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Relieving Caregiver Stress Through Journaling: A Caregiver Workshop

Handling caregiver stress through journaling

For those who are caregivers, or who have been at one point, there’s no question that the experience can be very stressful. So, it’s refreshing to come across an individual who, having been through the experience herself, has created a program to help relieve caregiver stress.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Lynn Goodwin and learning more about her background and unique program, now offered through an email workshop.

Following is my interview with Lynn. I hope that you will learn from her, as I did.

Briefly describe your personal journey as a caregiver.

On a Saturday morning one June I got a call from my mother. She said, “The oddest thing just happened. I was in the kitchen, and then I was in the dining room, and then I was back in the kitchen, but my hand never left the handle of the refrigerator door.”

Obviously there was something wrong. She confirmed that a minute later when she said, “Can you come over and help me?” My mother was a proud, feisty independent woman who never asked for help, but once she sat down to phone me, she could not get up.

That was the beginning of 6 years of being my mother’s daily caregiver. After she got out of the hospital in August, she never drove again so I transported her to appointments, did her shopping, picked up her mail, handled the answering machine and phone menus, and sometimes talked her through turning on the microwave so she could heat Lean Cuisine.

Often, as I took her garbage out, I’d breathe in the fresh air and ask, “How much longer, God?” I didn’t want her gone. I wanted my own life to resume. Now that she’s gone I think of that time as the narrowed section of a three-minute egg timer. My world got very small. It’s opened up again, but somehow the sand changed as it went through that narrow space. My world on this side is very different from the old one, and I’m grateful for that.

When did your “a-ha” moment occur, either during or after your caregiving experience, that put you on the path to your Caregiving Journaling workshop?

That particular “a-ha” moment occurred a few years after my mother passed away. I was talking with a writer friend who wanted to put together a book of prompts for writers. I remembered telling tutors in an adult literacy program that everyone is a writer. Some people don’t know it, though.

Many caregivers have stories to tell and stresses to release, but they don’t write them out because they don’t think of themselves as writers and they don’t know where to start. I wrote the book to show caregivers the power of journaling and the workshops followed the book.

Besides your caregiving experience, what other experience do you bring as the workshop moderator?

I’ve run writing workshops for several branches of the California Writers Club, the towns of Danville, CA and Dublin, CA. I did author interview chats online for The Other Side of Creativity (not exactly a workshop, I know) and I used to teach English and drama in high school and college. I’ve run workshops for Alzheimer’s Association and cancer and stroke groups, and I’m sure there are more that won’t come to mind.

There are many workshops offered, most are classroom-oriented. How did you decide to make the workshop email-oriented?

Caregivers are busy people. If the class is offered through e-mail or through a blog anyone can check in, pick up assignments, write, and post questions and responses when it’s convenient. It’s the perfect solution for those whose schedule is controlled by a loved one’s needs, whether that loved one is a spouse, a parent, or a special needs child. It’s also perfect for nurses and other professional caregivers whose schedule could conflict with a class meeting time.

The workshop spans four weeks. Can you offer a glimpse into the “takeaways” for students after each lesson?

I need to start with a disclaimer: Takeaways will vary, depending on what you bring to the workshop. Are you willing to dig, to look for what is right, and to uncover new layers of thought? If so, the takeaways from your writing, my comments, and the responses of others could be endless. When you write, you process. When you comment on others, you process your own experience as well. I always advise people to “Keep only what is useful and disregard the rest.”

Here’s what I tell people about the e-mail workshop:

How E-mail Groups Works:

1. Every Tuesday I will e-mail you three topics and a bit of inspiration to help you with the writing process.
2. Pick a topic.
3. Write as much or as little as you want. We can easily read 15 to 1500 words.
4. Run spell check to help your readers out.
5. Send your response by the following Monday (see calendar below). I cannot guarantee that late responses will be read.
6. Cut and paste your writing into the body of an e-mail.
7. Send your e-mail to everyone in the group. If you don’t know how to make an e-mail group, ask me for help.
8. I will also send information about giving positive, non-judgmental feedback about others’ writing. The process is simpler than ever, fun, and affirming for both the responder and the writer.
9. If you have a friend who would like to join, ask them to e-mail me immediately. We still have space.
10. If you don’t write one week, there will always be an option to send a paragraph telling what you would have written about if you had the time. Consider it a check-in to reassure us that you have not fallen off the face of the earth.

Can you share stories of previous students and how your workshop helped them?

Here are some comments from people who have given me permission to use them as endorsements:

“I feel very grateful for the chance to say this to people who will really get it. ” –Nancy Tune, Palo Alto, CA

“Writing from the heart seems to be all that is needed.” –Marilyn A., Educator and career coach

“I can’t tell you how many things I’ve sorted out by being able to write them down….I would have to add that the facilitator is a gifted writer whose kindhearted approach/feedback adds a therapeutic element to the writing assignments!” –Diane P., former social worker and full time caregiver, Santa Rosa, CA

“Connecting with others by sharing and reading others’ material is also incredibly therapeutic.” –Marion S. Wise, Social Worker, New York City

“My spirit has been lifted more in participating with all of you than anything else I’ve tried.” –Eileen Reynolds, caregiver and former office manager, Antioch, CA

“My journals are me. Warts and all. It’s my friend, a sheaf of paper that becomes my space to cry, weep, lament and to record joy.” –Joan Amato, College Writing Instructor

What exactly do you mean by “journaling”? Is it more than just making entries in a diary/journal?

A diary usually records events. So does a journal, but a journal also reflects on those events. Because of the reflection, the writer often draws conclusions or makes discoveries.

Can you give a little background into your book “You Want Me to Do What?”? What was your purpose in writing the book and what do you hope readers learn from it?

I covered a bit of this in my answer to #2. I wrote to encourage caregivers to journal. I hope each writer will discover the value of what she gives her loved one and maybe be encouraged to tell her unique story. I also think processing someone else’s illness, disability, or ending helps the writer find out what he or she does or does not want from a caregiver, should the need arise.

Frankly I encourage everyone to journal, so please feel free to try it whether you’re a caregiver or not.

You are/were a school teacher as well. How has your teaching experience helped you design the Caregiving Journaling workshop?

Teaching taught me the value of listening and the importance of validating what is right before offering suggestions
for improvement.

Is there any chance at some point you’ll take your workshop to other venues (ie, classroom, website, e-book)?

An e-book of “You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers” is already available through Tate publishing.

If you order it, let me know. A quick e-mail from me to my publicist will ensure it’s processed in a timely way.

I hadn’t thought about offering my class through an e-book. I could offer a variation though. Maybe through Amazon Books. Thanks for starting the wheels turning.

I offer versions of the workshop in classrooms, will be offering one through NABBW (www.nabbw.com) in August, and have offered it through Story Circle Network (www.storycircle.org).

I’m also willing to respond to any individual’s journaling one-on-one. Send an e-mail to Lgood67334@comcast.net and let me know when you’re ready to start. I’ll send you material and topics. I’ll respond to your work, and sometimes

I’ll send you my journaling on a topic so you can respond to me as well.

Whatever you do, keep writing. No one can tell your story but you!

Thanks, Lynn. I hope, too that there those out there who can benefit from your workshop!

Ron Whitaker
Author Bio: Ron Whitaker

I'm the owner/founder of BoomerBazaar.com, a website dedicated to the eternally youthful baby boomer generation. Hey, as a boomer, you've got a lot of "stuff," either because you're downsizing, or perhaps your parents are in transition. BoomerBazaar is your venue to list, sell, and make a little extra $$$ from all that stuff. Check out our blog for topics of interest to any boomer!

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  1. [...] an example, as I planned and wrote a post on relieving caregiver stress through journaling, the key phrase I determined I would use was “relieving caregiver [...]

  2. [...] wish at that time my mother and I had known about journaling and how it can help relieve caregiver stress. We definitely would have had some interesting stories to write, especially my [...]

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