Suggestions vs Resolutions
Why suggestions instead of resolutions? It just sounds better. No one likes a bossypants. (I say from experience ;/ ) And only you know if you have the resolve to implement any particular idea. What I can do, though, is make the case for why I think these are good suggestions and you may like them, too.
Addition Before Subtraction
Let’s start with the main idea for success: addition before subtraction. This happens to be a principle of great dementia care, too, by the way. It works like this: your mom, who has dementia, puts an empty pot on the stove and turns the knob up to high.
Your natural instinct is to rush in, turn off the burner, remove the pot, and tell your mom why that was a bad idea. The likeliest outcome to this scenario is an argument, bad feelings, and possibly someone getting burned.
But what if you instead dumped a cup of water in the pot, put your arm around your mom and said, “I’m getting hungry too. Let’s find a snack to tide us over,” and surreptitiously turned off the stove as you walked your mom over to the pantry or fridge?
In this scenario, you’ve executed addition before subtraction. You’re offering something before taking something away.
Let’s Do It Different
It works the same way when we use the principle on ourselves. Yet many (most?) of us produce New Year’s resolutions lists that sound like they were written by a person who’s really mean. Our inner 4 year-old won’t put up with this for long. We call the results “self-sabotage” and often take the opportunity to let the nasty voice in our heads beat up on us some more.
None of this sounds appealing, but it does sound familiar, right? Let’s do it different! I’ll be the ringleader 😉
Just One Really Good Suggestion
In the spirit of doing it different, I realized you don’t need a bunch of suggestions–just one really good one. So here it is: I strongly suggest you commit to treating yourself like you have dementia in this new year to come.
Give yourself the same respect, kindness, and love you give to your loved one in every interaction. Give yourself the gift of taking a deep breath and consciously calling in these three crucial elements. As you’re first developing the habit of doing this for yourself, you’ll probably forget at times. Your cue is the nasty little voice in your head telling you you’re not doing it right, or not doing enough. Add respect, kindness, and love. Subtract the nasty little voice.
Show yourself the same empathy and compassion you do your person living with dementia. If something starts to go sideways, acknowledge it doesn’t feel good. Think of what you’d say to your best friend going through the same thing, then say it to yourself.
Listen to, validate, and reassure yourself
Listen closely and then validate and reassure yourself, just as you do with your parent or partner. When you’re feeling at the end of your tether, listen closely to what your body is telling you. Don’t try to redirect it to another task–you know from experience with your loved one that won’t work until you’ve listened carefully and validated what you’ve heard. You deserve the same, so give yourself that.
There’s a reason you’re getting this feedback from your body. Your body isn’t trying to work against you. It’s trying to help you. It’s letting you know you need more sleep, or more water, or more fuel, or more fun. (See what I did there?) Reassure yourself you’re a priority, that you’ll meet those needs.
And finally, do something different if what you’re doing doesn’t work! We wouldn’t dream of continuing to do something that doesn’t work when it comes to a person living with dementia, so there’s no reason why we should set the bar lower for ourselves, right? If you need help, ask for it.
You, just like your person with dementia, are innately valuable and lovable simply because you exist. You deserve to be treated with respect, kindness, and love. In every interaction. You deserve empathy and compassion. This is a tough time in your life. You deserve to be listened to, to feel validated, to be reassured. You deserve to wake up refreshed, to have each day go as smoothly as possible, to receive whatever help you need.
You deserve encouragement, and you have a cheering section in me. I’m rooting for you every step of the way.
Christy Turner is the founder of DementiaSherpa.com, creator of the program What To Do When Your Parent or Partner Has Dementia, and a featured blogger on Sixty+Me.com. Her segment “Guiding You Through Rough Terrain with The Dementia Sherpa” appears on The Alzheimer’s Podcast every other Tuesday. Christy has enjoyed the privilege of working with 1,123 people living with dementia and their families.