Something For Myself

John Parks-Coleman

Something For Myself

John Parks-Coleman
thumb-489549_640As Caregivers, we so often forget ourselves; whether it's forgetting our Self-Care, or procrastinating (read as prioritizing) about things that need to be done.  It's very easy to forget about yourself when you spend eight days a week caring for a loved one.  Caregiver burn-out can come in a variety of forms from the subtle "I need to take a break" to complete melt-downs that can be catastrophic.  So, how do you avoid burn-out?  How do you remember YOU when you are so totally devoted to another?

If you've been reading my posts, or know anything at all about me, then you know that I am a Veteran.  My twenty-one years in the Army were spent as a 92Y (Unit Supply), Quartermaster, the person in the organization that makes missions possible by coordinating equipment, people, and transportation in order to achieve the mission.  I didn't set out to be a 92Y, I actually wanted to be a Nurse; however, we don't always get what we want (but we make due with what we have).  Now, I'm not going to go over all my military history, but I will share with you what kept me going in the military and what keeps me going as a Caregiver and Volunteer even today.

Many people who enlist in any branch of the military don't necessarily intend to serve for more than a few years, I only intended on staying in for three years.  It was during the second half of my first full year on Active Duty that I lost my first buddy, Jason, who took his own life after Desert Storm.  At that time, I was still young and inexperienced; I missed the signs and symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  It still haunts me to this day, that something that I could have prevented, but failed to act upon.  The signs and symptoms to look for are general, and can be misunderstood if you don't know what to look for; we still lose people today due to the missed call for help that's disguised as something else.

In the aftermath of the loss of my buddy, I was lost and disillusioned with my own conscious and the military in many ways.  My Platoon Sergeant recognized this in me as much as I tried to remain stoic and driving forward. He gave me the opportunity to save myself from myself.  He volun-told me to be a part of the Muscular Dystrophy Association Summer Camp in the summer of 1993.  Looking back, I have my NCO to thank for making me the man I am, today and rest assured, he knows it (he may be sick of hearing about it).

Spending two weeks as a volunteer at the MDA Summer Camp let me reconnect with a task and purpose.  Spending time with the children (aka campers) and helping them to spend time enjoying life, recognizing them as people and not occupants of a mobility-device, laughing and crying with them, and enabling the campers to swim and fish put my life into perspective.  It also set me on a path that I still travel today, volunteering.

Each duty station that the Army assigned me gained a Soldier and a Volunteer.  It came in various forms:  teaching Conversational English to ROKA Soldiers in South Korea, working with orphanages in Germany and Korea, sending care packages to Soldiers, the list goes on.  As I progressed in rank through my career, my opportunities to volunteer began to erode since I had many more responsibilities, and less time available (my watch only goes to 2359hrs).  So, I had to modify the ways in which I volunteered.

Remembering my time with the MDA Summer Camp and, the smiles on the faces of children and adults that I taught how to play guitar/bass I had a renewed vision of my task and purpose.  In the summer of 2011, I began offering free lessons to my neighbors, my Soldiers and their families, and basically any one who wanted to learn.  It was rewarding to me, and fun for them.  I was able to do it during my lunch break or after my duty day was finished.  Things changed in 2013, when Yvonne's health declined.  It was no longer safe for me to be away for extended periods.  I retired from the Army, and devoted myself to Yvonne.

Let me be clear about this:  I recognize that I am blessed to be the Caregiver for my Wife.  Many Caregivers are in positions of caring for parents, siblings, neighbors, children, and have different situations altogether.  To be Yvonne's Caregiver is a blessing not a curse and, it has brought us even closer together.  Through the transition from Husband to Caregiving-Husband, I have picked up a lot of skills and developed even more patience than I thought was capable.  On her good days, she likes to assist me in volunteering; the intrinsic rewards help to keep that beautiful smile on her face in spite of the pain.  Unable to volunteer in the same way that I was while I was still on Active Duty (the financial difference between Active and Retired is substantial - to understate it).

Caregivers and Veterans learn, over time, to make one dollar turn into twenty through budgeting and finding ways to innovate and coordinate.  We find ways of making things work, and to figure out forty different ways of cooking a single potato.  There will come a point where the belt can become too tight and something has to give.  So things get put off until "later", and a trip to the grocery store becomes an adventure in financial juggling.  Between mortgage, groceries, electricity, and everything else, you slowly find your savings depleted, and the dreams you had put off until retirement remain dreams and not a list of what you've enjoyed.  This is when the experience and devotion to Caregiving and Volunteering can become an asset.

When you look at the list of what a Caregiver does, it reads as such:

Organizes all logistical operations, reports directly to the president and CEO. Manages all inventories, resupply operations, and budget controls for the entire company. Manages CEO's activity and meeting calendar; and, operates as personal assistant and advisor to the CEO. Monitors and manages all contractual obligations, forecasts logistical needs and conducts all interviews of prospective clients and consultants.

Replace the words "president" and "CEO" with Caree.  Replace the words "clients" and "consultants" with respite-programs and doctors, respectively.  This is a basic job-description of a Caregiver.  More can be added to the description, but none can be taken away.  Whether you provide care for a parent, spouse, child, or sibling these are the basic skill-sets.  Incidentally, this is actually on my LinkedIn profile and, it has led to more opportunities for employment than I can shake a stick at. And, there's the conflict between being a Caregiver versus financial difficulty.  Once employers find out that you are a Caregiver, they avoid you like the plague.  There is a perception that someone who is a Caregiver could not fully devote themselves to employment and to be fair, there are some instances where this is true (otherwise, I'd not have retired from the Army).

So, your job search gets very specific when you need to juggle employment and Caregiving.  Add to that the fact that I am a Veteran with disabilities of my own and potential employers see nothing but liability issues.  I've had interviews with many organizations, and have done very well; however, when I disclose that I'm a Caregiver, I get "the look".  Every Caregiver knows "the look".  The potential employer looks at you as if to say, "Seriously, you wasted my time interviewing you when I could have spent time with someone who isn't a Caregiver".

You can become so overwhelmingly frustrated with the situation that you don't want to continue searching for work.  Wanting to throw in the towel and admit defeat, you realize that the very thing that you cherish seems to be the very thing that is holding you back. Or is it?  Trust me, it's not YOU, it's the employer.  Veterans, Caregivers, and Veteran-Caregivers hear over and over that we are "over-qualified" or "you may not be the right fit for this company".  You hear more excuses about why you won't be considered for employment than time spent in the interview.  Why not hire based on qualifications alone then make it work from there?  So many companies claim to be hiring Veterans, or claim that they are Family-Friendly. However, when it comes down to brass-tacks, they aren't hiring anyone who has the skills that we have and the drive to contribute to our communities (remember that volunteering I like to do?).

The frustration can be insurmountable.  It can devastate you and your Family.  It's those moments of frustration, anxiety, and wondering what can you do to provide for my Family and be a Caregiver at the same time. Right then, when you reach that point -- your higher power sends you a message.  It can come in so many forms, and it may be smacking you in the face repeatedly, and you don't recognize it -- even though you see it literally every day.  Every day, when you drive down the road, or have a neighbor that moves in or moves out, you see it.  One day, the message finally gets through, and it hits you full-force.

Veteran, Family, Caregiver, Volunteer...through every step of path that I have been traveling, there has been something that I used.  You see it every day.  As Caregivers, you are probably more than familiar with the products and services that are offered; since, there may be one of their products attached to your vehicle at this very moment.  Do you have a lift-gate on your vehicle?  What is it attached to?  How did it get there?  Who put it there?  The same company that provided you boxes, trucks, dollies, and everything you needed when you moved.

That company took a chance with me and now I've been empowered to continue on my path.  Family environment, hires Veterans, and understands the skill-set of Caregivers. Sounds like a match made in Heaven.

Most importantly -- the beautiful smile is back on Yvonne's face.  Through the pain, she is so excited that I can return to work, relieve the financial juggling and do something that puts the smile back on my face:  Volunteer.

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4 Comments

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Denise

This is awesome!!! It relieves the pressure, puts a different sense of purpose in your day.\r\n\r\nKudos!!!\r\n\r\nKeep us posted as you can. Would love to know how your first day goes. :)

Hussy

Great news, John!

LilMagill

This is great news! I'm really happy for you! I want to echo what <a href='http://www.caregiving.com/members/worriedwife/' rel=\"nofollow\">@worriedwife</a> (Pegi) said above - those are my sentiments exactly. :-)

jan

So glad for you that you persisted in finding a great match. I hope it works out beautifully all around. You obviously have so much to give.