Warm and fuzzy or cold and distant? What style would you say best describes your personality?
I want you to seriously think about this. I believe identifying whether you are 'warm and fuzzy' or 'cold and distant' can help you if you are entering into the world of caregiving.
In some sense it seems that how we approach caregiving could be tied to the concept of emotional intelligence, that is... having a level of emotional awareness. And yes, this comes in extremely handy when caregiving!
Each of us approaches situations differently according to how we incorporate our emotional styles into our daily activities. For instance, a very dear and close friend of mine freely admits, she has ZERO patience in dealing with her 90-something mother's needs as an elder. NONE. NADA. ZIP.
I lived and worked in South Florida for the bulk of my professional broadcast journalism career. Being on-air meant regular appointments to ensure a proper appearance; hair, nails, clothing and waxing (shapely eyebrows are a must).
I went to the same esthetician for many years. And in the half hour every few weeks of lying on her table to get my eyebrows waxed, we developed a friendship. Our lives intersected in various ways over the years.
One day while chatting we both realized we had become friends but had never interacted socially outside of our appointment time.
Then she said something (to this effect), that stuck with me.
If memory serves, my answer was, “Thanks… I think?” The point here is that my friend was a keen observer of personality. She meant no disrespect or cut-down in what she said. And I have to admit, she was and to this day, is still correct. I am not cut from the ‘warm and fuzzy' cloth.
So what does this have to do with taking on the role of caregiver to my mother? Roll the calendar forward to the last five years of Miss Nellie’s life. At this stage the care roles were reversed and my first and foremost duties were to make sure mom had the best care possible.
There wasn’t a day that passed I did not tell my mom I loved her; usually two or three times a day. That was true even on those days when I was tired, overwhelmed, scared, angry and feeling like I was at the end of my rope. No matter what, I ALWAYS hugged and told my mom I loved her.
But from the outside looking in, I could see how someone could interpret my actions as ‘cold and distant.’ Because I set my goals around mom’s care and comfort NOT painting a cozy and rosy picture of what was likely ahead for us.
I don’t believe being 'warm and fuzzy' would have ensured her doctors treated her with respect and dignity; that they listened to her. I chose the practical approach:
Ensuring prescriptions were correct.
Demanding more information from doctors about her conditions and clear explanations.
My work included constant research to figure out what other resources might be available for us. Even after securing in-home caregivers, I still had my hands in the mix providing double-duty care for Miss Nellie.
I was always practical about what supplies and/or equipment she might need including even the ultra-personal products that folks may not want to talk about.
When it came to the tough conversations - I insisted we have those discussions - about end-of-life wishes.
I took the lead on her food and nutrition (I’ll save those details for a future post)...
We had tough-talks about why she had to use her walker (I knew a fall would be the beginning of the end), the realities of what her care would look like if she lost her mobility (which eventually she did and as anticipated, the care model changed dramatically).
But through it all, Miss Nellie knew how much I loved her; how much she meant to me. Now... that’s not to say there weren’t times when I lost my temper, because I did.
If you are a caregiver - no matter how devoted and/or loving - there will be times when you feel like you are losing your mind; when the littlest little thing will make you explode. It happens.
I am convinced that what helped me navigate and survive the emotional and physical stress of caregiving, were that my decisions and actions were driven by what some might call that ‘cold and distant’ personality type:
What personality style are you and how has it helped or hindered your approach to caregiving? I would love to hear your thoughts and comments on this topic and share with others out there who might question their own "emotional styles."
Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let me know I'm not some hard-as-nails cold and distant daughter (smile)... I know I'm not the only one who approaches tough situations in this manner!