Self-Care for a Caregiver

I recently watched Christopher Robin (as I’m a sucker for animated movies). As others in its genre, its message was about how it’s not our work life that we’ll remember when old, but the moments we had fun. But, it was more than that. People watch the movie, decide in that moment that ‘Okay, I’ll make a change’, do it once or twice, and forget about it. Why though? Self-care is a regular practice, not an item to tick off the bucket list (unlike bungee jumping or parasailing).

As a caregiver, be it a personal role or a professional one, we are impeccable about making sure that our patient or loved one is well-provided for and comfortable. We often put our own needs on hold to care for them. However, unless we take care of our needs, we cannot fulfil the needs of another – just like we can’t pour from an empty pot. Extending the same emotional investment to ourselves will enable us to feel better, function at work better, and give more, right?

Sometimes, we need a reminder to be aware of our emotional needs and being understanding towards them. When we are overwhelmed, we need a moment to step away, process, and get back to work. It can be a day off, or a minute to change the environment we are in. Very often, our productivity improves after we get back from a break.

While watching Christopher Robin, I felt a profound sense of gratitude that as professional caregivers, we are understanding and encouraging about taking time off to focus on our mental health. I have these attachments as my desktop background to remind myself to take a break. The attachments include a wheel of self-care with plenty of options.

 

Let’s chart out our own self-care rituals for some me-time each day. It can be 15 minutes or an hour – with as many variations in activities as we need. Gotta do what makes us feel relaxed and happy when doing the activities of our choice!  Let’s refill our teapots every day, and serve our best tea to all 🙂

 

This article has been written by Ms Nandita Seshadri, a therapist, and integral part of Adveka Foundation.

When Your Gender Silences Your Struggle

 

Since the time we are born, we are assigned certain roles and these roles come with a set of do’s and don’ts. It’s like your life manual and the very first role we are made to play or one that is assigned to us is the ‘gender role’. The manual has gotten everything; even how much of the male or female traits are you supposed to exhibit in any given situation. This manual is nothing but our programming as children. Yes, we bring our own set of traits to this world but the societal roles are more than an integral part of us.

Speaking about gender roles… many of us believe that men are heartless creatures, they don’t even cry at the most emotional movie scene, C’mon! Do they even have a soul? Rather, what to question here is; Is this actually their trait or their societal programming?

Expressing emotions ‘as is’ is something that does not come naturally to men or even if it does, they are pretty good at hiding it. Why? They do feel things, of course, they are humans; for instance, they do feel miserable after a break-up or after a bad day at work; It’s just the fear of being judged or not fulfilling the masculine expectations overpowers these feelings. They can’t turn to fellow male members because all they’re going to get to hear is ‘bro, get over it’ or listen to other superficial sympathy dialogues, and approaching the opposite gender would portray them as ‘not manly enough, not macho enough’. So where do they go to express themselves? Actually, nowhere. It stays within, till it surfaces as a health issue or erupts as an angry volcano.

Honestly, we at Adveka don’t blame them. If we ourselves do not create a safe space for young boys to express themselves from the very beginning, let them cry without being called ‘a weak girl’ let them actually feel each and every emotion as it comes naturally to them, it’s going to lead them to be more stoic as grownups, suffering silently within. They want to be heard without the judgemental eyes putting them down, for going against the role or traits they are ‘expected’ to exhibit. They have observed these traits in the men around them when they were growing up and have maintained these expectations right since then. Not getting too attached, not portraying themselves as too needy, not wanting to seek help in tough times, taking in the responsibility of the entire family, they have been programmed to hold on to these societal beliefs of masculinity and everything against these would be a direct attack at their self-esteem and self-identity. Expression of emotions will be something new to them. But can we as a society change this? Can we teach our young boys to just feel and express as it is? Can we talk to the men in our life without judging or questioning their masculinity?

With the number of mental health illnesses increasing in men and the increasing suicide rates, it’s time to understand the societal programming they are operating from and actively bring a change to that. It’s time to ask men ‘NOT TO MAN UP’ and rather ‘SPEAK UP’. It’s time to break these stereotypes and LET THEM JUST BE. Their silent suffering needs a voice. Many men do not seek mental health support because they’re constantly playing their gender role and fear the consequences of emotional expression, but for how long will they keep it inside? It’s important to acknowledge this today before more men go down the road where emotions are a mystery.

 

This article has been written by Aashni Shah, a budding psychologist, and part of Adveka Foundation.

Adveka & CPAA’s Unique WhatsApp Support Group for Women With Breast Cancer

Cancer Patients’ Aid Association (CPAA) has collaborated with Adveka Foundation under the latter’s Saath program, to provide a unique support group together with an intervention program for women with breast cancer. The program is operated on WhatsApp where multiple groups have been made. Each group includes 7-8 women with breast cancer, a medical doctor, a physiotherapist, a director from CPAA, and two counsellors from Adveka Foundation.

The two purposes of the WhatsApp group are:

  • To provide a safe space where the women can talk about their experiences with cancer and seek emotional support.
  • To provide regular inputs such as techniques, activities, exercises, and information of a psychological or physical nature. These inputs serve as the basis of a physio- psychosocial intervention.

The psychosocial intervention consists of different modules, each with a specific goal. These modules include:

  • Relaxation & Mindfulness Exercises: To help the women reduce any feelings of anxiety, of being overwhelmed.
  • Self-Care Tips: With a thousand other responsibilities on their shoulders, these women often forget that they are important, too. These simple self-care tips help to remind them to take care of themselves.
  • Gratitude: Innumerable researches show the benefits of expressing your gratitude. Various exercises and activities on the group help the women with different ways of expressing their gratitude.
  • Self-Esteem: Building and maintaining positive self-esteem is important when there are things happening that are pulling you down. This module empowers the women to think of all the ways in which they are good.
  • Positive Experiences: A bad event can bring out our best qualities. This module helps the women explore those positive experiences.
  • Psychoeducation: Understanding how our thoughts affect our emotions and behaviour, is the first step to challenging and modifying those unhealthy thoughts.
  • Challenging Unhealthy thoughts: Discussion of various cognitive distortions, and how they negatively affect us.

Together, these modules are aimed at empowering the women to think healthier and lead a fuller life.

Three support groups of women with breast cancer and one of women with metastatic breast cancer have been created with positive feedback from participants. For further information and to join a group contact Rajshree @9820493746 or Shubha @9594609797.

Volunteering with Adveka – How I found my safe space

You deserve a safe space

I always thought that taking some time off post my Master’s would be a good idea; I had no intention of hunting for a job anytime soon. So, when I had a serendipitous meeting with the Founder & CEO of Adveka Foundation at a tobacco de-addiction workshop in August 2016, and she stated that she was looking for volunteers, I had no qualms about signing up for it. Little did I know that my supposed two-month stint as a volunteer would turn into what is probably now a lifelong commitment…and a commitment I’m glad I could make.

Having gone through the Adveka website before, I knew that the cause was a genuinely heartfelt one as was reflected in the authenticity of the content of the website. However, it was only when I actually started working with Adveka along with another close friend of mine, did I realise just how passionate and committed Adveka was about the cause of mental health. The fact that the organisation was named ‘Adveka’ meaning ‘unique’ was like the cherry on the top: I loved how there was an organisation that truly believed that every person, every concern was unique. There were no judgments, no stereotypes, no pre-conceived notions about the people we were going to work with…work for.

I had joined Adveka at a time when I was working hard on improving myself as a person. I wanted to be more accepting of different people; I wanted to be more compassionate; I wanted to be more honest to myself. And this is what Maitreyi, the Founder of Adveka helped me immensely with. When you see a person so dedicated to something that they believe in, it makes you also want to believe in something. When you see someone conversing with another but never judging, you know it’s possible to be non-judgmental.

Our core project was aimed at caregivers, a population that I had seldom thought of. It wasn’t until I had spoken to Maitreyi and revisited the website that I began to understand just why this was such an important part of Adveka’s work. Doing research (something that I had thought I would never do again!), designing curriculum, conducting group sessions and workshops, was all a part of the job. During discussions, nothing is shot down. Nothing is considered “stupid” or “not doable”. Each idea, each person involved in the discussion is respected, acknowledged, and appreciated which encourages and motivates you to work harder.

When Maitreyi, another colleague/friend and I conducted our first group session, I thought I would be nervous. Turns out, I wasn’t in the least bit. When you are standing alongside people whom you share an excellent rapport and comfort level with, every new situation becomes better and easier to triumph over. Apart from conducting the sessions, it was the interactions with the caregivers that I immensely enjoyed and learnt from. I met a lot of people with similar concerns and life situations and yet all of them had a different way of dealing with it. These experiences made me appreciate people more; it showed that people are more than their struggles, they are more than just a parent, a child, a spouse, or a caregiver. I learnt how to speak to different people as well as how to connect to people better. I also learnt Hindi and a bit of Marathi which I believe is the most important thing I will ever learn. Seriously.

One of the most refreshing things at Adveka is that you are valued for who you are. Maitreyi doesn’t even attempt to change you. And when you are allowed to be yourself, magic happens. It’s also a ‘safe space’. I can speak my mind, be it about my worst fears or that I haven’t read a book since ages. I know I won’t be thought of as “arrogant” or a “know-it-all” or even as “difficult”. I may be those things but I will never made to feel that. Never. That’s how comfortable I feel when I’m at Adveka.

Where most organisations and bosses go wrong, Adveka and Maitreyi go right. They believe in congruency, teamwork, and most importantly, the power of compassion. Tell Maitreyi that you won’t be able to work much because you are having an emotionally bad day and she will be ready with genuine words of comfort. Now with such a boss, who wouldn’t like working here?

As I write this, it is almost to the day that I first met Maitreyi and I thank whatever Gods or energies that may exist that my friend forced me to attend that workshop; otherwise, I would probably be stuck in a boring job somewhere, with a boss I secretly hate and work that I did not believe in…

 *Written by Rajshree Faria, Program Manager, Adveka Foundation.

Caregiver stories #2: Not sure if I’m coping well as a caregiver – Part 1

Image Credit:pexels.com

“When my mother started becoming forgetful and absentminded, I initially put it down to her old age,” Devika* remembers. After all, Yamuna* was then over 70 years old. “But some of the incidents that happened as a result of her absentmindedness were quite alarming. Once, she switched on the gas, and forgot to turn it off. Luckily, the live-in help spotted it, and switched it off, saving them both from a potentially fatal accident.” (more…)

Adveka’s 2016 journey

Adveka Name-02-01

Adveka Foundation was established in October 2015 with the goal of working towards promoting mental health and wellbeing in every section of the society, eradicating the stigma and shame attached to mental illness, and advocating and facilitating uniform accessibility to mental health services for people from all economic backgrounds, gender and religion.

In the year and a half since it was founded, it has made remarkable progress on several fronts. 2016, its first full calendar year, was extremely productive.

Adveka’s most significant achievement was that it became a Level 1 fellow of UnLtd India, one among only about 20 to 30 organizations out of 300 applicants to win this coveted fellowship. UnLtd India is an organization that trains early-stage and upcoming social enterprises, and provides them with seed financing and incubation support. It is their mentorship that is helping to make the ideas and goals of Adveka a reality.

Caregiver support — prioritizing the mental, physical and emotional health of the caregiver so that they are better equipped to take care of their patient — is one of Adveka’s three major focus areas, the other two being personal counselling, and engagement with stakeholders to raise awareness and erase the stigma about mental health. In fact, Adveka is currently the only organisation in India focusing on caregiver support with specifically respect to the caregiver’s needs.

Under the guidance of UnLtd India, Adveka reached out to and partnered with several organizations working in the development sector to address their mental health needs. These include Cuddles Foundation, Aaji Care, Dignity Foundation, Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA), and the Asian Cancer Institute. While Dignity Foundation and Aaji Care provide specialized services for senior citizens, the other three organizations all work with cancer patients, and Cuddles Foundation in particular provides counselling and care for underprivileged children suffering from cancer.

In each of these organizations, Adveka worked with secondary caregivers — dieticians, medical and paramedical professionals, social workers, caretakers, and aayahs — to understand and help them deal with the unique challenges they face as part of their profession.

Caregivers almost always neglect their own health because they believe that thinking about their own needs is selfish when another person is dependent upon them. But by the very nature of the mental, physical and emotional support caregivers provide to the patients in their care, it is vitally important to recognize that they too need support just as much as their patients do, and to promote their wellbeing.

Through a specially designed curriculum spread out over six sessions, Adveka forms support groups for carers of patients with the same health issues, and conducts sessions with them on themes such as grief and sadness, managing guilt, anger and frustration, developing better communication, and building resilience. Though the end goal is to help equip the caregiver to take better care of the patient, the curriculum has been devised specifically to concentrate on the caregiver’s mental health needs as an individual rather than as a carer, or on the mental health needs of the patient.

Adveka’s first Care for the Carer workshop, held in November 2016, was conducted with the same purpose. Participants — who mainly comprised of primary carers of patients suffering from dementia, cancer, Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia, among others — were coached in various self-care techniques that would not only benefit their physical and mental health, but also enable them to cope well with the unique challenges they face with their patients.

Despite being in a public forum, many of the participants opened up and shared their experiences with caregiving, which was extremely encouraging. It inspired others to come forward with their own stories, and gave all the participants a sense of comfort and solidarity that they aren’t the only ones facing difficulties and challenges as a caregiver.

The workshop successfully achieved its twin goals of bringing the participants together and helping them bond over common issues, and fostering an environment that encourages open discussion about mental health issues as a natural reality of life. Adveka plans to conduct more workshops like these in the coming year.

Another major event of 2016 was the second edition of Mind Mela, a mental health initiative that Adveka conducts annually in collaboration with The Change Entrepreneurs and Maniben Nanavati Women’s College. It aims to raise awareness about mental health among people, and to encourage open conversation about an issue that is seen more as a stigma than as something that requires professional medical attention. The goal is to promote acceptance and understanding of mental illnesses, and to achieve dignity in mental health, so that a person suffering from mental illness is accepted without reservation, allowed to live their life without shame, and able to access help without fear.

Mind Mela is one of Adveka’s most rewarding endeavours, in that it has definitely been successful in boosting the conversation around mental health. More people participated in the 2016 Outreach Programmes than they did in the previous year, and more individuals shared their personal stories of coping with common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, which have so far been ignored for fear of appearing ‘abnormal’ or ‘flawed’ in the eyes of the wider society.

And finally, Adveka Foundation’s work is gradually coming to the wider public attention. The workshop on caregiver support earned us a short write-up in the Free Press Journal. A notable recognition, but this is just the beginning. With society becoming increasingly aware of the importance of mental health, we hope that in 2017, both the subject and our organization’s work gain greater recognition.

Going forward in 2017, we take encouragement from our successes in the last year, and look to have an even more productive twelve months ahead.

*Written by Samyukta Maindarkar, Editor & Content Manager, Adveka Foundation.