One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for November 2018

On Thanksgiving and Gratitude in 2018

leave a comment »

Every year, writers, pundits, and bloggers post something about the importance of Thanksgiving and gratitude. I’m not immune, especially since I wrote a guest post for last year’s 30 Days of Gratitude. But this past year, a year which put the “dump” into “dumpster fire”, was especially challenging for those (like me) to try to find gratitude.

After all, I’ve recently been working through difficult issues around caregiver burnout (although I’m finding recovery during National Family Caregiver Month). Although I’ve managed to find some freelance gigs and consulting work, they have not been consistent or steady. Finding a balance between freelance searching and caregiving is always a challenge…and embracing change in difficult times is easier said than done.

However, there are three things that I am especially grateful for on this day before Thanksgiving.

  • I Have Been Connecting – And Reconnecting – With Friends and Contacts: This year began with finally seeing a musician friend perform live. I’ve reconnected with another over dinner and a shared love of cooking. I have also reconnected reconnecting with professional contacts, leading to work (in some cases) and potential opportunities (some of which have come to pass; others are still in process). Thanks to new contacts, I have been able to post more frequently on this blog and have seen a rise in unique visitors. Although I don’t see my friends as frequently as I would like, I am grateful for the opportunity to connect outside of social media.
  • I Have Seen My Writing Career Expand – I’m not just talking about my first public reading or seeing more of my fiction being published; I have also started a Patreon page for my writing and blogging. I was also fortunate enough to have an eight-page comic story published in the Always Punch Nazis story, and chuckled when it received coverage by Breitbart. (That coverage, ironically, drove the project’s Kickstarter numbers upward, so thanks, Breitbart! And no, I won’t link there – there’s a reason Google exists, you know). And I’m especially proud of the C2E2 and Windy City Pulp & Paper panels I moderated earlier this year.
  • I Have Made Healthier Decisions – Self-care when being a caregiver is always a challenge…but I’ve made some positive decisions. Taking up home cooking has not only allowed me to eat healthier (and continue my weight loss) but also provide content for my Instagram account. I left my volunteer duties as charity director for a convention because I needed the time, and quite honestly, the working atmosphere was becoming more hostile. Recently, I turned down a full-time job offer because…well, even though the job market is so tight that I was offered a position after two phone calls within the same week, there were plenty of red flags. I thought it better for my sanity – and my career – to consider a healthier, less stressful alternative.

I know what I’ve written sounds trite, and maybe I’m being a little too unrealistic, but there’s one belief that’s kept me going throughout the year. It’s simple, and maybe cliche, but it’s kept me from moving into a dark, cynical place…and why it’s making

Right now, everyone is feeling under siege. For some, it’s part of their experience that is only getting worse in the current political climate; for those like me, it’s an unfamiliar experience. My choice in attitude can be one of corrosive despair or hostility…or it can focus on our common humanity. Although I don’t believe there can ever be “common ground” with the opposition (they’re just out to hurt “the other”, and I don’t think writing a story for Always Punch Nazis helps my case), I believe that setting boundaries, focusing on my own behavior and attitudes, and treating people with a modicum of respect helps make my own experience easier.

We’re all tired. We’re all frustrated. Despite the outcome of the recent election, there’s a further fight ahead of all of us. That fight to recognize the common humanity in all of us – and to change some of the very systems that deny that humanity – still has a way to go.

But I’m grateful to still be here, to still keep moving forward…and that this Thanksgiving, I can acknowledge and appreciate that fact.

Is there anything that you are particularly grateful for this Thanksgiving? Please leave your comments below or join the conversation via our Facebook page.

And as always, thanks for reading…and Happy Thanksgiving!


Written by gordondym

November 21, 2018 at 10:41 am

Supporting Caregivers During National Family Caregiver Month

leave a comment »

My previous post discussing caregiver burnout…well, many of my friends and readers noticed. And I wish I had waited to write it since I recently learned that November is  “National Family Caregiver Month.” And has been since President Obama declared it so in 2012).

And this year’s theme, “Supercharge Your Caregiving”, portraying caregivers as superheroes…well, for this caregiver, it’s extremely tone deaf. It romanticizes it when really, it is a challenge. It’s a challenge for me to deal with day-to-day duties, and I know it’s a challenge for my friends. (Although the way caregivers can “supercharge” their work is through tech…but to be honest, most of the time caregivers like me need basic human contact.

I have no problem asking for help, but I know many of my friends who have not “been there” wonder how they can help. So this week, I’m offering some suggestions about how you can help, and what you might want to consider. Think of it as a positive spin on my previous post, and with recent news about federal legislation towards “supporting” family caregivers…I thought it might be good to provide some guidelines for those who may be unable to have these conversations.

The first thing I want to say is that caregiving brings up a lot of difficult emotions. I empathize with those friends who have no idea how they can help; I often want help but am unsure what to request. I know I can’t ask my friends, “Hey, sit with Mom while I do stuff” (My friends are all over the city, and I get breaks when Mom’s homemaker arrives), and schedules are often difficult to coordinate. So I understand how difficult it can be for them to know how to support my caregiving efforts, and having informal face-to-face gatherings is often difficult.c-now-recovering-from-caregiver-burnout

However, getting together with friends to socialize and feel connected does happen. Thanks to winning a contest (which I did not expect), I was able to see two of my friends with their troupe perform at their new theater. (Hint: here’s an interview with one of them from earlier this year). Another friend – a more recent colleague from a past activity – reached out because he was concerned. We ended up hanging out, walking, and having a decent conversation. So yes, I am touching base with people – and it can be challenging – but it can be done.

(And yes, I am getting outside help for dealing with greater struggles around caregiving. And if you want to read this as code for mental health issues, I won’t stop you).

Another thing to keep in mind…if you’re looking to do things with us, try to keep it frugal. As one of my fellow Chicago Now bloggers reminded me on Facebook, caregiving for Mom isn’t a paid position. (Yes, I’ve looked into being a paid caregiver; without going into details, that’s not an option for me). My resources, such as they are (and I’m always looking for full-time work and/or consulting gigs) are limited. So the fact that I’m not exactly “crushing it” in the gig economy should not be seen as a lack of effort…more as a huge restriction of time. (Try to think of it this way: I’m like a parent of a toddler…only that toddler is seventy years old). Put simply: casual coffees and get togethers are much easier to schedule than attending paid high-end networking events.

North Lawndale Employment Network - Sweet Beginnings Tea

On a final note…yes, talking to caregivers about our experiences is awkward and can be difficult. You want to be empathetic, and want to say the right thing. My suggestion is that you not only avoid these seven things you should never say to a caregiver..but also be careful when using two specific statements. They are things that are commonly said with the best intentions…but often ring false:

  • “You’re really a good person for doing this”
  • “Caring for a parent isn’t a burden – it’s a blessing”

Unless you’ve been a caregiver (and three of my friends actually have been in my position when saying this), these statements have all the warmth and empathy of “thoughts and prayers” after a school shooting. These statements almost always ring false in my ears, and I have to remind myself that they are said with the best intentions. (Except for friends who have informed me of their own history of caregiving; I know they are speaking from experience, and I can accept what they say more easily)

Although many adult caregivers find their efforts meaningful, many others (like me) have to work hard to endure moment by moment. Complicated emotions around grief, loss, and a sense of obligation make things difficult. Caregivers do need regular support…and hopefully, this post can help those who know and love caregivers make a greater effort to reach out.

Several people have reached out to me since my caregiver burnout post, and I’m making my way back. I only hope I can do the same for others.

Written by gordondym

November 15, 2018 at 9:14 pm

It’s Official: I’m Experiencing Caregiver Burnout

leave a comment »

I really avoided writing this blog post. After a month of solid blog coverage of Cyber Security Chicago and other profiles, writing anything became a challenge. Finishing a short story became a chore, and I found myself upset and depressed. Attempting to find comfort, I came across this article about caregiver burnout

…and realized that I answered most of the questions “yes”. And it hit me. Hard. 

The irony is that I’m doing everything that I’m “supposed” to when it comes to self-care…and all I’m experiencing is frustration, denial, and deepening cynicism and pessimism. Short form: I was – and am – physically and emotionally exhausted to the point where I’m struggling with issues around depression. Yes, friends, I’m knee-deep in caregiver burnout.

In short, my efforts towards trying to “crush it” and endure in the gig economy are crushing me down. In fact, to answer a question I posted in this very blog…yes, Gordon, compassion fatigue is still a thing. 

The irony is that I’m practicing every self-care behavior recommended for caregivers…and I’m increasingly frustrated at their ineffectiveness. I have attempted to attend one of the city’s caregiver support groups…and not only did no one else show up, but the employees also had no idea that there was a group. (This was, however, during Labor Day weekend). AARP had one of their “Caregiver” sessions near me…but when I attempted to RSVP the day I received the mailer, it had been filled. An e-mail complaint results in a patronizing “we c-now-chicago-skylineunderstand how frustrating that can be”, and encouraged me to attend another one in November…that was two months away. (So in other words, caregivers on the south side are screwed over, but hey, at least I have a tote bag).

Although I did manage to get professional help and am practicing appropriate caregiver “self-care” behaviors to reduce stress, right now…I’m feeling incredibly alone and isolated. Caregiving means giving up on a lot of socializing either due to lack of funds or energy. And asking for help has been…well, a challenge. Especially since there’s no family support except for moral support from two cousins and my mother’s aunt.

Most of my life, I’ve played the steely-badass-never-need-anyone card, and it’s cost me. Now that I need friends and have tried to open my life…nothing. Nada. (Yes, I get invited to events via Facebook, but I feel more like a member of an entourage than a friend). Yes, I could passive-aggressively link to this article on supporting caregivers via Facebook…but at a time when I’m trying to be open and articulate about this, it feels rather ironic that the best, healthiest thing for me to do is play the steely-badass-never-need-anyone card when I really need support…and it’s actually fostering my sense of caregiver burnout.

Others – mostly casual acquaintances – have said things that rarely help caregivers. Or consider it an entryway into comparing their lives to mine. Or even engaging in political hashing and somehow blame Trump. None of that helps. I’m either fighting off arguments that I’m-not-doing-enough or I’m-wonderful-why-don’t-I-accept-how-awesome-I-am. Although my existence is somewhere in between, performing the emotional labor to work through the middle…


Cards on the table: personal and professional frustrations have impacted my ability to feel gratitude or relaxation. I’m just too damn tired to put on a happy face. I’m feeling isolated, alone, hurt…and the constant rejection has me wondering if this is all worth it.

Let’s be straight – yes, I admit it, I have all the signs of caregiver burnout. My efforts towards self-care are offset by the overall tenor of contemporary life. For those who think I’m whining, all I have to say is…let’s switch places for a week.

Not interested? Didn’t think so. The only thing I’ll say in my favor is…it takes a lot of strength to endure this.

Even though it’s easy to give credit (or blame) to social media for promising greater community – or exacerbating tensions – the truth is that dealing with the constant experiences and feelings of frustration, rejection, and isolation take a personal and mental toll. (According to research, caregiver burnout can affect cognitive functioning). Finding and securing resources for adequate self-care are challenging, and although I value myself enough to seek them out…I’m not sure it’s worth the effort. Especially since our culture values absolute mastery over one’s situation, and I am finding that experiences of feeling empathy, compassion, and belonging are becoming increasingly rare.

Depending on your perspective, I’m writing this post either for attention, to provide some degree of comfort for those dealing with caregiver burnout, or as a cautionary tale for others.

And the sad thing is…I honestly don’t know why I’m writing this post.

That bothers me.

(And for those who want to share their experiences…please do so in the comments below. They are moderated, and consider that, as stated previously, there are some things you should avoid telling a caregiver).

Written by gordondym

November 2, 2018 at 11:17 pm