Tapering Off

Start out slow and taper off”
–Walt Stack, marathoner

My life has always been one of extremes. Drinking to excess. Pulling all-nighters in college. Moving thirty-odd times from island to desert and landing amidst the fjords of Norway along the way.

The excessiveness didn’t stop when I stopped drinking.

The effort I put into most everything I do still tends to be all or nothing. In twenty-plus years of sobriety, I’ve run two dozen marathons and ultramarathons. Written hundreds of blog posts. Published numerous stories and essays and poems. But my energy is not limited to the thud of my feet on a dusty trail or the number of words on a page; my emotions can easily run to extremes, especially as a family caregiver.

Finding emotional balance in caregiving is challenging when you feel everything all at once: Empathy. Terror. Devotion. Fury. Bliss. Agony. Patience. Burnout. Compassion. Now in my third iteration of caregiving—this time for my husband— I’ve reached official overload.

This time, I’m forcing myself to respond differently.

In running, we call it tapering, that seemingly counterintuitive process when we purposely slow down our training two weeks before a big race. This gradual reduction of miles and intensity levels rests both body and mind.

Today, I’m reducing everything from running to writing to housecleaning and errands. Exhausted by the demands of a housebound injured spouse unable to exercise, we both embrace the art of the taper, simultaneously fitting and ironic, since he, a fitness trainer and former marathoner, has coached me through all my races. For better and for worse, he has taught me that slowing down, as difficult as it is in running and in life, is essential to achieving peak performance.

So, as he said to me right before my first marathon so many years ago, we put one foot in front of the other and repeat, one step at a time.

10 Commandments of Caregiving

  1. Find Compassion: Walk a mile in your caree’s shoes
  2. Be Patient: It’s is a positive side-effect of compassion
  3. Stay Positive: The 80/20 rule works here, and sometimes in reverse
  4. Pray. A Lot: To whatever power greater than you propelling you through this wild ride
  5. Ditch the Drama: No one wants to hear about a self-sacrificing martyr, let alone be one
  6. Give & Ye Shall Receive: Being of service isn’t selfish
  7. Treat yourself: Even a half-hour away with a latte is a well-deserved reward
  8. Rest Up: Manadatory for both caregiver and caree
  9. Love Thyself: Daily affirmations remind us of our purpose, value and why we do this
  10. Learn & Share: As you’ve been helped by other caregivers, so shall your wisdom help them

Be gentle. Give freely. Stay real. Because we’re all doing the best we can with situations we’ve never been through before.

Food for Thought

This week, the planets aligned in my creative galaxy: acceptance letters from two publications; a literary agent seeking quirky cookbooks; a food memoir writing course; a blogger who wants to feature my mother’s cooking newsletter on her site.

As I ran in pre-dawn dusk this morning, drenched in sweat and the deluge of inspiration, I decided to reopen a writing project I’d shelved two years ago in a fit of rage at a disease that knows no shame.

I’d envisioned the book as a tribute to my mother’s many talents. We’d write it together, I thought, the perfect project to regain the sense of purpose Alzheimer’s was slowly stripping away. I’d interlace essays from the monthly newsletter she’d written and designed for thirty years with posts from my blog; use artwork and recipes from her cookbook Cook & Tell, published nearly two decades ago.

But reminders of the skills she’d lost and attempts to reclaim the identity of the woman she no longer remembered proved too painful for either of us to endure. I surrendered the project and Alzheimer’s won that round. Almost.

When the Universe nudges, I’ve learned to listen. And when inspiration sparks creativity, I’m propelled into action.