The Sudden Caregiver: A Roadmap for Resilient Caregiving by Karen Warner Schueler
1- April is Stress Awareness Month. What's one simple way someone could reduce stress next month?
My favorite way to reduce stress, which I share in my book, is to allow yourself a mini-break or two throughout each day. The concept is pretty simple, but the benefits are large. Researchers have found that finding brief moments of respite can restore some of the energy we spend in shouldering responsibility, making decisions, and working to move projects forward. Examples: Do the crossword puzzle, take a walk outdoors, flip through a favorite magazine, watch a show that makes you smile, squeeze in a workout, phone a friend, or just look out the window and appreciate what’s there – these are all ways to take a mini-break. Much like when I was coached to train for a marathon by running for 5 minutes and walking for one until I could go the entire 26.2 miles without stress to my body, a quick fifteen-minute break is enough to not only interrupt stress buildup, but to replenish the energy stores we may have depleted in simply getting through our day. Try this at least once a day for a month. It won’t eliminate stress from your life, but it will take some of the charge out of it.
2- Would you please, in 160 characters or less, give a #WriteTip ?
Start with a story to connect your message to your reader. Then support it with data. People read best when they read about people first, facts second.
3- What most motivates you to read a new book?
Years and years ago, just out of college and from a blue-collar family, I read books about how to act and dress as a professional when I got my first corporate job. When I got promoted to supervisor and had people working for me, I read books about how to lead. So, of course, when I became a caregiver, I sought out books and articles about caregiving in order to find best practices on giving care. My first motivation for reading is to transform myself – to learn and grow. I’m a lifelong learner and the right book is my most reliable instructor.
The second reason I read is my love of the writing. There’s nothing better than being immersed in a story so finely written that I’m still in the thick of it even when I’m doing something else. It’s not just the way sentences are structured, it’s also the way the characters are drawn and how the plot moves them toward and away from each other.
When I was in high school my English teacher assigned us the classic, Jane Eyre. It was the first book that I “had” to read that surprised me by being pure pleasure. I took it with me to a school dance, convinced that even if the dance was a social dud, I couldn’t go wrong if I had Jane Eyre to fall back on. To Kill a Mockingbird had the same impact on me. Year later, I lost myself in One Hundred Years of Solitude while commuting to my first job on a crowded bus, my arms wrapped around the pole to steady myself, clutching my lunch in one hand and my fat dog-eared copy in the other. Later still, The Bonfire of the Vanities so consumed me that I nearly forgot it was New Year’s Eve and the man I was dating had just broken up with me.
I am motivated to read when I am compelled – either by a need to learn or a need to keep turning the page.
4- What's the first thing someone should do upon learning a loved one is diagnosed with something that will require a lot of care?
Those first days after someone has been diagnosed with a condition that will require a lot of care are like walking out of the glare of the afternoon sun into a dark room. Your eyes have to adjust to the new situation. You can’t get there all at once. So, I would say in the first days, allow yourself to get your bearings. To do this, ask questions, look up anything you don’t understand and focus on treatment plans and comfort for your care-receiver. As you get your bearings, start thinking about resilience for yourself. Are there times in the past you’ve been through something similar that turned out well? What was it about you that got you through it? These questions come from Hope Theory and it will inform your preparation. In my book, I offer six resilience builders and a roadmap that will help you create a practice of intentional well-being. As Being Mortal author Atul Gawande advises, “Hope for the best and plan for the worst.” Whatever you do, do it proactively.
5- Would you share a picture with us of you with your late husband Joel?
6- What is your favorite beverage at Starbucks?
Ha! Triple Grande Non-Fat Latte – a frequent companion of my own mini-breaks.
7- What's your Twitter handle, and do you have two or three writer friends on there to shout-out to for #WriterWednesday ?
I’m Karen Warner @tangiblegroup . I am in the process of setting a Twitter handle up for my work in caregiving. Writers I would shout out to include: Glenn Rifkin ( @glennrifkin ), New York Times contributor and author of Future Forward. Glenn is a great friend and was a frequent co-author with my late husband, Joel Kurtzman. My friend and colleague, Lucy Hone ( @drlucyhone ) , whose book Resilient Grieving, based on the sudden loss of her 12-year-old daughter, Abi, is wise, poignant, helpful and big-hearted. My friend and colleague, David Pollay ( @garbagetrucklaw ), author of The Law of the Garbage Truck; and the ever-inspiring Adam Grant ( @adammgrant ), one of my professors at Penn and author of many books, including Give and Take, whose newest book is Think Again.
8- Do you have a favorite #bookstagram image or account/ profile?
I don’t have a favorite, but I will say anyone who covers historical fiction has my attention. I live in the south and am a fan of Jeff and Michael Shaara’s books detailing the many distinct battles of the Civil War. I’m currently reading the 900-page tome by Francis Griswold, A Sea Island Lady, which takes place in the very town I live in, Beaufort, SC, during the Civil War, through Reconstruction, and beyond. The events detailed in this 1939 book are vivid and relevant to understanding today’s racial unrest in the US.
9- Are you a Plotter, Pantser, or Plantser, and how did you adopt that style?
I’m a Plantser – a hybrid. When I first conceived of writing a book on caregiving, it was to create a roadmap, so that was the central organizing principle that got me started. I started my career as a technical writer writing software documentation, so I never go too far without considering what the “end-user” needs and how they need to read it. As I tried my material out on caregivers, I was able to further refine the flow to make my ideas accessible to them: not just what I wanted to say, but what they needed to know.
From there, I simply took a chunk that needed writing and I wrote it. I highly recommend being in a writing group with serious writers. Shout out to Theano-Coaching and the great Kathryn Britton who assembles us and leads us. Every two weeks for four years I submitted installments that moved the book along and held me accountable. When I had half of the book written, I stepped back and reorganized what I had. Many Post-It Notes stuck to the wall of my office were involved. Before committing to a final manuscript, I also recruited beta readers whom I knew were caregivers, to test drive my material. Their feedback was invaluable.
10- What does your basic writing schedule look like, and how often do you write?
I always have a project that needs my attention, whether it’s for my coaching clients, my caregiver clients, or my blog. I write nearly every day and I write best very early in the morning at the kitchen counter with a cup of coffee at my elbow and the dog at my feet, when my husband, John, is still sleeping. I tend to be a “maximizer,” so I go through several drafts before I’m satisfied. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at writing cleaner first drafts and letting go of them when I’m on deadline. But if I have the luxury of time, I will polish and polish and polish.
11- What is your favorite book by someone else, what's the author's Twitter handle, and what do you love most about that book? #FridayReads book recommendation time!
Author name: Dr. Paul Kalanithi @rocketgirlmd
Title: When Breath Becomes Air
Love because: The late Dr. Paul Kalanithi was a beautiful writer who managed to document the last years of his own life from diagnosis to death from lung cancer. “Rocketgirlmd” belongs to his widow, Lucy Kalanithi, whose epilogue – when I read it in the raw months just following my late husband’s death – brought me to my knees. I am grateful to both for the example they set.
12- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader?
13- What kind of impact do you hope your book will have?
I truly am on a mission to reach every conceivable caregiver. The one thing I know is that nothing like my book has been available until now. I hope to make life easier for all caregivers everywhere.
Further, I hope to engage people in a conversation about the lack of infrastructure around caregiving. Millions of uncompensated, informal caregivers are making it up as they go along, often depleting physical, emotional and financial stores. Given their growing numbers and the impact on our healthcare system if they suddenly decided not to give care, caregivers deserve access to a safety net. With 53 million caregivers in the US and 11% of the populations of most developed countries, we must evolve policies that support family caregivers at the global level.
14- What is your favorite creative non-writing activity to do?
I have several but the number one has to be interior design. I am untrained, but I love the challenge of creating comfortable and comforting spaces that are visually appealing, personal and uncluttered. My late husband and I moved a fair amount and every new house brought new possibilities to play to this strength. Even when I have completed all the decorating there is to do, I am always assessing, tinkering, switching things out.
I love spending time with my grandsons, who are toddlers and absolutely have me, heart and soul. During Covid I haven’t gotten to see them as they live across the country. I have been sustained with videos and photos and Zoom calls.
Finally, I truly love my job – coaching – and I’ve gotten good at it after nearly 2 decades. When the coaching is going well, I can feel it somatically and my clients can too.
15 diversebooks.org #WeNeedDiverseBooks What's your favorite book with a diverse main character?
My favorite book on diversity is non-fiction by Isabel Wilkerson. In The Warmth of Other Suns, Wilkerson masterfully takes her reader on the journey of The Great Migration of Black Americans out of the US South to the Northeast, the Midwest, and the Southwest through the eyes of three different people during three different periods in American history. It’s eye-opening and it’s an education. This book’s title, both evocative and wistful, comes from Richard Wright’s 1945 poem, Black Boy:
I was leaving the South
to fling myself into the unknown...
I was taking a part of the South
to transplant in alien soil,
to see if it could grow differently,
if it could drink of new and cool rains,
bend in strange winds,
respond to the warmth of other suns
and, perhaps, to bloom.
16- What method do you feel is the best way to get book reviews?
Once a marketing person always a marketing person, I believe in steadily building awareness through multiple touchpoints between the book’s ideas and its potential readers. From a classic marketing perspective, that begins with public relations and public speaking so that your ideas get in front of the book’s audiences. I also believe that one’s own personal network contains possibility through the strength of weak ties. Letting people know you’ve published, asking them to spread the word to their networks who might need what the book addresses, and eventually asking for the review all matter. My book has 23 five-star reviews on Amazon, a few from people I know and love who have been following my work. But surprisingly many whom I’ve never met who were gifted the book or made aware of it through the strong ties in my network.
17- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?
I decided to self-publish for three reasons. First, I had a strong vision for my book and didn’t want to compromise on that if I turned my manuscript over to a traditional publisher. Second, after speaking with several kind literary agents, it was clear to me, especially when Covid hit, that the traditional publishing route would be protracted and my book – if it was accepted by a publisher – might not see the light of day for another year. I had already spent nearly four years getting to this point and I was ready to move on to the next phase. Having been a technical writer and graphic artist early in my career, I have written and produced countless technical manuals so I really understood the entire continuum from idea to physical book and was not coming at it cold. That gave me confidence. Finally, because I have my own coaching and consulting company, Tangible Group, I approached The Sudden Caregiver as an extension of my business. I have applied for a trademark and set up a separate business unit within my company and we are developing a series of on-demand classes to help build caregiver resilience. The book is a natural extension of that.
18- What's the biggest writing goal you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
Like every breathing writer on the planet, I would love to be published in The New Yorker, which I’ve been reading since I was 11. I have been writing fiction since I was in second grade and I’ve been writing well, really well, my entire adult life. Every accomplished writing teacher I’ve ever had has pointed out that I bring a special perspective to my craft and has encouraged me to keep writing. I’m in my sixties and have written quiet volumes across my life experiences: about working single motherhood, corporate downsizing, world disasters, personal disasters like caring for a terminally ill husband, and all those other broken hearts of mine along the way.
19- Would you please ask our audience a question to answer in the comments?
What’s one idea or practice, big or small, that has had the greatest positive impact on your own resilience?
20- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?
The Sudden Caregiver: A Roadmap for Resilient Caregiving is a practical and proven guide, a roadmap, and a source of comfort for anyone who is caring for a loved one, and especially for those for whom the role was unexpected. With the acronym C-A-R-E (Crisis, As Normal as Possible, Resolution, and Evolution), Warner Schueler explains each phase of caregiving and helps the reader apply what they need for their unique situation, including her own personal stories and stories from caregivers of all types. The author invites readers to dive right in where they feel they need the most help, as every caregiving situation is unique.
Karen guides readers through evidence-based strategies, drawn from the principles of positive psychology, that are designed to help raise well-being and resilience for both the caregiver and the person in their care. They provide direction on not only what to do as a caregiver but also how to be as a caregiver. She also discusses how to integrate the lessons of caregiving once your role as caregiver ends. In addition to the book and worksheet appendix, readers can download a free Sudden Caregiver’s Playbook, with helpful worksheets and activities to guide the caregiver through each step of the journey.
Karen Warner Schueler is an executive coach who has helped hundreds of senior managers discover the unique qualities that inform their leadership. As president of her coaching firm, Tangible Group, she designs and delivers premiere leadership experiences for individuals, teams, and multinational corporations. She received her Master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. She is currently launching a series of on-demand classes for caregiver resilience. The Sudden Caregiver is her first book.
The Sudden Caregiver: A Roadmap for Resilient Caregiving by Karen Warner Schueler