Caregivers face many challenges and Breeda Miller knows how that feels. In her new book, “The Caregiver Coffeebreak- Take a Break Before You Break”, Breeda provides a soft spot for caregivers dealing with the frustration, exhaustion, and isolation of being a caregiver. Noted for her work supporting those in the “Sandwich Generation”, she addresses the needs of those caring for elderly, frail parents and children still at home. Breeda answered some questions as a preview to her program at the Whittaker Branch on Thursday, July 26th at 7pm.
Q: What inspired you to become an author?
A: I wrote the book I wish I’d had when I was caring for my mother. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and I was overwhelmed with the books that were available. I was just too dang tired to read them. I felt very isolated, frustrated and exhausted. Plus, my mother’s voice was always in my head – “You should write a book!”. So I did. It’s good to do what your mother tells you – even after she’s in heaven. Maybe especially after.
Q: What did you hope to accomplish in writing this book?
A: I wanted to create a resource that would alleviate some stress and offer help in an accessible format. The tip book seemed just right. It’s not overwhelming but it’s full of insight, humor and good ideas. I spent a lot of time researching and reading about ways other caregivers have managed to care for themselves. It’s a small book with distilled wisdom from a lot of really great resources. You can open it up to any page and find something interesting or helpful. You don’t have to make a commitment to read a lot and if you want more detailed information there are links throughout the book to take you to great places.
Q: What is the most common problem you hear about from caregivers?
A: They are just overwhelmed. I think it’s the big 3 – feeling isolated, frustrated and exhausted. All wrapped up in a big wet blanket of guilt. No matter how much we do, we often feel we are not good enough and that everyone else has figured it out better than we have. It’s not true, but second-guessing the care decisions we make on a daily basis really takes a toll.
Q: Tell us about the way you use humor in your public presentations. Does it help bring down barriers?
A: Talking about end of life care, hospice, dementia, incontinence, and guilt are not topics that most folks enjoy. Using humor takes the edge off of the anxiety and fear about these discussions. People often tell me that I speak about things they thought about – and they thought they were the only ones! Humor definitely breaks down barriers, relieves tension and allows people to open up about these emotionally charged topics and do it in a way that can be very helpful and comforting. My humor is usually self-deprecating, observational humor, never mocking or diminishing the people in care. I believe strongly that maintaining dignity in care is not only the right thing to do for the person receiving care, it also ensures that the caregiver doesn’t live with guilt about their behavior. It’s all about taking care of yourself so that you are better able to care for others.
Q: You’re dealing with a topic that is very emotional, very raw. Yet people choose to share things with you they might not with anyone else. What have people told you about after they hear your presentation?
A: It’s been amazing. I was in San Francisco speaking to a nurses conference and so many nurses came up to me and thanked me for expressing what they had felt and had been unable to verbalize. One nurse spoke about her mother’s death and how for the first time she was able to feel good about her care giving and had some closure. Another nurse told me that I helped her come to terms with her care for her own mother and that while my stories brought tears to her eyes, they were healthy tears and she felt good thinking and remembering how she had cared for her mom. It’s powerful stuff and I am on a mission to support caregivers. Whether they are professionals or family caregivers, the stresses and the challenges are the same. Our population is aging and the need for caregivers is not lessening. I hope my work with The Caregiver Coffeebreak can make a positive difference.