Tag Archives: Laura Ann Garren

Taking Care of the Caretaker

1 Jul

Here’s what happens when I have a flareup of my IBS/fibromyalgia. I awake exhausted, barely able to get out of bed. Everything hurts. My gut roils. I don’t feel that way every day, but when I do I can barely function. I have suffered bouts of increasing frequency, intensity and duration since summer of 2018, and so have had to ramp up my efforts to find effective treatment.

I can manage my symptoms, to a degree. Controlling stress is paramount, because it can trigger flare-ups. I maintain a very restrictive diet, which entails avoiding certain “trigger” foods that contain FODMAPs. These include a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, sauces, dressings, mixed spices, bread, cake, cereal, crackers, pasta, almost any processed food. I willingly forego eating what I know will make me sick; the problem is that triggers often lurk in other, seeming “safe” foods. One slip and I am sidelined for days.

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My doctor, Doug, has been very helpful. He referred me to two gastroenterologists,  neither of whom addressed my main concern, the IBS. Both wanted to order an expensive, invasive test to “rule out celiac”; I requested a test for Small Intestine Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO), but neither would order it, so I got a home testing kit. The results were positive. Doug prescribed Xifaxan, an antibiotic that kills only the bad bacteria in the gut. I stayed fairly well for a few months, but my symptoms eventually returned. Due to the danger of resistance, repeated courses of any antibiotic are discouraged, so I had to consider other options.

Doug ended up referring me to the Mayo Clinic Gastroenterology Department (Arizona campus) where I can consult with IBS specialists. The cost of air fare, lodging, transportation, incidents and out-of-pocket medical expenses are high, but thanks to my wonderful support system, I have managed to raise funds for the trip. (I set up a crowd fundraiser through Go Fund Me.)

Thanks for reading and, to all who have helped me past, present and future. I couldn’t take care of myself, or Chuck, without you!

Best, Laura Ann Garren

 

 

I Don’t Look Sick

13 Feb

I don’t look sick, but I am. I have an invisible illness, fibromyalgia, which causes  intermittent pain throughout the body; arthritis; fatigue and brain fog; and, possibly, my tinnitus. I also have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), depression and occasional bouts of anxiety. All are connected to each other and to stress.IMG_2054

Stress produces harmful hormones that in large doses can damage the immune system, causing a variety of autoimmune conditions, such as I have developed in the time that I’ve been taking care of Chuck since his stroke in 2007 (and about which I published a book, Stroke Happens, in 2017). The fibromyalgia pain and the unpredictability of my IBS symptoms (bloating, cramps, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue and brain fog) make it difficult for me work reliably.

My symptoms have been sneaking up for years, but suddenly increased in intensity, frequency and duration in the summer of 2018 after a particularly stressful personal interaction. I have submitted to dry needling, physical therapy, food sensitivity testing and other labs; I have sought medical help from specialists, but none in my are (South Carolina) were able to help me, so I have been referred by my general practitioner to the Mayo Clinic.

Meanwhile, I am learning to let go of the things I can’t control–in other words, most of life’s events–and control what I can–that is, my reaction to those events. I practice yoga and meditation; exercise; engage in a hobby (bowling); schedule time daily to “play” (spending time with my dogs in the backyard); eat well (I’m a vegetarian); don’t smoke; and am at a healthy weight. I get an occasional massage, which is one of the best therapies for pain because it suppresses the pain response and stimulates the release of serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good hormones.

Lately, I located a podcast, Like Mind, Like Body, which featured an interview with a doctor specializing in pain. Afterward, I ordered his book, Unlearn Your Pain, and have been reading the material, which includes worksheets and writing assignments. I also subscribed to an app, Curable, which offers meditation, brain training, expressive writing and education designed to help people recover from chronic pain. I can report a significant reduction in my pain since I started these regimes, and I highly recommend them.

My physical manifestations of stress make my life more challenging that it has to be. I’m sure I’m not the only caretaker–or victim of stress–who is suffering from such complaints. I understand how frustrating it is, and I hope that by sharing my experience, I can help someone else find a path to healing. Please feel free to reach out with your experiences with chronic pain, caretaking and healing.

Best, Laura Ann Garren

 

The Dark Side of Caretaking

4 Jul

This entry is about the dark side of caretaking. I am grateful for many things and am fortunate in many ways, but I have additional emotions that come up from time to time and I need to express them. I often feel:

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  • Conflicted
  • Constrained
  • Trapped
  • Overwhelmed
  • Terrified
  • Anxious
  • Guilty
  • Resentful
  • Remorse
  • Sorrowful
  • Depressed
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Frustrated
  • Abandoned

It takes tremendous energy to fight these feelings. For instance, when I look at Chuck sitting in front of the TV day after day, I feel so sorrowful that he will never get any better. Sometimes I resent him because he is the reason I feel constrained; then I immediately feel guilty and remorseful. I feel conflicted most of the time because many of my feelings are at odds with each other.

I don’t always acknowledge or express my feelings because it’s exhausting. Inevitably, however, they leak out at some point (usually at night, when I wake up with a panic attack). The inability to move on and the responsibility taking care of Chuck sometimes grind me down. I feel abandoned when people seem to forget or acknowledge my situation.

I could continue, but I think this message delivers the information well enough. I guess what I’m asking is for people to understand and acknowledge the unchanging nature of my predicament.

I would also like to add that I deeply appreciate the various and overwhelming kinds of support I’ve received: money, surprise gifts, cards, calls and visits. Susie comes three or four times a year. Lisa, who lives next door, helps with shopping, preparing meals and cooking and emergencies, big or small. Dorian is always available to lend emotional support and encouragement.

Thank you for reading. If you would like to learn more about my experience of caretaking, please check out my book, Stroke Happens.

Best, Laura Ann Garren

Let Me Tell You About My Book

25 Oct

Stroke Happens: A Caretaker’s Memoir tells the story of my husband’s stroke and my role as his caretaker after he suffered a massive stroke in 2007, at the age of 56. I decided to self-publish through Amazon because, after submitting the manuscript to more than 30 publishing companies, I couldn’t get anyone to read it. (I still wonder, “Why do publishers have submission guidelines on their websites if they weren’t even going to look at submissions?” I still don’t have an answer.)

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Finally, I overcame my reservations about self-publishing, realizing I have nothing to prove since I published The Chattooga River: A Natural and Cultural History (2013) through The History Press.

If you follow my blog and find it helpful, please read my book for more a detailed account of my journey through the tumultuous emotional landscape of stroke recovery. I hope my experience can help others find answers, feel validated and reach acceptance in their role as a caretaker; or simply be informed by my description of one aspect of the human condition

Thank you for reading. Best, Laura Ann Garren

 

Suffering is Optional

20 Apr

For Robert

I attended a beautiful and moving memorial service yesterday for a woman who died suddenly and too young. I did not know her but went through school with her brother; her sister and mine are close and my sister couldn’t make it, so I stood for the family. Her father was our beloved family vet, and the death of his daughter makes the second child he has lost.

The service, as these things do, got me thinking about the nature of life and death, love and loss, and how we try to make sense of it all and sometimes don’t succeed. Someone read a passage from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ account of her research on what happens after death. I found myself greatly moved by the poignancy of her ideas, although I’m not sure I believe in an afterlife. I wonder if these are stories to us by our egos, terrified by the thought of annihilation.

My former classmate spoke about his sister and his great love for her, which in itself was heartbreaking and beautiful. But he then had the courage to speak of what he called his rebelliousness, alluding, I think to his own doubts. Having lost two siblings seems almost unbearable; but he also has watched his father lose two children. He carries more than his own pain. He implied that he also carries profound questions, if not anger, about the unfairness of it. Why, in fact, does life have to be so hard?

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I have asked myself this on many occasions. When I feel myself being sucked into this question, which cannot be answered, I try to recall some wise words I once read.  Bad Things Happen to Good People was written by the Rabbi Harold Kushner, upon learning that his three-year-old son had a cruel, incurable disease and would die young. I find it difficult to relate the eloquence and profundity of the book in just a few words, but the underlying principal was that the question we should ask ourselves is not, “Why?” but “Why not?

By way of illustration, a parable: once a woman lamenting the death of her only son approached Buddha. She begged him to bring her son back to life. Buddha told her to bring him a poppy seed from the household of a family that had not known tragedy. She went from door to door, only to return to the Buddha empty handed but filled with the understanding that no one gets out unscathed.

Our lot in life, which Thomas Hobbes described as “nasty, brutish and short,” includes suffering. It is inescapable. There are innumerable ways to suffer–death, disease, disablement, divorce, to name but a few—and the only control we have over these events is our reaction to them. We grieve, we get angry, we torture ourselves with regret. In the end, though,  we desire peace and happiness, and we must try find it despite the tragedies that befall us.

I rely on stories like Kushner’s, or Buddha’s, to help myself find peace, which can be so elusive. Everyone suffers; no one is exempt. Since I have accepted this simple, profound concept, I have found it easier to live. Life does not have to be nasty and brutish, at least not all the time; especially if we remember that pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.

If you are reading this and you are suffering, I wish you peace.

Best, Laura Ann Garren

 

Strokenomics

20 Mar

Strokenomics refers to when you find that you or a loved one has suffered a stroke and are forced to live within new means. Hopefully, you have invested in a supplemental long-term disability. If not, I strongly urge you to do so before someone has an unexpected health catastrophe. It bears repeating: if you have not already done so, buy extra long-term disability insurance, which will provide much-needed extra income if you or your spouse become disabled or chronically ill. Furthermore, it will enable your or the loved one to be placed, should it be necessary, in a private healthcare facility as opposed to one run by the state; or it will offset in-home care, which can be very expensive but can greatly relief the burden of caretaking/enable you to be cared for in your home.

Unfortunately, our timing was bad. Chuck and I were on the verge of buying a policy when he had his stroke, and the difference in our disability income would have been as much as $3,000 per month. Needless to say, I have found ways to economize. I’m sharing in case anyone else in a similar situation might benefit.

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First, I buy 95% of my clothes (and household items such as glasses, pots and pans, etc.) from thrift shops. Even if I could afford to buy new clothes, at this point I don’t know that I would (unless I win the lottery, my secondary plan). An additional benefit is that I’m not supporting outsourcing, and my carbon footprint may be reduced by about 10%, according to Patrick Barkham in an article, “10:10 Fashion: Can I Give Up Buying Clothes for a Year?” in the on-line version of “The Guardian.”

Giving up meat (I’m a vegetarian for moral, ethical, environmental and economic reasons) will reduce the grocery bill, as well as lower your carbon footprint and diminish cruelty to factory-farmed animals. According to a study conducted by the Environmental Working Group, “Lamb, beef, cheese, pork and farmed salmon generate the most greenhouse gases. With the exception of salmon, they also tend to have the worst environmental impacts, because producing them requires the most resources – mainly chemical fertilizer, feed, fuel, pesticides and water – and pound for pound, they generate more polluting manure.”

Some other ways to save include:

  • Eat out less.
  • Don’t go to the movies.
  • Lower your thermostat a couple of degrees by day and even more by night.
  • Recycle paper you use for the printer by using the other side for drafts; or rip them up and use to jot down notes or lists.
  • Sell stuff you don’t want on eBay.
  • Clip coupons.
  • Look for bargains or two-for-one sales.
  • Buy secondhand furniture from consignment stores.
  • Buy a used car, or at least a low-mileage or hybrid vehicle.
  • Don’t get another pet.
  • Buy lottery tickets. (Just kidding. Sort of.)

As I mentioned, I’m sure there are additional ways apply strokenomics. I hope mine help someone out there!

Best, Laura Ann Garren

 

Get What You Need

16 Feb

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Chuck loved Valentine’s Day. He would draw me a little cartoon in the morning before going to work. When he came home, he would bring flowers and a card. For a few years after the stroke, I keenly felt the loss of this silly holiday. Everyone (at least on Facebook) was getting flowers or candy or making plans for dinner. My sweetheart, once so thoughtful, doesn’t even realize it’s Valentine’s Day; and if he did, he would be unable to get me a gift. For a long time, I felt sorry for myself on V-Day, but then on one February 14th, I decided to feel gratitude and was moved to share on Facebook:

“I was tempted to feel sorry for myself today, but then I remembered all the times Chuck brought me flowers when it wasn’t even St. Valentine’s Day. I’m lucky that I found someone who genuinely caring, thoughtful, generous, and so many other wonderful things. He still is, even if he can’t express it in the tradition ways. I’d rather have him here, as is, than all the flowers, candy, and ‘Be Mine’ cards in the world. Plus, he’s given me the biggest gift of all: a way to express MY love in a way most people aren’t called upon to do, by taking care of him.”

Forty-eight people “liked” the post and 15 people commented.

“Laura, this is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen all day!!! What a fabulous valentine for your husband!!! What a beautiful spirit you have!”

“I don’t know your story, but I’ve never heard a sweeter Valentine!”

I was so touched. Each time I got another replay, I felt I had received a little Valentine.

In the words of the Rolling Stones, “You don’t always get what you want…but if you try sometimes…you get what you need.”

If you would like to learn more, please read my book, Stroke Happens.

Best, Laura Ann Garren

 

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