Friday, June 20, 2014

Negative Thoughts, Positive Actions

On days when I wake up and feel the urge to start the day with lifted spirits, I select a Joel Osteen sermon on the DVR. I have several to choose from and last week I watched one about negative thoughts.

Joel said that negative thoughts take up more space in our brains than positive ones. We find ourselves dwelling on the things that hurt us.

Did you realize that every second you are alive, your brain is actively thinking? We have between 50,000 - 70,000 thoughts each day. With 35 to 48 thoughts bouncing around in your brain each minute, it seems that some of them would have to be negative. Life deems that bad things are going to happen to good people. You are going to be put down, criticized, humiliated, make stupid mistakes, have terrible thoughts, lie, cheat, hurt other people, go a little haywire from time to time…the list goes on and on.

Well, guess what? We have this massive filing system in our brains where all those ugly moments are stored. Entire events are stored in our brains, complete with the emotions associated with them—good or bad. When something makes us retrieve a negative file, we open the Pandora’s box inside it. Rushing out of that file are all the emotions associated with the memory, taking us back to a place we don’t want to be.

When you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s you can build up a huge emotional file cabinet. I gave a presentation on caregiver emotions last week at the Senior Center in Warsaw, Missouri. We talked about guilt, resentment, worry, anger, loneliness, defensiveness, and grief. These are common emotions stored in caregivers’ memories. We also talked about strategies to take control over these emotions.

Now that I’m getting older and more philosophical, I find myself wondering just exactly how those pesky negative thoughts pop into my head and how to lessen their impact on my daily life. Joel Osteen said that when negative emotions dominate our thoughts, we need to switch the channel instead of replaying those hurts.

A similar idea surfaced in an article written by Joseph M. Carver, Ph.D, psychologist. He points out that the brain operates automatically, pulling files randomly throughout each day depending on memory triggers. “When the brain operates on automatic, the files it pulls are greatly influenced by our mood. For example, if you are severely depressed, if your brain is on ‘automatic,’ it will pull nothing but bad, trash, and garbage files.” A powerful tool at our disposal, according to Dr. Carver, is the ability to change a depressed mood by “simply switching the brain to manual, taking more control over our thoughts.” Or, as Joel Osteen put it, switch the channel.

Although I don’t think I have as much negative energy bouncing around in my brain as I once had, the occasional pessimistic thought can dominate my thinking. Fortunately, I’ve learned how to “switch the channel.”

The goal is not to bury emotions. In fact, the opposite is often more beneficial. If we can deal with our emotions immediately, the solutions are stored along with the traumatic experiences and help us cope with that emotion. Yes, most of us can direct our thoughts into a positive direction. At first, I couldn’t even tell people that Jim was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s without choking up and bursting out in tears. I took control of my thoughts by turning a negative into a positive. I started to speak about Alzheimer’s, began the Early Onset Blog, and became an Alzheimer’s advocate.

Chemicals in our brains determine our moods and feelings. Sometimes traumatic events or long-term negative thoughts can throw our brain’s chemical balance out of whack. When that happens, it may be necessary to take medication to bring the chemicals back in balance. Through positive thinking, physical activity, and mental stimulation, we can handle temporary or fleeting negative emotions.  

Earlier, I compared the brain’s negative emotions to opening Pandora’s box, but the most important part of the legend is what she found in the bottom of what she believed to be an empty box. When she opened it again to show it was empty,  Hope was released. We, too, can replace negative emotions with hope by taking control and switching the channel.

copyright © June 2014 by L.S. Fisher

Joel Osteen,, Joel and Victoria’s Blog, February 28, 2014
“Emotional Memory Management,”, Joseph M. Carver, Ph. D., Psychologist  

Monday, June 9, 2014

Alzheimer's Experience—Effective, But Cruel Teacher

Jessica Snell, Alzheimer's Volunteer
I’m sure you’ve heard that experience is the best teacher. I’ve come to the conclusion that not only is it the best teacher, it can also be the cruelest teacher when it comes to an Alzheimer’s caregiver.

When life delivers a knockout punch, we have two choices: Lay on the mat and writhe in pain, or push off the mat and stand up and fight back. Experience tells us the only way to survive is to drag our butts off the ground and prepare ourselves to do battle.

You’ve seen it haven’t you? I’m referring to those life warriors who leave shock and awe in their wake as they fight back against all odds. The Davids of affliction fighting the Goliaths of disease. These warriors don’t know the meaning of giving up, or quitting. They trampoline off the mat reaching new heights, beyond anything they could have imagined.

In the past fifteen years I’ve met hundreds of amazing caregivers and people with dementia. There’s Tracy who has lived with dementia for more than a decade. She worked at several different jobs, raised a child, and soldiered through marital ups and downs. The one thing she has never done is give up. She makes the most of each day placing her trust in God. Another friend, Karen, showed tremendous strength by keeping her husband at home until his death from familial Alzheimer’s. I’ve seen courageous people step out of their comfort zone to become speakers, support group facilitators, advocates, and fundraisers.

Not everyone goes forth and becomes a public face, but that doesn’t mean they have given up. They do what they have to do, excel at it, and quietly go about their business. Casual acquaintances never notice the soul scars left from being a caregiver to a loved one with dementia. 

Last week, I spoke to a group of local business leaders about Alzheimer’s, the September 6 Walk, and several upcoming team fundraising events. When I finished, a man sitting next to me gave an impassioned testimony to the difficulty of taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s. “Only someone who has provided care can really know how hard it is,”  he said. Bullseye.

Being a caregiver is the hardest job I ever tackled in my life. The most famous Alzheimer’s disease caregiver’s guide  is called The 36-Hour Day for a reason. When I first read the book, it scared me. I thought that surely, only rare cases got that bad. And after the initial shock, and realization that yes, it could be that bad, I panicked as I doubted my ability to do this.

Experience became my teacher. At first, I learned from other people’s experiences. In turn, I passed on their experiences and added my own to the mix. We Alzheimer’s caregivers have to think on our feet, be creative, and not be afraid to call for help.

It is when we internalize our caregiving fears and anxieties that we set ourselves up for failure. And, failure is not an option when someone needs our attention, devotion, and loving care. Part of being a successful caregiver is to become part of something bigger than yourself. That can be personal spirituality or it can be a public commitment as a volunteer.     

As a volunteer, I found that I helped myself as much as I helped the Alzheimer's Association. It also allowed me to keep company with more amazing people. 

In the midst of a downpour Saturday morning, I attended a fundraiser organized by two of our walk team captains. I was happy to see the weather hadnt deterred anyone from eating a delicious breakfast. Jessica Snell, team captain and co-chair of our Sedalia Walk, wore an Alzheimer’s awareness T-shirt that said,  “We don’t know how strong we are until being strong is the only choice.”

This slogan is used for many diseases because it has a universal appeal for anyone who has been surprised by his or her inner warrior. Understanding this concept is the diploma handed out by the cruel teacher of life to those who refuse to stay on the mat.

copyright © June 2014 by L.S. Fisher

Friday, June 6, 2014

Alzheimer's Speaker at Senior Center, Warsaw, MO

Linda Fisher, Sedalia, MO, author and speaker, will present a one-hour program on Caregiver Emotions, 10:00 a.m., June 12, at the Senior Center at Harbor Village, Warsaw. The presentation focuses on Alzheimer’s caregivers, but caregivers for other diseases are encouraged to attend.

“Being a caregiver for a loved one is on-the-job training for a job you never wanted,” Fisher said. “Caregiving is an emotional rollercoaster. Before you tackle caregiving, it is essential to  take care of your own emotional wellbeing.”

Fisher became an Alzheimer’s Association volunteer when her husband developed dementia at forty-nine years old. She is an award-winning author and blogger who has published six books of essays from her early-onset Alzheimer’s blog at She is an Alzheimer’s advocate and serves on the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Missouri Chapter Board of Directors.

The presentation is free and open to the public. Reservations are not required, but RSVP’s are appreciated. For more information contact Charlene, Senior Center, at 660-438-3569.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Moving On

Life is always moving forward, and I participated in two different types of promotions this week. One promotion was my grandson from kindergarten to first grade complete with cap and gown. The children performed delightful programs, but not all entertainment was during the performances. My grandson decided his hat was more comfortable twisted sideways and that was how he wore it most of the evening. The boy sitting next to him had his tassel swinging between his eyes.

We ended the evening with cakes, cupcakes and punch. One cake said, “Goodbye Kindergarten” and the other, “Hello First Grade.”  I’m sure time will fly by between now and the day this group of youngsters will walk the stage again to receive high school diplomas. It might be interesting to compare their behavior at that graduation with this one.
The other “moving on” event this week involved a promotion from the world of work to retirement. Staff, board members, and former board members surprised Linda Newkirk, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Missouri Chapter, with a retirement reception.

It was good to see some of the former board members I had lost contact with over the years. Some of the Board members at the reception were those I had served with the first time. After a self-introduction, each person told of his or her connection with the disease, the chapter, with Linda, and more importantly—the mission.

We were a roomful of people who understood the heartbreak and challenges of Alzheimer’s. Like many of us, Linda’s first connection with the Alzheimer’s Association was because of a loved one with dementia. She found the information, support, and resources she needed.

Later, Linda was offered a job with the Chapter and eventually was promoted to executive director. Her positive, capable leadership helped our chapter flourish. She isn’t one to seek the limelight and was a little uncomfortable with being the center of attention in a roomful of people who wanted to honor her and her accomplishments.

I served on the Chapter board for six years, was off six years, and returned in 2012. Because of my hiatus from the board, I wasn’t on the board when they hired Linda as the executive director. I really got to know her better when I approached her with the idea of the Alzheimer’s anthology. She immediately supported the idea—which was amazing considering I had no experience in publishing a book. I just had a big idea, and she became one of my staunch supporters.   

We will miss Linda’s leadership. She guided us through the transition becoming a national chapter. When two Missouri chapters consolidated into the Greater Missouri Chapter, Linda stepped up as the executive director for a much larger area. Linda’s main focus has been to ensure the Chapter succeeds in its mission to provide excellent service to folks coping with Alzheimer’s disease.

The board members dished out a lot of good natured teasing about Linda chairing the Columbia walk. Oddly enough, that didn’t seem to be on her retirement agenda. Linda is saying “Goodbye Work World” and “Hello Retirement.” She is moving on and we just need to step out of her way.

copyright © June 2014 by L.S. Fisher