For five years, ending in 2005, I worked as a family caregiving consultant for the Alzheimer's Association and, more recently, for a California state-supported Caregiver Resource Center in Santa Cruz, CA. Dementia caregiving is documented to be the most stressful caregiving there is. Caregivers of all ages report deteriorating health and high rates of depression. Among people who are 65 and older, those who are caregiving have a 63% higher mortality rate than those who are not.
Caregiving for a loved one is so very stressful. You want to relieve their suffering, and yet with dementia or other chronic progressive conditions near the end of life there is little to be done except to provide basic needs, keep them safe and help them feel loved (when they can allow it). In long term caregiving situations, the greatest task is to learn to take care of yourself by giving from the heart while keeping appropriate limits and boundaries. Caring so much that you put someone else's needs and desires ahead of your own for months or years on end can be dangerously depleting. In reality, care receivers need the people who take care of them to be well-rested, well-fed, well-supported, well-exercised and relaxed so they can benefit from their support for as long as possible.
My role as a consultant was to help families use all the resources available and develop skills and strategies to support their loved ones in the healthiest ways possible. Usually the first thing that brought a client in to see me was the need to gather information and physical support for handling their loved one's care but, once those initial needs were met, we inevitably talked about a wide variety of emotional and spiritual issues. I was not allowed to use Flower Essences with my clients, but there were many occasions when I knew they could make a difference and a few in which the clients brought up the topic themselves. The following essences are the ones I believe should be considered.
Centaury -- Centaury is the classic Bach flower essence for the "wounded healers" amongst us -- those people who derive their sense of self-worth by taking care of others' needs while neglecting their own. Using the Martyr archetype as a role model seems noble and like the right thing to do, and it is a very common choice, but it can lead to dangerously codependent behavior in the long run. For example, caregivers in this model frequently attempt to avoid a demented relative's anxiety about allowing paid help into the house by doing what has to be done themselves. Even when the patient's needs steadily progress to the point of needing 24-hr care, this kind of caregiver dutifully tries to keep the status quo intact, compromising their own well-being and, ultimately, the well-being of the one who now depends on them alone.
Centaury increases a person's ability to balance the patient's needs with their own. And as they begin to develop the self-love and self-respect they need from the inside out, the compulsion to serve others through excessive servitude falls away and a better appoach to family caregiving can then be carried out. Choices that are best for all concerned are always the best choices that can be made.
Elm -- Caregivers in the Elm state of mind aren't Martyrs -- they're trying to be Supermen! They overestimate what is realistically possible, swoop in to save the day, and become overwhelmed with despair and self-doubt when it doesn't work out. Caregivers in this condition need support to get help, using their innate leadership abilities to organize a care team that can manage the care receiver's needs over the long haul. Elm helps them develop a more realistic point of view so they can tackle the job, feeling more rested and relaxed, and confident that what needs to be done is, with help, within their power to achieve after all.
Yarrow -- All the yarrows, golden yellow, white and pink, are invaluable for anyone in a caregiving situation.The Yarrows tighten up the aura and help bring a person's overly-expanded consciousness back in to their individual self. Ideally, a person's aura is like a shield, not completely impenetrable (you want beneficial positive influences to be let in) but not overly diffuse. When a caregiver puts too much attention on other people the aura literally expands to allow information about that other person in. If this goes on too long and too often, psychic overwhelm and exhaustion is the result. White Yarrow strengthens the integrity of the aura as a whole, Golden Yellow helps with self-esteem and preservation of the self, and Pink helps people who tend to be especially affected by other people's emotions.
Olive and Garlic -- Working with stress effectively is one thing, but what if the caregiver has already slipped into a state of exhaustion and near collapse? I had a client come to me in this state: she worked fulltime, had a father who needed caregiving help, she was still breastfeeding her young child, and had a husband who was feeling needy because of a crisis at his job. She wailed "I'm SO tired! I feel like everyone in my life is sucking me dry!" I gave her Olive and Garlic flower essences and a week later she came back, happy and full of energy. "You're making magic potions!" she said. Within a week she had laid down some ground rules at home, decided to shut off her cell phone and let voicemail pick up after a certain time every day, she talked to her husband about how she felt and, with his increased support and understanding, was finally starting to make inroads to getting her own needs met.
Olive flower essence is specific for exhaustion and soul-weariness. It helps a person draw on inner resources for support when physical support has been lacking. Garlic gives added strength and the ability to actively resist intrusions that would otherwise do harm.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sheryl Karas currently shares a joint spiritual counseling and healing practice
with her partner Paul Hood in Santa Cruz, CA.
She is also the owner of Mama Love Products,
a small flower-essence based perfume business, where she combines flower essence therapy, aromatherapy
and Reiki to create great-smelling healing formulas for topical use. This
article is from Sheryl's just-finished book The
Spiritual Journey of Family Caregiving. Sheryl has also been developing a tarot deck based on flower
essence therapy with an accompanying manual.
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