West St. Paul writer Cynthia Orange has tackled some serious topics: addiction, recovery, post-traumatic stress disorder. Her latest book on caregiving is no less serious.
But “Take Good Care” (Hazelden Publishing, $15.95) is a refreshingly upbeat take on “Finding Your Joy in Compassionate Caregiving,” as the subtitle reads. Part how-to, part self-help, this resource-rich book offers frank and accessible advice to the 44 million Americans who are caring for family members. We talked to Orange about the rewards and pitfalls of caring for others and why we should avoid asking “What can I do?”
Q: Who’s your book for?
A: This isn’t only for people who are in serious caring situations. It’s for all sorts of caregivers, from those of us who do favors for others to those of us who are on the front lines, caring for someone with dementia or another serious disease.
Q: You make a distinction between caregiving and caretaking. Why?
A: Caretaking is when your life is frequently out of balance, when you are giving too much too often to too many, when you deplete yourself. Caregiving is about giving compassionate care to yourself while you are caring for someone else. Caregiving is a give-and-take relationship that benefits both you and the recipient. It’s not about deciding what someone else needs and delivering it. It’s working with that person to find out what he or she wants and determining what you — and others — can provide.
Q: It seems like many of us end up caretaking. How can we change that?
A: It can be as simple as pausing to ask “Is my life in balance?” “Do I need to do this?” “Am I taking care of myself so I can give to others?” You need to take the time to develop boundaries, determine what you can and can’t do and learn when to find assistance. There are lots of resources and a rich community of support out there.
Q: How do things get out of balance?
A: It’s easy. You get so task-oriented when you’re caregiving. You have doctors’ appointments to make and prescriptions to fill, meals to make, laundry. … Sometimes it’s just easier to do it yourself. All of a sudden you realize the day is gone and you haven’t eaten at all.
Q: What’s the best way for a caregiver to get back in balance?
A: In my book, I write about a circle of care. It uses concentric circles to help figure out your appropriate place in caring for someone. Sometimes we are the primary caregivers and sometimes we’re part of a caregiving group that helps take care of the caregivers themselves.
Q: How can caregiving be rewarding?
A: When it’s a balanced relationship between caregiver and receiver, you can find yourselves connecting on a deeper level. Things get honest. You’re treating each other with unconditional love. It can be rewarding because you see the other in a way you’ve never seen before.
Q: What should we do when friends, co-workers or neighbors are going through a rough patch and need help?
A: Don’t ask “What can I do to help?” It only adds to the caregivers’ stress. Instead, ask if you can do specific things: “How about if I mow your lawn?” “How about if I come over and read a book [to the recipient] so you can get away?” “Would you like to go to a movie?” Sometimes all a caregiver wants is to go see a movie.