So what’s your personal 2020 theme? (Can you answer this question without using a four-letter word that would’ve gotten you in trouble at recess?)
You’ve got your personal and family challenges, which likely include dementia since you are reading my blog.
You’ve got whatever chaos is happening in your community. Maybe people are arguing about defunding your local police. Perhaps you don’t feel safe on your streets. Maybe you own a local business that is struggling in these times.
Then there’s the national and political scene–and negotiating your perspectives with family and friends who might disagree.
Oh, and COVID. The coronavirus is still hanging out, making all of the above just a bit more complicated.
I read an article a few years ago about creating a personal theme each year. It should be preferably short and to the point. Something like Elevate. Grow. Strength. Persevere. Love. Focus.
You are supposed to come up with that theme before the year starts, of course. And I didn’t create one as we rung in 2020.
However, as the year goes on, I feel like my personal theme of 2020 is becoming let go.
I’m not good at it.
In 2020, I had to let go of the vast majority of work and social plans I had made.
In 2020, I had to let go of my goals (at least some of my short term goals) because I wasn’t set up to achieve them for reasons that were out of my control.
In 2020, I had to let go of some of my self-criticisms because what is going on in the world (and in the lives of those I am close to) is so much larger than my concerns about gaining 10 pounds or not finishing that research article I started. I had to admit that many of the things I hate myself for are really just small potatoes and not worth my mental energy.
In 2020, I had to let go of the notion that I am in control. I’ve always felt I could make things happen out of pure will and hard work. In the past, I’ve been pretty effective…but so much has happened that I’ve had to throw up my hands and walk away. So many projects derailed. So many tasks abandoned. I’ve struggled with feeling inadequate and unproductive, and I’m still working on letting that go.
In 2020, I also let go of a relationship with a family member in a way that was messy and complicated. Actually, I can’t say I let go of that. I’m a work in progress. Aren’t we all?
I don’t know what your 2020 theme is. Maybe at this point it’s survive. And that’s okay. If your goal at this point is just to make it to 2021, I’m right there with you.
But I find myself coming back to let go when I talk with caregivers and those living with dementia recently.
I’m telling caregivers to let go of their guilt for not being able to visit their loved ones at nursing homes during COVID. It’s out of your control. This is a reminder that you can’t control COVID. (In fact, if you can control COVID but you haven’t been doing that, you’re a real jerk.)
I’m telling people living with dementia to let go of their expectations of themselves. The world is overwhelming right now. Maybe you feel like those added stressors are sapping your limited mental energy and your brain is just tired. Be patient with yourself. And don’t be afraid to rest.
I’m telling caregivers who provide in-home care to let go of the anger they feel at themselves when they aren’t at their best. Being a caregiver is demanding, and today’s climate has created more challenges. Maybe you aren’t always as calm and composed as you wish you were. It’s okay. Let go of it. Move on.
On Friday, I gave a socially distanced presentation to a group of future nurses. One of the nursing students asked me what I found to be the biggest challenges for family of those living with dementia.
Without thinking, the words that came out of my mouth were letting go.
There’s a lot of letting go that happens when it comes to dementia.
For caregivers, it’s letting go of the person you used to know and embracing the person in front of you. It’s letting go of your past mistakes as a caregiver. It’s letting go of your feelings of inadequacy and knowing that what you are doing is enough. Maybe it’s letting go of your previous social life and friends that no longer make an effort to see you. Perhaps you had to let go of your job or your hobbies.
Many caregivers have to let go of their idea of what their future might look like. As one dementia caregiver once told me, “I had to let go of thinking we’d be that cute old couple eating ice cream together on a bench.”
For those living with dementia, it’s letting go of what you used to do and finding new things to do. It’s letting go of parts of your identity that were important to you. It’s letting go of control of some of your decisions and passing them to people you (hopefully) trust.
Maybe you had to let go of your career, your car, and your household responsibilities. A friend of mine with dementia was devastated when he had to give up mowing the yard because he could no longer safely use a mower.
Dementia caregivers and those who have dementia live in a world that forces them to let go everyday. Sometimes that letting go occurs gracefully, and sometimes we fight it. Sometimes what we let go of is replaced by something better. Sometimes other people see and acknowledge when we let go of something, but often it’s something that occurs privately. Sometimes we grieve for five minutes. Sometimes we grieve forever.
As for me, I didn’t choose let go as my 2020 theme. It just developed. I’m good at hanging on. Letting go is harder for me, but I’m up for the challenge.