Fun times, me-time, glasses half full, and why I no longer have dreams

Here’s a post on stuff I enjoy, and what keeps me (though some may contest that) sane and cheerful and active most of the time. Seeing the glass half full and all that. And why I don’t dream about my future.

glass half full

Which reminds me, here’s a half-full glass at Café Coffee day after I’ve sucked out every drop of the Lemon Mojito–but not all glasses sparkle when half full. I even sat there for ten minutes waiting for the ice to melt–I’d paid for it, right?–then realized that ice-cold water wasn’t worth the wait. There’s such a thing as “sunk cost”. But this is quite unrelated to what I’m going to ramble about.

There’s fun and there’s fun, and on days when I can go out, I love long walks and cold coffee with ice-cream and puris and drooling over books in assorted bookshops. I don’t socialize (I’m an introvert who finds gatherings stressful) but I like going out alone or with hubby, walking, mall-walking, or sitting in a coffee shop, watching the hustle and bustle around me.

But I also build fun into my days at home.

Like jigsaws.

People rave about meditation and visualization for calming the mind, and I’m all for meditation so long as it is others who are doing it: great going, guys. Mindfully watch thoughts sneak in, and hopefully you find it enlightening rather than disheartening to recognize your “monkey mind” (and no, that’s not a mind thinking of monkey business). Visualization’s never relaxed me, either.

But a jigsaw engrosses me. Beats meditation, beats brain focus exercises. You can’t complete a 1000 or 1500 pc jigsaw if you are distracted.

And completing a jigsaw is so much more tangible than meditation. For one, you can upload the picture on Facebook or a blog. Ever tried to capture a perfect moment of meditation and upload that? Nah. (Okay, so maybe great meditation is sour grapes for me).

Anyway, here are some jigsaws that we completed recently.

jigsaw rosesjigsaw cityjigsaw horsesjigsaw buddha

And then there’s su-do-ku, and all those puzzles in the newspapers.

I also love reading, and while I read all sorts of stuff, they fall into three broad categories.

The most prominent are “gobble books”. These are books I read rapidly, skipping generously, focusing on soaking in the characters and the plot outline, and often finishing a book in one sitting. Sometimes, if the book is really good, I re- read parts or even the whole book. I read while eating (not a good habit, but I’m old enough to be unapologetic about bad habits). My gobble-books of choice are children’s fantasy– I never quite grew up, maybe. I also like reading books where I know what happens (especially on days I am tense and want predictability), so I re-read books like the Narnia books, the Harry Potter books, the His Dark Materials books. It’s comfortable to travel a known plot-path, no surprises, no unpleasantness (I even know which parts to skip); such books are friends I rely on. Have you hugged a book today?

I also enjoy serious non-fiction like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett or neurology or Buddhism books (Pema Chodron, Chogyam Trungpa, Dalia Lama), and usually have two-three books “operational” at any time. I’m an avid bookmark user. These books, so disconnected with my real world, are windows from which I peer out of confinement. An escapism of a different sort.

And then, there are books I “study”, mainly books on Alzheimer’s care, or stuff like Lawrence Cohen’s “No Aging in India” or books on grammar or writing fiction or HTML or Javascript. I do them with paper and pen, diligent, relieved to see I can still “study” and actually happy to focus for some hours.

So yeah, reading (all types) is fun for me. Always has been, is more so now.

What else do I do for fun at home? Hmmm…

Some childhood hobbies have, for reasons I don’t fully understanding, fallen on the side, like painting and listening to music. Some more recent ones remain, even if low key, like writing fiction. I’d write more, but writing fiction requires a different mindset, because a story must have conflict and a protagonist who is active, and I don’t want to even think about conflict, let alone capture it in convincing words. I want to think only about happy-throughout stories, and that does not work. So yeah, writing fiction is low-key now…

But one major possible-at-home fun remains: eating 🙂

There are advantages of being underweight. When the weighing scales confirm I’m still comfortably below the minimum weight for my height, I tell myself it’s okay to gobble goodies. Rationally speaking, I know being underweight doesn’t mean I can guzzle high-calorie, high-fat high-sugar stuff all the time, but that is difficult to remember when I need the sugar kick.

Sometimes, I am desperate enough to eat stuff I wouldn’t recommend in any “care for the caregiver” program. I chomp through a packet of orange cream biscuits and crumple the wrapper to erase the evidence:) And let’s skip the rest of those descriptions, or I’ll be drooling over the keyboard.

But some indulgences are wiser. Like dark chocolate, which some newspaper reports even claim can substitute for exercise. We need more such newspaper reports.

Or I plan for tasty and healthy treats. I buy strawberries in bulk and freeze them, so I can churn a fistful with milk and get a great strawberry slush within minutes, and can skip cooking. Or I keep a bottle of chopped almonds handy to decorate some mundane dish. If I’m really feeling “health conscious”, I chop loads of salad when there is time, so that I have munch food when I don’t want to cook.

So yes, my days have fun-filled pockets. As a caregiver who sometimes spends days without stepping out of home, I have developed ways to entertain myself and relieve stress. Watching DVDs on my laptop, watching TED talks, and all the things I’ve talked of above.

But one thing I don’t do is dream. Or visualize.

Dreams may work for most people, but they backfire for me, because they make me think of a tomorrow to look forward to, and create this simmering discomfort, bordering on resentment about the present because the tomorrow-that-will-be-nice is so far away. And I, for one, cannot be an empathetic caregiver if I have that simmering feeling; it erupts as irritation, impatience, frustration.

Which is why I decided years ago to stop dreaming about or planning for my future.

I must admit life seemed dark and dreary for some months after that decision: how does one live when there’s nothing to look forward to? A poet even said, For a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a Heaven for? For me, the resentment of that distant Heaven actually made it Hell.

Some months after that dark decision, I realized my life was simpler. Free of having to imagine a distant and improbably future, I began seeing stuff I could enjoy right away, here and now. It was easier to think about the present than to dream about the future.

Whatever the type of my day, for years now being a caregiver has defined my identity, choices, perception of availability.  I am never far away from the awareness of caregiving, even if not actually doig the caregiving. And though a “normal day” allows me space enough to compartmentalize and “get a life”, the possibility of the day becoming an “emergency day” is a sword dangling above my head. It affects what I enroll in, what I start, what I commit to.
From myself, I no longer have rigid expectations. I don’t emotionally commit myself to my own “targets ” so that I don’t feel a failure or get resentful if I fall behind on them. My levels of self-expectations are kept supple, soft—because life will anyway remind me to do so.

And I try to have enough fun regardless of whether a day is “normal” or “other.” Pockets of planned fun help me retain my sanity and cheer, and even productivity.

I use my “normal days” to prepare for fun I can indulge in, both on “normal days” and the “other days.” I stock up on gobble books by the bagful, issue them from Just Books (I’m on their avid reader plan), buy jigsaws, Sudoku books, DVDs. I take out these treats in measured doses. When pulled into full-time care–it is those frozen strawberries, the stocked up jigsaws, the unread books, the re-readable books–that de-stress me despite the physical exhaustion and emotional overwhelm of caregiving or the accompanying claustrophobic confinement at home.

Some persons express surprise when I say I have no dreams. They believe dreams are positive, that looking forward to things is necessary and that I am being negative in some way.

“Come on”, they say. “You must be having some plans for the future.”

Frankly, I am not ready for the future. I cannot imagine it, and I do not want to. And I definitely don’t want to imagine the interim future of tough decisions, tough moments, loss, bewilderment, bereavement. I am prepared in a way, with various emergency procedures and resources available pat to me, but other than that, I’m content focusing on my work right now, my responsibility, and I use the free time to have my pockets of fun rather than salivate or fret over dreams. Give me instead my jigsaw, my skim-milk strawberry slush. Glass half full right now, bird in hand, seize the moment, live in the present moment…there’s something to it. It works. Almost.

For earlier blog post referred to above, click here: All in a day: what care for a bedridden mother involves

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About Swapna Kishore
I'm a writer, blogger, and resource person for dementia/ caregiving in India. I have also been a dementia caregiver for well over a decade, and am deeply concerned about dementia care in India; on this blog I share my personal caregiving journey, my experiences as a resource person for dementia care, and musings on life, aging, dementia in India, and such sundries. More about me and the work I do for dementia care. For structured information on dementia, for discussions, tools and tips on caregiving issues, for resources in India, and for caregiver interviews, please check my website http://dementiacarenotes.in (or its Hindi version, http://dementiahindi.com). For videos on dementia caregiving (English and Hindi), check the youtube channel here.

5 Responses to Fun times, me-time, glasses half full, and why I no longer have dreams

  1. kalpana malani says:

    Wow! as I read your blog there were so many thoughts running thro’ my mind- You are able to perfectly articulate your experiences as a caregiver. I love books too – I read gory murder mysteries P.D.James, Ruth Rendell( my gobble books) serious study books are all nature related on birds, reptiles,trees,insects,marine life or on Indian craft ( work related)and now a little on Dementia. Just read Alexander Mccall Smith’s book Tears of the Giraffe – quirky and terrific prose. Comfort books for me are Richmal Crompton’s William series, Gerald Durell,James Herriot,MAD, Asterix ( I’m also a comic book fan) – just started the Harry Potter series and they promise to be my next in line comfort books. Luckily for me I haven’t yet got drawn into full time care ( but will hopefully be able to handle it when the time comes). I’ve left the jigsaws as it was usually a joint effort with my mum and somehow doesn’t seem right without her.

  2. Lalitha says:

    Lalitha Devarajan

    Dear Swapna

    I read your blog today with a heavy heart. It is a soothing article for all the care givers to read and come to terms with the situation and try to find once own ways to be happy under the given circumstances. Instead crying that the cup is half empty try to be happy that it is half full!

    God has blessed you with tremendous intelligence. The way you analyse things and draw the word picture is as beautiful as your beautiful jigsaw puzzles.

    If I had been India I would have translated your blogs in Tamil and sent it to magazines who are interested in making it available to a larger audience who read only in their mother tongue.

    God bless you Swapna. Your mother is so lucky to have you.

    aunty

  3. Rummuser says:

    I used to be a medium fast bowler in my misguided youth. Reading your post today is like those days when I had to bowl to a very good batsman who could hit me all over the place. I honestly wish that I could have written a similar piece in my blog. I do not want to but you have given me some ideas which will germinate into future posts not necessarily on care giving.

    On dreaming, I guess all of us care givers sooner than later come to grips with the fact that we cannot plan for anything beyond the next few days at the most. My niece is getting married in Chennai and my siblings and cousins are all gathering for a get together. I am the only one who has not so far confirmed attendance. I have accepted that this is my reality and have learnt to live one day at a time. My daily prayers includes one in English.

    God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can;
    and wisdom to know the difference.

    Living one day at a time;
    Enjoying one moment at a time;
    Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
    Taking, as He did, this sinful world
    as it is, not as I would have it;
    Trusting that He will make all things right
    if I surrender to His Will;
    That I may be reasonably happy in this life
    and supremely happy with Him
    Forever in the next.

    ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

  4. austere says:

    Swapna, from a different reality but the “after ” is so very difficult.
    All those things I’ve put off? I don’t want them anymore, no one to listen to my rambling accounts.

    This is so honest and oh-so-lucid.

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