Keep Engaged with Life
By David Wasielewski
A Strategy for Survivors and Caregivers
The stroke survivor who returns home after rehab is often met with many friends, relatives and others who want to help in any way they can. Visits tend to be frequent at first, but as the novelty of being a stroke survivor wears off, that survivor is challenged to find a new place in the home and community. The survivor is faced with an important choice. Will the survivor allow others to define their new place or do they play an active role in redefining themselves?
Some survivors allow their position to be defined for them. Caregivers and family members take up all tasks for the survivor with the best intention of helping. This can inadvertently help to squash any desire or motivation for the survivor to assume those tasks, and define their new role. Many survivors are unable to return to their job after a stroke. As we know many of us rely on our jobs and responsibilities to define ourselves.
“What are you doing these days?” is a typical conversation starter for the survivor, as it is for most anyone. With all of the help offered it becomes very easy for the survivor to come to a place where the answer is “Nothing.”, leaving little to discuss. Not having a job, task or responsibilities can quickly result in a loss of identity and purpose, a perfect formula for depression.
This can be avoided in a number of ways. The survivor may, on their own, begin to take on certain tasks. It may be difficult at first but the family and caregivers need to give the survivor the chance to take on a new task. If successful, that task can become the responsibility of the survivor. As a therapy exercise the survivor might practice loading the dishwasher after meals.
This is a good exercise in cognitive organization and planning. If successful, the task can become the survivor’s daily responsibility, giving him a sense of purpose in the family. The family can carefully look for chores around the house that the survivor can take on and negotiate that responsibility to the survivor. This gradually allows the survivor to develop an answer to the question “What do you do?” The survivor take’s on a new identity and with it, a sense of purpose.
Waking up each day with a series of tasks, no matter how big or small engages the survivor with the family and helps avoid depression. Knowing that the family depends on him or her for a certain task each day builds self-worth and a sense of accomplishment in the survivor. Responsibility and planning for the future takes a survivor’s focus off of himself and builds meaning in his life.
The survivor gradually replaces “Nothing” with “I fed the dog, I did laundry, I did the dishes’. This becomes a conversation starter rather than a killer. “Congratulations, that must have been a real challenge for you.” As the survivor regains confidence she can begin to plan these activities and restructure a life in this new circumstance.
As the process continues the survivor should be encouraged to take bigger tasks that require more engagement and commitment. My wife, in her research on stroke and caregiving came across the bulletin for a writer in this newsletter and encouraged me to apply. I could add writer to the list of things I do. I need to spend time each month determining a topic and content for my part of the newsletter. Over time a survivor’s commitments can grow according to their specific abilities.
In the best cases the survivor moves outside the home taking on community volunteer activities. One’s calendar begins to fill with appointments and projects appropriate to the survivor’s skills. I have ventured out to join my town’s Green Energy committee, organizing various community projects. Another member I know is involved in planning and presenting Aphasia awareness programs in his community. Aphasic members of my support group manage a website for an adult education group and participate in art classes.
Having a sense of purpose and responsibility encourages the survivor to actively participate in home and community life. It gives a sense of meaning and hope to the survivor, the family and community involved with that individual. These strategies need to be customized for each survivor but the basics are the same.
Vicktor Frankl writes of how responsibility and purpose create meaning in one’s life. His book “Man’s Search for Meaning” details his experience as a holocaust survivor and how that experience shaped his philosophy and the lessons on spiritual survival that influenced this article.
Copyright @February 2015
The Stroke Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 492 Abingdon, Maryland 21009
All rights reserved.