MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to "Metro Connection." Our theme this week is Secrets. And in a just bit we'll hear from Washingtonians who've revealed rather personal stories about themselves via a rather impersonal means of communication. First though, as the average lifespan in our country goes up, we're seeing more and more aging Americans in need of care. And the relationship between the caregiver and the caregivee often goes in one direction, the caregiver gives and the givee, of course, receives. But sometimes it's the caregiver who secretly needs care of his or her own. Emily Berman brings us one woman's story of coping with the stress of taking care of others.
MS. EMILY BERMAN
Karen Mata never expected to be a caregiver, especially not at 30 years old. She had just finished law school, landed a job at a firm in D.C., and gotten married when her mom was diagnosed with stomach cancer.
MS. KAREN MATA
I didn't feel bad that I was a caregiver. I just felt like, okay, I have to do this. And her stomach wasn't functioning, so I spent the greater part of the day trying to figure out how to get some type of nourishment in her, and get her medicine to her.
She was taking care of her mom nearly 24 hours a day, for a year-and-a-half. Then, three weeks after her mom passed away, she got a call that her dad was in the hospital, and he needed her.
I couldn't take the call. I mean, I handed it to my husband and I just crumpled. My legs just gave out.
Mata got right in the car and headed down to Virginia. All the while thinking something was really wrong.
Part of me is just not there. Not just that I'm tired. Some capacity that I had within myself, some inner strength, it is gone. And what am I going to do, because now my dad needs it and I don't think I have it.
MS. MAUDE HARRISON-HUDSON
The whole task of caregiving is so enormous. It's just so much in addition to your own life. Many people fall apart.
Maude Harrison-Hudson is a bereavement counselor at Montgomery Hospice. She runs workshops for caregivers around the region. She says it can be tempting to try to do it all on your own, but that's actually the worst thing you can do.
I think many people feel that they need to be strong for this loved one, and then sometimes there's pressure from the parent or the spouse, or whoever, where they don't want someone else to be involved or to care for them, which makes it more difficult.
Asking for help and taking breaks, even just for an hour, can help a caregiver cope with the stress. Without it, she says, many people burn out and get sick themselves. As for Karen Mata, having just cared for her mother and with more caregiving on the horizon, she knew something would have to change. Her doctor prescribed her sleeping pills, so she could get some rest. Instead, they made her feel sick. She started seeing a therapist, but she didn't feel like it was helping her.
I just was not in a space where I could talk about what was going on. It was just so fresh. I was in it.
So when Mata came across a book about yoga it seemed as good an idea as anything. She started taking classes, and pretty soon the hour she spent doing yoga became the anchor of her day. Within a few months she was really into it and decided to visit an Ashram in India. It was there one day that she went into a little boutique and noticed a necklace, a carved piece of wood hanging from a thin rope.
The necklace, for some reason, caught my eye. And it wasn't because of how it looked, because it really actually wasn't something that I would wear.
There was a little tag on the necklace that explained how it was carved from wood of the Kadamba Tree. It's a tree that grows in Southeast Asia and blossoms only at the sound of monsoon thunder.
When I read that story, it instantly resonated with me. That's me and that's other caregivers. When you go through turbulent times there is a chance to actually blossom and to find strength that you didn't know that you had before.
Mata now teaches stress management classes for caregivers. She combines elements of yogic breathing, movement and group therapy to empower each person to care for him or herself. Chong Kang (sp?) is in the group. She says she appreciates getting together because caregiving is one of those things people don't talk about.
MS. CHONG KANG
A lot of my friends are caregivers, but I think they like to stay hidden for some reason.
But, Kang says, treating it like a secret only made caregiving more stressful. Talking about it and being with other caregivers, really helped.
Mata leads the group through visualizations and deep breathing exercises.
She's in a place now, she says, where she feels like she can help others.
I'm just more stable. I'm steadier. And I'm steadier for myself and I'm steadier for others. I'm not perfect, but I don't expect myself to be either.
She doesn't expect caregiving to ever be easy, but by taking better care of herself, she's realized, it doesn't have to be quite so hard. I'm Emily Berman.
The Kadamba Tree Foundation is holding a summer session for caregivers, as are various groups around the city. You can find more information on our website, metroconnection.org.
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