Laughter- what keeps me going!

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a long time but just couldn’t get my thoughts together the way I wanted.  That’s not to say I’ve got them  the way I want tonight but I just recognize that this is an important topic in the journey of grieving and I wanted to get my thoughts out there.

There have been many studies on the importance of laughter to the point that it is now a specific type of therapy you can participate in.  Laughter has been proven to reduce the level of stress hormones and increases the level of health enhancing hormones like endorphins which produces a stronger immune system.  Many people look at stress as a threat or challenge.  Humor helps us see things more lighthearted making them less threatening.  We can therefore handle stress in a way that challenges us rather than bringing us down by threatening us.

I found it interesting to find out that laughter helps you REFRAME.  This means looking at a situation through a new lense which makes it not so overwhelming.  For those of us with autism,  getting overwhelmed is a common occurrance and stress will exacerbate this.  If I can lessen my sense of being overwhelmed by laughter then that is a good coping skill to learn.

There is also a link between humor and resilience.  Studies done on POWs during the wars showed that those who could see the humor in things were more resilient and more likely to survive.  Resilience is very important in caregiving because often you are looking after a loved one for a long long time and this can wear you down.

I like this quote by Kahil Gibran.  He says,” The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”  Perhaps this is why I have laughed more in the last 5 years than in many years before that.  So much grieving has been happening over the last years.  So much stress, anxiety, fear, worry  and being overwhelmed have been my daily companions.  They go with me everywhere, taunting me, immobilizing me and bringing me to deep, dark places.  But I find that as I laugh  my world brightens even if only for a few moments.  Merrily Belgum once said, “When you laugh, you get a glimpse of God.”  How true that has been in my life.  When I laugh, I feel I am close to God and He is taking charge and sending me a breath of fresh air. It says in the bible in Judges 19:6  “Let your heart be merry”  and in Proverbs 15:15 He that is of a merry heart has a continual feast.  There is much wisdom in these verses.  We’ve all heard the quote,” Laughter is the best medicine.”

It’s funny but as I look over the last number of years when they have been some of the hardest years of my life as I looked after my Mom and continue to do so,  my ability to laugh at things, even morbid things has risen greatly.  It’s like the worse things got, the more I began to laugh.  I think I caught onto something that was a life saver for me and still is.  Laughter for me is the life jacket snug around my body as I wildly flail around in the roaring waves of the ocean that threaten to engulf me.   And I believe that the ability to laugh has been a wonderful gift from God to help me get through a very tough time.

I LOVE to laugh,  There is not a day that goes by that Mom and me are laughing at something I or she has said.  I laugh over stupid things I do.  I laugh over stupid things other people do ( I don’t always let them know I am laughing at them)  I laugh over things I find ridiculous on the news.  I laugh over posts I see on Facebook.  Sometimes I am laughing so hard the tears run down my legs!

Three years ago this April I brought home a new cat.  His name is Gus Gus.  I am sure he was a gift from God to get me through these hard years.  He makes me laugh all the time.  I just have to think about him and I start to laugh. I have never had a cat like him.  It really makes no sense but for some reason he has come into my life as my Joy Boy.  I have never laughed so much over a cat or any animal or person in my life.  And why now?  As I said, I believe he is perhaps a cat angel sent to bring joy into my bleak days.

The other strange thing that has happened is that my Mom has quite suddenly developed a very keen sense of humor.  She is hilarious and has the nurses laughing down at the nursing home.  I grew up with her being a very stoic, staunch Mom.  You didn’t joke with Mom or play tricks on her like I did with Dad but for some unknown reason in her old age she has become a funny funny lady.  I love her sense of humor and laugh at her and with her all the time.  She is always coming out with very funny sayings and I just shake my head and laugh till the tears come.  The other day,  she and I were just talking when suddenly she blurted out, Lorna, I need a face lift!  I’m sorry but I wasn’t that sympathetic with her predicament.  I laughed till it hurt.  She’s 91 in a few days.  What does she need with a facelift?  I remember at my Dad’s wake it was all very serious of course.  My little nephew who was about 5 at the time came up to my brother – his Dad, who was talking to someone.  He then proceeded to declare,” You know the guy in the box over there?  That’s my Grandpa.!  Well, the room broke up with laughter.  And it was good.  It’s OK to laugh where there’s sadness..  Virginia Woolf said,”The beauty of the world has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.  And the famous philosopher Socrates said, “The comic and the tragic lie inseparably close like light and shadow”

Another facet laughter has is it’s ability to bring people together.  Mom and I , in my younger years, were not on good terms with each other.  There was a lot of discord,  a type of love-hate relationship.  When Mom came to live with me I must admit I was a little apprehensive and scared about how it would go.  I had always said I would NEVER live with my mother.  There was much healing that needed to be done and over the course of the 5 years I looked after Mom in my home and still as I continue to see her every day at the nursing home, God blessed our relationship  with bountiful healing and restoration.  There is a quote by St. Francis de Sales that says, “Laughter is the foundation of reconciliation”  I firmly believe that laughter has brought Mom and me much closer together and has helped to heal deep wounds.  If Mom died tonight I would have no regrets, only wonderful memories of us laughing together.  If amazes me to think that God has used laughter to be such a part of this journey Mom and I are on.

When we are in difficult situations we all have different ways of coping.  Some turn to alcohol, some take up jogging, some just flounder as if lost.  As I look back over the last 5 or so years, I can now see that laughter has become a coping mechanism for me that I never had before.  Laughter just takes the sting out of so much heartache.  Laughter allows me to take something so awful and cut it down to size.  Laughter gives some control back to me in my life where I do not have a lot of control over things.   Laughter allows me to see things in a new light, a less glaring light.  Laughter gives me a way to talk about the hard times without overwhelming my friends and family.  Laughter brings a sense of purpose into my life when sometimes I don’t see any.  Laughter changes the way you look at life around you.  I am always now looking for something to laugh at so I can do a post on Facebook.  I love to make others laugh even  if it is to the expense of myself.  If in my sorrow, I can cheer up someone else then life takes on new meaning.

God doesn’t promise sunshine all the time.  He is taking me through some pretty fierce storms but He has given me the gift of laughter to help get me through, given my Mom the gift of humor and given me a Joy Boy cat.  ( who by the way is sitting right next to me as I type this)  What more could I ask for?

To all those who are caregivers and to those who are grieving,  laughter may not be your coping mechanism like it is mine but I really feel there is much worth in having a sense of humor in dark times.  It really does help.  Give it a  try.  You may be amazed at what may change in your situation just with a little mirth.  It’s a wonderful stress buster if nothing else.

As I said above, I can’t get over the fact that my wonderful God,  who many people see as a harsh Father, would use laughter to bring relief, restoration, and joy into my life.  In moments when I am doubled over in laughter, I get a glimpse in my mind, if only for a moment, of God laughing right along with me.  And it just makes me laugh some more!

 

What – Another Dreaded S-word??

Yep,  that’s right.  And this dreaded S-word is the word SICK!

Everyone dreads being sick but noone more than a caregiver especially if you are the sole caregiver of your loved one.  This is one of my big fears.  That I will get sick and be unable to look after my Mom.

I have been very blessed with good health over the last 4 years that my Mom has lived with me.  I have had my share of colds, odd sick feeling days but no major flu or other bug that has totally forced me to come to a screeching halt.  I came close a couple of weeks ago when I was confined to the couch for several days but I was still able to get up and get Mom her supper, and look after her other needs.  It was touch and go but I did it.  BUT… it scared me.

It really made me think about all the caregivers who are relied upon daily and who often like myself do it mostly alone.  It’s a serious issue.  Someone else’s life is in our hands – their welfare, their well-being hinges on our staying well enough to do what has to be done.

Right now is the time when people are getting their flu shots.  I’m going to get mine in the next couple of days.  I hear the strain of the flu this year is very nasty.  And I ‘ll make sure my Mom get’s hers too.  Not great consolation that I won’t get sick but I will take every precaution I can.

For me it’s not only getting physically sick I worry about.  Being autistic, I deal with anxiety and depression and huge mood swings where my emotions become so intense I don’t know what to do with them.  Then there’s the feelings of being so totally overwhelmed that I just want to run far away.  What if I got too sick emotionally??  I worry about this as the time of being a caregiver stretches on into the future with no end in site and that other dreaded S-word, the word STRESS gets more and more intense.  It’s being in a crazy headspace where you want it to end but then the end means you lose the one you love.  And you can’t escape the craziness of this dilemma. It goes round and round in your head every day, every moment of every day.  I want it to end.  NO, I DON’T!   I want it to end.  NO, I DON’T!  It’s like being in a personal hell.  And you walk around with a smile on your face as you work, shop, meet with friends and noone knows the hell in your head.

I don’t know what I would do if I did get sick.  Well, I do have a plan of care made up of all the details of my Mom’s care.  I do have good friends who would probably come to my aid.  I have PSWs and nurses who could intervene.  The flip side of this is if I get sick will I give it to Mom??  That ‘s my other worry.  She may not be out in public to pick up a bug but I am out nearly every day – in stores, on the bus etc etc.  It only takes one handshake or a hand placed on a germ infested hand rail on the bus to do it’s dastardly business.  I use a lot of hand sanitizer.  Kills 99% of the germs.  I still wonder about the other 1%.

I guess I just keep praying that I won’t get so sick as to not be able to look after Mom.  I have always maintained that God gave me this job to do so He will give me what I need or protect me from what I don’t need to do the job He has given me.  That is my hope tonight and tomorrow and the next day….

A Dreaded S-word!

OK, so I know what some of you might be thinking after listening to the weather report tonight but the dreaded S word is NOT SNOW!!!   Wish it was though, it would be a lot easier to handle than my S word.  STRESS!!  It’s actually got 3 S’s in it just to get the point across loud and clear!

STRESS – my main bugbear when it comes to being a caretaker of my elderly mom.  Every part of my being is stressed.  My body, my mind, my very soul.

My joints have started aching again after several years of very little pain.  I feel sick most of the time.  I have headaches nearly every day.  I clench my teeth, grind my teeth and tap my teeth together making a clicking sound.  I pace.  My restless leg syndrome is in high gear making life miserable.  I get every bug around it seems and they settle into my system for the long term just rearing their ugly head every couple of weeks or so after I think I am free of it.  Perhaps the most persistent and deep symptom is the exhaustion that permeates every part of me and never leaves.  It just gets worse or worser ( I know that is not a word but I’m going to take writer’s liberty here)- never better.  It just seeps into me like a tea bag left in a mug of hot water for ages.  It gets stronger and stronger.  I sit down to read a book or drink my tea and wake up 2 hours later.  For the life of me, I don’t even remember feeling sleepy.  Noise bothers me more,  going to the mall is too much sensory overload now. ( that’s a good thing – less spending I hope)  Smells of all kinds are overpowering and too much light overwhelms me.  People overwhelm me.  The stress of having PSW’s coming and going and the nurse coming and constant assessments being redone on Mom  just makes my head spin.

Emotionally,  the stress of looking after mom is debilitating.  It is eating away at me everyday and more and more of me is consumed by everything from remembering to give mom her pills to doing the laundry to changing appointments to even changing lightbulbs.  Tonight I came home from work to find that the light in the bathroom was out – the one that Mom uses only.  We leave the light on at night for Mom to see cause the hall light is too bright.  I panicked and immediately wanted to crumple to the floor and cry and cry.  Too much.  Too much.  After a couple of hours of thinking about it and knowing I had to do something about it before us going to bed, I went and looked in my stash of light bulbs, praying that the right kind would be there.  IT WAS!!  The bathroom light is now on and a major meltdown has been averted.

Sounds silly but that’s the effects of all the stress on me.  I guess perhaps the most costly stress is the fear of losing Mom in the future sometime.  I think I get used to the idea of losing her and am resigned to it and then some little thing like Mom having a bad day will put me into panic mode again.  One of the things that all this stress has created is a compulsion for me to buy things – anything.  I just want to buy, buy, buy.  It’s like LOSS is an actual entity creeping towards me over a hill and I see it coming and I grab every THING I can buy, find, and gather them around me to protect me from the LOSS.  Unfortunately,  this has put me in a very precarious financial situation.  But what do I do??  I can’t seem to stop.  We as those with autism love our things and for me that is what I go to instead of people.  I am stumped as to what to do and this causes just as much stress as the stress of losing Mom.

So there are layers and layers of stress all piling up on one another, weighing me down more and more till I feel I will be crushed under the weight.

And then….and then….  I noticed my cat today looking a lot thinner.  I believe he has lost quite a bit of weight.  And he is always licking himself and he goes and hides to sleep.  And he cries when I go out and even if I go upstairs and he is still downstairs.  MY CATS ARE STRESSED!  Both of my cats are showing signs of being very stressed.  What do I do about THAT?  If something happens to one of my cats that will be the last straw.  I can’t bear to lose one of them right now.

What am I doing to help with the stress??  Well, a number of things but they just seem to take the edge off for a short while just enough so I can still function each day.  I take medication, I spend lots of time rocking in my easy chair or swinging in my hammock chair in my bedroom.  I drink tea,  I go out with my friends ( one at a time).  I see my wonderful grief counselor, I talk to my psychiatrist, I sleep, I go for walks and do some photography, I cry, I scream, and most of all I rest in my great God who I know will see me through this despite all this stress.  God has an S word too.  His word is SUFFICIENT.  In the bible it says,  “My grace is SUFFICIENT for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  I read this every day.  It is my secret source of strength (SSS) and the ONLY way I get through each day.  God is my ENOUGH when everything else is lacking.  When my bank account is empty God is sufficient,  when my energy tank is empty God is sufficient,  and when my ability to handle the stress in my life is at empty God is sufficient.  God didn’t say life would be easy but he said he would be there for us.  God has given me the job of looking after my Mom so I have to believe he will give me what I need to do the job.  He promises he will and I trust in that.

My Apologies for no blog

I have not written a blog in almost 2 weeks.  It has been a very difficult 2 weeks where I have felt like I was literally drowning in my grief, my anxiety and my responsibilities.  I also came down with very painful mouth ulcers (blisters) that are probably a result of the stress I am under.  Thankfully they are mostly healed up now and although I still feel I am struggling in violent waves that continue to crash over me, my head is above water for the moment.  I am hoping to write a couple of blogs in the next few days.