior” as soon as they see it.

If you can remember how terribly you felt while depressed, write it down somewhere.  Write the worst of it, such as how you felt and the painful thoughts you had.  Keep it somewhere as a tool that you or a loved one can use when necessary to remind you of how bad it can get, so that you realize it’s better to head it off at the pass.  People forget the depths of their feelings; they remember in theory but don’t remember exactly how they felt.  It’s a funny phenomenon that we think that whatever we are currently feeling will just go on forever.  If we’re feeling fine, we think we’ll always feel fine, and if we’re depressed, we think it will never end.  So if you’re starting to feel badly and you read about a past difficult time in a diary, it can help you remember how awful it can get and motivate you to do whatever you need to in order to avoid that dark place, for your sake and that of your loved ones.

Then what do you do?  There is no magic “snap out of it” formula for everyone.  You will have to figure out what helped you in the past and be willing to try things that have helped others.  Some suggestions are:

- reconnect emotionally with your partner

- get some aerobic exercise

- see a therapist or revisit a previous one

- take a quick trip to get a change of scenery and perspective

- spend time in nature

- learn something new and creative

- do some charity work and see that your life is not so bad and that you have something to contribute

- spend more time with friends and family so that you can see that people love and appreciate you

Act on these preemptive moves quickly, before the lack of energy and motivation that usually accompany MDE’s hit you.

You don’t have to live in fear of depression, but you need to be realistic.  You survived depression before and you can survive again.  But you may be able to save yourself and your family the pain of you experiencing a depressive episode again if you can put some carefully thought out preventative measures in place beforehand.

If you found this article helpful and know of someone who has experienced a depressive episode, please share this with them.

The Many Faces of Love: Caretaking A Sick Loved One

Tender Care

I talk to my patients about the many faces of love, whether romantic or non-romantic love.  There is the “It’s early on and everything you say is fascinating” love, the “We know each other so well and can finish each other’s sentences” love, the “Wow, you can still surprise me” love, and then sadly, the “You’re really sick and I’m terrified of losing you” love.  I’ve gone through the last one and it was so terribly painful, and yet in the midst of that pain there were moments of joy too.  I was taking care of someone, who was very sick and diagnosed with a serious illness.  (Thankfully he is stabilized now.)  There were days when just the thought of losing him made me tear up.  One day I even had to put on my sunglasses because the tears just started rolling down my face while I was walking outside.  Other days, my fear would turn into anger when he wouldn’t eat despite my best efforts and cajoling.  Yet throughout this, I would experience unexpected moments of profound beauty when he would allow me to take care of him and I realized that caretaking a sick loved one can be an honor and a gift.  I was awed by his vulnerability, trust, and acceptance.  It takes real strength to show your vulnerability to someone.  Then there were moments when I saw that he was trying to survive and my heart felt like it would explode with love, joy, and gratitude at finding him alive for another day.

How did I get through this difficult period and remain sane?  Well I relied on wonderful, supportive friends, who would take my despondent, late night calls.  I contacted my old therapist, who was willing to work with me on an as needed, weekly, or even telephone basis.  I practiced forgiveness with myself when I fell short of my expectations of being “the compassionate, wise, and calm caretaker.”   That meant that when I was unreasonably angry because he was too nauseous to eat and I accused him of reneging on his promise to try, I later forgave myself.  (Of course, I apologized to him too.)  I knew it wasn’t my finest moment, but I knew it was my own fear of losing him that led me to be so childishly angry.  Also, I had to acknowledge that I was doing my best under difficult circumstances.  Even after clumsily giving him shots with trembling hands, I had to be grateful that I had gotten it done and tried to believe that I would get better with every shot.   I tried to take care of myself.   On those days when even I didn’t want to eat, I made sure that I did and tried to get enough rest because it wouldn’t help either of us if I got sick.   And lastly, I was grateful for every day that he stayed alive.  It forced me to stay in the present because looking too far ahead was scary and made me miss out on the joy of having today together.

So if you are caretaking a seriously ill loved one, my heart goes out to you and my advice is: Cut yourself some slack; you’re doing your best under extremely difficult circumstances.   Be sure to:

  1. Have a support system, such as friends, family, and a mental health professional
  2. Be compassionate with yourself and forgive your shortcomings
  3. Take care of yourself also
  4. Be grateful for the time you do have

Thankfully my loved one is stabilized and I wish you and your loved one all the best.