Tag Archives: coping with stress

A Moment of Zen

photo

 

Alice

  At peace. That is what I was feeling. It took me a minute to put my finger on it because serenity is often in short supply for me; a mirage just out of reach that fades as soon as I reach to grab it.

         I always thought it was sort of a tradeoff. I get passion instead of peace and I was more than ok with that. Still, as I breathed in and noticed how relaxed and comfortable I felt in that moment I realized that there is something to be said for inner peace.

        I have run my entire career in this field. Running to the news, running on the floor, running to Long Island and all the while my mind was running too, keeping track of my residents and learning, sometimes painfully, the inner workings of what makes a good caregiver. And make no mistake, that is very important to me. The idea that if we do this right, we are in a constant state of growing and learning.  Ask any seasoned caregiver if they viewed life the same after a year or two on the floor. This is a career that changes you, sometimes for the better sometimes not. The rules and the environment may change, but the very nature of what we do remains the same; we take care of those who cannot care for themselves. I’ve come to know that there is something sacred about that.

       In all of this running and thinking and day to day prioritizing, peace of mind got pushed further and further down on my list of necessities. I only noticed it was missing on the rare occasions when I stumbled onto moments of serenity, followed with fleeting thoughts of “oh! I don’t know what this is but its niiice. I should feel like this more often” and then it was right back to the running.

        Love, loss, frustration, humor, grief, anger, resentment, joy, heartbreak, exhaustion, powerless and empowered at various points, connected, and useful are only a few of the emotions involved in our work. Nowhere on the list is “calm.”  And yet, here I was after a twelve hour shift, perfectly at peace.

          I feel comfortable with my new client. I have slipped into the routine like a favorite pair of jeans. After my first day, I thought ok. This is going to work. It felt like coming home, though it’s private care instead of a facility. There was a familiarity about it and despite the new surroundings, I was in my comfort zone.

       I love that if she wants to take an hour to talk me through how to properly tease her hair because the bigger the hair the closer to God, we can do that. There is no need to rush. I can be on her time frame. I can read to her or just listen. This is a lady with stories and they are my favorite kind of people.

     “I used to be a worrier. Used fret this and that. Never slowed down. Then I had this stroke. That slowed me down. I don’t worry so much anymore.”

       She was only in her fifties when she had her stroke. It hit me like a ton of bricks when she told me that. I do not understand how I can forget so often to be present and embrace the moment I am in when I’m constantly surrounded by such courageous reminders, but I do. I forget all the time.

       I am taking my peace of mind back. Or at the very least I am going to make it a point to embrace the moments and not live so much in self-centered fear. It’s a journey and worrying has never solved a problem. The lives and experiences of every person for whom I’ve cared has taught me this lesson.

The Power of Caregivers

DSC00999

 

 

Yang

In her December 2 post on CNA Edge “Quality of Life is a Precious Gift, Alice distilled the true meaning of a caregiver’s work into one fundamental principle: “Improving the quality of life for those around us.” While the idea may seem obvious, how we go about living up to it is anything but easy, given the typical long term care work environment.

We all know the list. It’s an environment where caregivers are overworked and underpaid, overwhelmed and undersupported. It’s an environment that features disconnected management and rules that make little sense at the caregiver’s level. It’s an environment where mistrust and dissension among staff is common.  It’s an environment that breeds cynicism and futility.

While we can’t ignore the negative aspects our work environment, how we respond to them is entirely up to us. Even in the worst of circumstances, we can always do something to improve how our elders experience their time with us. In fact, doing so is a kind of moral imperative – something that we know by reason is the right thing to do and a far more powerful and consistent motivator for ethical behavior than the directives and admonishments issued by those above us in the LTC hierarchy.

Alice’s “simple idea” is more than just about doing the right thing. It provides us with a standard of behavior that we can cling to amidst the chaos. Or as Alice put it:

“For me, realizing that truth has brought me great peace. It simplifies it. I don’t have to fix, save, diagnose, manipulate, or perpetuate any negativity. My job is to make life as positive as possible and to preserve the dignity as much as possible for those in my care.”

By persistently returning to that simple idea, we make a conscious choice to liberate ourselves from the drift into despair.

May makes a similar point in her post “Soap and Thought”:

“Sometimes it’s too much, being a CNA. There’s too much stress, too much everything until I think I just can’t take it anymore. Days when I want to tear out my hair; shifts when I want to leave and not come back. The problem, I’ve come to realize, is that the bad things are the big things; the skyscraper problems that draw our eyes and threaten our strength. The good things, well, they’re quiet, understated. Things like washing my hands with a resident that is special to me.”

We need these “quiet, understated” moments. And do so our residents. These moments are as significant as the bigger issues that plague us. In some sense, they are more real. 

The common thread between these two posts is that despite the difficulties, we are not powerless. For Alice, it’s a simple idea. For May, it’s a simple act. As we proceed through our daily routines, we may not be able to directly address the larger problems, but we do have the ability to alter our immediate environment. And our immediate work environment is a big part of our residents’ living environment. In that we find our true source of power.

None of this is to suggest that direct care workers will never play a major role in making fundamental change in the Long Term Care system. In fact, it really can’t be done without us. But to play that role effectively, we must never stray too far from what really gives us our strength.  I’ll explore that idea in my next post.

The Long Goodbye

      photo   ALICE
       I’m calling in sick. I can’t have “the talk” anymore. I just can’t. It’s ripping my heart out. After all, what are they going to do? Fire me?…These were my thoughts as I was lacing up my sneakers and getting ready for work. Even as they floated through my head, I knew the words were a hollow threat. I would not call off. I would not ruin nearly eight years of perfect attendance at work while finishing out my notice. As gut wrenchingly painful as it may be, to cave in because facing this is difficult would be like throwing the game in the last inning. THEY would win. I would lose. And far more importantly, my folks would suffer.
       You can do this, Alice. It’s the right move. After all these years, three owners and five administrators, you know that this facility is never going to change. They will never invest in competent management and because of this, you will always be stuck. Now is the time. Opportunities like this don’t fall on your lap everyday. Take it and run and start moving forward with your life. This has been my mantra, played on repeat, for the week. And it’s true. I know it is. I know that I have to get out of this particular facility. I know that I’m no longer comfortable working under questionable conditions and bosses with very questionable ethics. So, I’m moving on. My resignation letter, worded carefully to not offend so that I may visit my folks without interference from the office, is in.
       I’ve explained the situation to my residents. And explained. And explained. I’m not leaving YOU. I’m just leaving the JOB. I’ll be here to visit at least once a week. It will be different but it will be good! I’ll have time to sit and visit instead of running here and there. You will be fine…over and over again. They are scared and feel like I’m abandoning them. I know this because they tell me and that just shatters me. The average length of employment for a caregiver in this facility is six-eight months and that is being generous. The turnover is ridiculous because the wages are insultingly low and the work conditions are terrible. Because I have been there so long, this is traumatic for them and for me.
       I am letting them down. There is no getting around that. I’m making a choice that is both right and necessary but to deny that it will impact those around me would be dishonest. It is a truth that I can accept and live with, but for the moment it is incredibly difficult and painful. I really can’t discuss it without crying. This decision has turned me into a blubbering mess. I love what I do. I love many of my co-workers and I have been deeply committed to my residents. I resent having to make this choice. I am furious at the administration for not investing and paying a living wage for quality caregivers. I resent the dishonest, inept, incompetent and unethical woman in charge of coordinating care. She has not eased my residents’ stress or discussed with them the upcoming transition. She has not comforted them. She is quite honestly only concerned with how events affect her. Such apathy in this field never fails to boggle my mind.
       A few more days. That’s all I have left there. I will continue to reassure my folks that they will always be a part of my life. After so many years, they are more friends than residents and it will be nice to explore that dynamic. I know that nothing I can say will prove that to them. I will have to show them with action. And I will. Until they see me visit them, I have to accept that emotionally, they are not in a trusting place. Often, the best decisions are the most difficult to make. I know that underneath all of these deeply felt emotions that I am walking through, there is excitement at what’s to come. New opportunities will open up from this very difficult decision. For now, I have to trust the process. After all, life is change and transitions.

Keeping the Faith

photo

 

Alice

Some shifts, the world seems against me as if some dark cosmic force with an appreciation for irony is pulling the puppet strings of everyone with whom I come in contact. My residents lash out. My body aches. The weather doesn’t cooperate for my walk to work and I spend eight hours running around in wet shoes and scrubs. Management that cares only that there are bodies on the floor, trained or not. Not enough money to pay my bills, crossing my fingers each month that nothing gets shut off. On those days it just feels…impossible.

         And I have my fair share of them. Days when I question why I stick with this. Days when my patience feels short and my humor is rusty; when I begin to wonder if I genuinely love what I do or if I’ve just convinced myself of that out of this desperate need of mine to see the bright side.

       Some days I’m bitter and angry and frustrated and weary and sad; my insides as covered in “yuck” as my scrubs. Those are the days that make me wish I didn’t give a damn. They make me want to scream YOU WIN, REALITY! YOU WIN, DEFEATISM! This system is beyond hopeless. These people are screwed. I am only one person and I. Can’t. Do. This. Anymore…I give up.

       But then I look at the poster above my front door, the one that says going in one more round when you don’t think you can, THAT’S what makes all the difference in your life, and I lace up my sneakers, grab my stuff and head to work. Because that poster is right. Time and time again it has proven true for me.

       I do not always love my job. Sometimes I resent the unending uphill battles and impossible situations that relentlessly whisper “You will fail in this”. And unless there are major changes from the top down, that is true. We will all fail because the system will eventually collapse upon itself. Still, every day I put on my scrubs and show up. I love my folks and that love has created in me a faith bigger than my resentment at my bosses, bigger than my fears of financial insecurity and bigger than the occasional despair during the rough stretches. From that faith a commitment to change the system and improve the lives of those who live and work within it has taken root. I don’t know where this commitment, this fire that oscillates between burning me and guiding me, will lead. I hope that we reach people. I hope we defy the odds. And I know that it begins with us.

Wonder Woman

photo

 

 

Alice

Taken for granted. THAT’S what I’ve been feeling. I’d been trying to put my finger on what exactly has been causing this nagging malaise for a few days now.

It’s nice to be able to finally put a name to it, though it’s not a feeling that I like admitting. It feels so very self-serving. Poor me. I work so hard for so little. People don’t understand the nature of our work. Blah blah blah blah. That is not who I am. That’s not who I WANT to be.

How can I feel SORRY for myself when I’m surrounded by people living with sometimes unimaginable hardships? Who LIVE in the environment that I can leave at the end of my shifts? How can I feel such exasperation, frustration and occasionally even anger towards my residents who I really do love very much? How can I hate and love what I do in such equal measures? Is such a juxtaposition of emotions normal? Is it the facility? Is it me? What’s going ON here?

It took some time for me to work it out, but I did find my answer. My facility is toxic. It is all excuses and no accountability. It is impossible situations piled on top of undertrained staff. It is equal parts challenging, which I love, and frustrating, which I don’t love. This is not new. This is how it’s always been. I’ve learned to compartmentalize very effectively, but every so often the doors will open and all of a sudden, I’m feeling everything at once. So far, thanks to the hectic pace of first shift, those fall apart moments happen off the clock; they happen in the quiet of my own apartment (or on break in a linen closet) when I’m alone with no one depending on me.

I’ve been in the same facility for seven years. The bonds I’ve formed with my residents have been an incredible gift in my life. It is through working with them that I’ve learned to trust, not only others, but also myself. They have taught me how to value the moment, to not take life for granted, to look beyond the obvious. They have greatly enriched my life, and I will always be grateful for that.

They are WONDERFUL people; that doesn’t mean that they are EASY people.

“alice. Alice. ALICE. ALLLICCEEEE!!!!”…all day every day. The down side to having been in the same facility for so long is that they are used to me. In a world where faces change as fast as underwear, mine is the familiar one. Twenty-eight residents, a brand new trainee and a call out. Alice can handle it. Before I even hit the clock, Ms.___throws up a massive lake of stewed beef and peaches. I got it! Nobody panic! Mr.___ doesn’t like his feet to touch the floor. Ms.___ is claustrophobic. Ms.___ isolates when she’s feeling depressed. Mr.__ lashes out in anger when he’s scared…hundreds of pieces of knowledge that are now like muscle memory for me. What residents need boundaries and what residents need coddling. So I run. All day every day, from resident to resident, task to task determined to do whatever needs doing…but that’s not fair. It’s not fair to my residents, my co-workers or to myself.

I learned all I know by working consistently with my folks. What I NEED to do, instead of running whenever a co-worker says they are calling for me, is to encourage her to try for herself and encourage the residents to allow her to do her work. Otherwise I am enabling all of us, myself included. Make no mistake, there is a part of me that has become as dependent on filling the role of “Wonder Woman” as they are at putting me in it.

The inner need to “fix” impossible situations is an old song and dance for me, as if somehow solving a problem guarantees that I wasn’t the cause of it. It is an issue of mine that I am working through, but MAN does it fit in well within the world of Long Term Care.

The truth of it is this: it is not my job to be the solution to every problem, inside of work or out. It is setting myself up for failure and OF COURSE it leads to feelings of being taken for granted. I have choices. I could leave and find another job. I CHOOSE to stay, at least for now. That means I have to gain a measure of acceptance about the facility as a whole while doing my best to improve my corner of it. I don’t want to be Wonder Woman. Take away the magic lasso and invisible plane and she is just a regular person dealing with issues of co-dependency.

CNAs ARE Smart

DSC00999

 

Yang

In a recent post on one of the CNA Facebook pages, a caregiver complained about some disparaging remarks made by her RN supervisor regarding the intelligence of CNAs. Some commenters – including a few CNAs – echoed the RN’s opinion by saying that an individual doesn’t have to be particularly bright in order to do this kind of work. As you might expect, other commenters voiced some rather strong objections to that notion.

Part of this disagreement stems from the fact that caregiving in an LTC setting is almost always described in terms of the physical and emotional qualities of the work. Things such as compassion, empathy and altruism are highly valued, but are almost exclusively understood in an emotional context. The intellectual side of caregiving is rarely talked about or even thought to exist. Yet the work includes several aspects that require significant mental ability and effort.

The misunderstanding is further complicated by how we define intelligence. The distinction between “book smart” and “street smart” is widely understood and accepted. The first is associated with academic success, while the second is more of a practical intelligence that helps us navigate through life’s many problems. Since employment as a caregiver has comparatively low educational requirements, CNAs are often thought of as lacking “book smarts.” While this is an unfortunate stereotype, it is certainly true that good CNAs exhibit a great deal of practical intelligence.

There is a popular meme on social media that is ostensibly directed toward RN supervisors “Our skills are DIFFERENT. Not LESS. Sincerely: Your Hardworking CNAs.” If we accept that our skills are “different but not less,” then it should be just as easy to accept that how we employ our intellect may also be “different but not less.”

Since most caregivers work in environments that include overwhelming caseloads, they are compelled to organize their time in the most efficient manner possible. Each shift is a unique time puzzle that the caregiver must solve if the residents are going to receive the best care he or she can provide. But the puzzle is dynamic, the “pieces” changing according to the immediate needs and expectations of residents, coworkers and management. The caregiver must continually adapt his or her time organization to ever changing circumstances and priorities. In essence, the caregiver spends the day involved in perpetual problem solving with ethical implications. This requires more than a caring attitude. It requires the ability to think on your feet and make immediate judgements that have positive outcomes. This is practical intelligence in action.

The mental aspect of caregiving is also an important part of the caregiver-resident relationship. In a narrow sense, we can sometimes provide intellectual stimulation for residents (and vice-versa) as part of our larger social relationship with them. In many cases, we are the primary source for this. More importantly, the ability to see past age and disability and look at a resident as an individual with unique qualities who is still capable of personal development is indicative of high interpersonal intelligence. What the Green House Project calls “a deep knowing” goes beyond simple sensitivity and familiarity with the resident. It is a level of awareness that requires abstract thought and imagination. It probably isn’t a coincidence that the part of our brain that develops abstract thought is also responsible for managing the higher emotions such empathy and altruism.

Finally, intrapersonal intelligence can play a critical role in the life of a caregiver. It’s easy to get lost in the emotional milieu and drama of an LTC work environment. We experience such a complex mix of thoughts and emotions on a daily basis, often crisscrossing with the people around us who are also going through something similar. The accumulative effect over the course of weeks, months and years can sometimes be a little overwhelming, even debilitating. The ability to process these thoughts and feelings and gain some perspective is a function of intrapersonal intelligence. Articulating those thoughts and feelings help us make sense of them and provides a coping mechanism. But also, through reflection and introspection we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and the true meaning of our work. We learn to accept our weaknesses and employ our strengths. And we grow as caregivers.

CNAs ARE smart. But sometimes, it’s just in a different way.

Life Goes On

buddha

 

Edison Terrell

My dad was recently diagnosed with cancer. Acute chronic leukemia lymphomatic scary sounding things that don’t sound like real words. I talked to him on the phone and he related how scared he was, that I was going to lose him and his parents would outlive him. He’s always said it’s a tragedy when a parent has to grieve for their children. And I, in my childishness, never really considered my mom or dad mortal. They’re my rock; his cancer, coming on the heels of recovering from a car wreck that put him in the hospital for almost two years now, crushed me. Now my rock is crumbling, and I’m all kinds of disoriented and listless for it. 

Meanwhile, I’ve got a private client on Tuesday mornings from 10-12. It’s usually no big deal, and we’ve had a good thing going for a month now. Last week he said he wanted me to come on Thursday instead—again, no big deal—but I messed up the dates and forgot to go in Tuesday this week, thinking it was Wednesdays. I took what I thought was a morning off to get some work done and didn’t see my client’s voicemail until that night. I called to apologize, said I’d be there Friday instead, and everything was cool.

I got this message from his wife today: “Hi Edison, I am just wanting to confirm that you will come over tomorrow for J and then go back to the regular Tuesday 10AM schedule.”

Then she added: “When a handicapped person relies on a caregiver, he often ‘panics’ when the caregiver is late. That is how J gets. So please do continue to call to notify him if you are ever running late.”

Embarrassment—shame, really—hit me like a freight train. Followed immediately by thought-blocking anger. Didn’t she know I felt bad enough from my profuse, groveling apology when I called Tuesday night? No, she had to take another dig at me, make me feel worse before I had to leave for my other job, piss me off and leave me with nothing, no one, to turn my anger on. I turned it on myself and her ghost.

I started to write a reply, ignoring her advice (How dare she, anyway? Does this chick know how long I’ve been an aide? Honestly? Really?), just “I’ll be there,” but decided it wasn’t enough. I deleted it and wrote another draft, taking her apart line by line, ending with “This is going to be my two weeks. Your husband is fifty-five-frickin’-years old; he’s a big boy. He should be able to take change by now, and if he can’t, it’s not my problem.”

I didn’t feel any better to get it out, but the thought of hurting and confusing them, like their message did me, was delicious.

Before I could hit “Send” I was cut down by a glimmer of insight, an ugly, rancid bit of compassion I hate so damn much: How would I feel in J’s situation? If I was practically paralyzed on one side and had to set aside a chunk of my day just to get a shower and not be told it wasn’t happening. I’d be confused, and hurt, and probably angry at my time being wasted. I really, really didn’t want to let that in.

I want nothing more right now than to make people hurt as badly as I do, when I feel like doing anything. As a kid that would’ve been an option, sort of. I could be moody and isolate myself, simultaneously wishing for someone to come check on me so I could break open the shell, wishing for them to check on me so I could lash out at them, and wanting to be left alone forever. I was a child for a very, very long time. But now I’m an adult. I’ve got a family, and clients that need me. Bills to pay, food that I have to buy myself, and worst of all I need to grow up. I really don’t want to do that. I want to be vacillate between selfish cruelty and dejected neediness. But I can’t do that. Life goes on even when we pause and feel like it won’t. And I like my client. He’s a good guy, I don’t want to lose him, either.

Sometimes that’s what caregiving is: pushing forward. Owning up to your mistakes, acknowledging the deep hurt and listlessness, but moving forward anyway, cuz life goes on and you’re still needed. 

Fourteen Truths

Alice

Alice

 

Alice

 

 

 

  1. There is ALWAYS a solution. It’s simple mathematics. There are no problems without solutions. We may not know the solution right away. We might not like the solution. But knowing one exists brings some peace to the workplace.
  2. Wet sneakers suck.
  3. Friendship is vital to the quality of my life. My friends, co-workers and residents alike, make impossible work days possible.
  4. We are our own knights in shining armor. Management is unlikely to come fix issues on the floor that they do not understand. We need to be the leaders. They can keep the title.
  5. There is a difference between convenience and necessity. Life goes much smoother when I don’t confuse the two. It is this bit of insight that has taught me how to process and prioritize in a moment’s notice.
  6. They more effort I put into a day, the greater the sense of accomplishment I get at the end of it. It’s matched only by the sense of relief that I pushed through with my somewhat questionable sanity intact.
  7. Sometimes you have to make peace with the mundane. Thorough documentation may be repetitive but it’s so very important.
  8. A sense of humor can save your life. It can definitely save your sanity. Embrace absurdity! There is plenty of it to go around.
  9. Icy-hot is the greatest stuff ever invented.
  10. Don’t take it personally. We don’t pick our residents. Not every resident is going to love you. That’s not their job. It’s our job to care for them regardless of their personal feelings about us.
  11. Set boundaries, communicate, and negotiate! These are the magic words for me, not only at work but in life. Boundary setting has been a skill that I’ve had to learn. As caregivers, we are often thrown into situations which require us to be the solution. It becomes a habit, but we are not and should not try to be the solution to all problems. Sometime “no” is a complete sentence. Negotiation shows a willingness to be flexible. Life on the floor is that tricky dance between consistency and flexibility. A persnickety resident adamantly refuses a shower in the morning? Usually, I can convince them to take one after lunch. It gives them a little bit of control. It gives them an option. There is no overestimating the value of open communication, especially with my co-workers. If we are to work as a team rather that at odds, it’s important to be open, honest, and direct. It is equally important to be willing to receive what they have to say to you. Ideally, we are all working towards the same goal; quality care for our residents. I have found conversation and direction from one caregiver to another is far more effective than going to the office every five minutes in the hopes that they will solve a problem that they do not understand.
  12. More will be revealed. The tough times pass just as quickly as the good times and they have much more to teach us.
  13. We can never give up if we hope to convince our residents that their life still has value and is absolutely worth the fight. In a very real way, we are their most important advocate because we know them best. It is at the heart of what we do. We owe it to them to make sure that we are heard, and in doing so, THEY will be heard.

 14…..did I mention wet sneakers suck?

Sunrise, Sunset

buddha

 

Edison Terrell

I went in to my old work to volunteer with activities this afternoon before work. My last day at this place, but I’ll spare the choked-up emotion for later. Maybe cry into a cup of Americone Dream. Anyway one of our residents was sent to skilled a month ago after he broke his hip, and he looks so different since I saw him I didn’t even recognize him until he started grumbling angrily at the door to the living room. It was the pomp British voice, and the way he called the door a “f____ wanker” that clued me in.

The difference was, in a word, shocking. Disturbing, really. He was a lawyer in his past; not in the best of shape when he moved to Personal Care from Independent Living, but he was walking, talking, and speaking his mind confidently to us. Sometimes he didn’t make much sense, but I took it as part of his charm; the way he vigorously and skillfully defended his own nonsense perception was admirable in its own way, as well as frustrating. Today he’s wheelchair bound, kicking and pulling on already opened doors, grabbing feebly at the air, at the sleeves of his woolly sweater, even at his own hands, like they’re alien things at the ends of his arms. Mumbling incoherently the whole time. He grabbed at a cooler of ice at the nurse’s station and shook it violently until an exasperated aide came to steer him away, then scooted aimlessly around with his eyes barely open. He’s so delusional right now they may as well be closed.

Seeing him in that state shocked me further to the core than almost any other experience I’ve had on the job. He went from a gentlemanly annoyance to a maniacal monster in less than four weeks. The sharp decline is horrifying to see, a fate worse than death. It almost makes me not want to go back.

I know I can handle future residents like him thanks to this experience. Clinical and months of work have shown me that if the shock doesn’t kill you, it’s a recoverable one. There comes a time when you start to question how many more shocks you’re willing to take, though. You start to slowly turn a corner then, if you’re like me. I’m confident I could work almost any aspect of this job after a little adjustment, but is it worth it? Am I so needed that I should sacrifice my comfort and drive to come back and keep being horrified and saddened? Or do you just hold on the good and keep going?

Fran had a mini victory tonight when she was able to put both her arms in her shirtsleeves and take off her pants and briefs before sitting on the toilet without me urging her or showing her how. Little moments like that keep me here. Tomorrow she may be different. She might break her hip as soon as I leave the unit, and maybe an ambulance will zoom into the parking lot while I’m driving away around the other side. It’s pointless to ponder like that in this work, though. In that moment she was exemplary, and I was so proud of her.

 

The Hole in My Sock

photo

 

Alice

    “Breathe, Alice. Just breathe,” I told myself. I could hear my name being shouted. It was Mr.__, waiting not so patiently to be laid down. I knew I had to get back out there, but I had told him ten minutes and I still had five of them left.

         I was in the linen closet. Hiding. Breathing in the subtle scent of cheap detergent and being embraced by the cool comforting darkness.

        It’s safe in the linen closet. The solutions are simple in there. Shadows and worn out towels cannot be disappointed in you. You cannot let a bedspread down. A fitted sheet is in the flat sheet spot? Easy fix. No fear of missing something, no getting sucked into the toxic drama of the wash cloths. Pillow cases don’t die.

        So how did such a ray of freaking sunshine end up cowering under a blanket of her own neurotic fears in a linen closet? Well, it all started with a hole in my sock.

       The first thing I noticed as I was punching the clock was that Mr.___ was already up, dressed and in his wheelchair, a rare and pleasant surprise. As I walked down the hall and greeted my folks, I saw that three of my residents already had their TED hose on. I smiled to myself and made a mental note to say thank you to third shift. It had all the makings for a remarkably smooth day and I gathered my supplies, blissfully unaware of the impending shit storm of inner crazy that was headed my way.

      Because third shift was on top of their game, I was able to knock out two showers before breakfast. It was in the middle of the second shower that I noticed it; the beginning of a hole in the big toe of my left sock. I could barely feel it. A minor inconvenience in an otherwise good start to the shift. I shrugged it off, finished the shower and gathered my folks down to the dining room.

        It was about twenty minutes into breakfast when I noticed it again; my big toe slowly, but with great determination trying to escape the confines of my sock. My sock, which was wet at this point from the showers. They invested all this money on renovations and couldn’t be bothered to find a crew who knew enough to leave a dip in the floor so that gravity pulls the water to the drain. When I mentioned it, they tossed us a squeegee, which did nothing solve the wet sneakers problem. And running around for eight hours in wet sneakers is exactly as gross as it sounds…

  “What is WRONG with you, Alice?! For Godsake, you walk everywhere anyway. You’ve been handling the wet sneaker situation for years. Peppermint oil, hot water soak and lotion. Why are you stressing about it now?” I thought to myself as we finished clearing out the dining room.

      After doing a round and checking the hall, I sat down and adjusted my sock so that I couldn’t feel the hole, willed myself not to wiggle my toes and got back to work. Mrs. __ was a little worried about her friend in the hospital. Mrs.__ is dead set against the idea of using her walker. Mr.__ needs clean sheets. It’s clear they weren’t changed. Honest to God. How hard is it to change a bed?!…all the while, I felt the hole growing; my toe rubbing rebelliously against the top of my still damp sneakers, mocking the other toes for obediently staying in their cotton cage.

       As I went along with my day, I noticed that my thoughts darkened. I didn’t have easy access to my supplies. Every time I get used to one supervisor, they are replaced with another. No benefits. No money. No boyfriend. No 401 K. I found myself worrying about things that ordinarily do not weigh much on my mind. The world’s smallest violin grew louder in my head as the damned hole grew bigger in my sock.

           By the time I found myself in the safe cocoon of the linen closet, I had worked myself into such an inner storm of nerves that my smile wasn’t fooling anyone. I didn’t understand why my emotions spiraled when the day started out with such promise; why I was choking on some weird, undefined panic. Why was I suddenly living in fear of tomorrow, convinced that the world around me would implode because of my endless list of shortcomings? It made NO SENSE!  All over a hole in my sock? It was like drowning in a tea cup.

        So I took a break. I sought refuge and in the safe confines of the linen closet, I quickly began to sort through my shit.  As maddening as they can be, a hole in a sock has never driven someone to the brink of insanity. Clearly, I had some underlying issues going on.  I had five minutes left to get a grip and put it back in perspective.

        I tend to focus on my actions rather than my emotions.  What I do matters more than what I feel. After all, feelings always pass and come what may, the show must go on. I have an incredible amount of gratitude and passion for the life recovery has given me and any sort of self-pity seems like spitting in the face of a second chance that many people don’t get. I do not take this for granted, but there is a thin line between working THROUGH your feelings and STUFFING them down. It took a hole in my sock to realize that I had been doing the latter for quite some time.

      I wrote last week about this job being about perspective more than money. That is true, but it doesn’t mean that I am not affected by financial insecurity. As caregivers, most of us are a paycheck away from homelessness. It’s my normal. The money always seems to work out, but it is a stressful scary reality. I like to minimize that fear, to focus on the positives, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

       I like to write about the beautiful raw, heartbreaking, humorous moments that I share with my folks on the floor and how they bring such depth of meaning to my life. Every bit of that is true. But it is also true that every shift, I face my own mortality. We deal with so much loss.  I love my residents as individuals; as friends and I have days when I’m keenly aware that my very best effort is nowhere near enough to make their quality of life as good as they deserve. Some days, I feel like a failure because of that. Just because I don’t allow myself to sit in that feeling doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

       The ability to adapt and persevere, the lessons learned from overcoming challenges, finding meaning in the mundane; all favorite themes of mine. That doesn’t mean that the challenges themselves don’t leave scars.

      Focusing on the positive is a good thing. Focusing on the positive to the point of denying the negative, however, can be dangerous. It’s a tricky balancing act. I forget sometimes to leave room to grieve, to give myself permission to be human, to feel anger or fear, to not be “okay”.

      It’s a subtle, unconscious drive to be superwoman. A need to be the solution because I feel like I was the problem for so very long. Though my intentions are good, the end result is me hiding in a linen closet because my world imploded over a hole in my sock.

       Thankfully, life has a learning curve. Sometimes a mini meltdown in a linen closet just what the doctor (or shrink) ordered to force some much needed reflection. I took one last deep breath and left the safe confines of my “crazy” cave.

       “HEY! What the hell is going ON with you today?” Mr.__ demanded, as I stepped out to the bright fluorescence of the hall.

       “…I have a hole in my sock. It’s been nagging me all day.” I mumbled.

     “You should have said something earlier. You could have borrowed a pair of mine”…Sometimes the toughest challenges we face are those we don’t show and sometimes the simplest solutions are the ones we don’t see.