Nancy Koenig was tasked at a young age with caring for her brother, a quadriplegic, and her mother, who developed Alzheimer’s disease.
Koenig reveals a life of constantly putting her life on hold to care for loved ones in her book, “Full Immersion: A Memoir About Caregiving, Unconditional Love, and Finding a Life of My Own.”
It wasn’t until she was in her 40s that Koenig was able to find her path and create a life of her own. Born in 1957, Koenig grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich. to a father who suffered from schizophrenia and a mother emotionally drained from the stress of meeting his needs.
Koenig was 12 when her brother David, 23, had a diving accident that left him unable to move from his chest down. After being hospitalized for weeks, David came home to a hospital bed in the living room and Koenig’s mom often sleeping on the couch to care for him. “With the all-consuming nature of my brother’s needs, I became the invisible child,” Koenig writes.
Because he could move his arms and use his right hand to hold a stethoscope or a pen, David was able to maintain a career as a physician. Koenig moved from her hometown to Pennsylvania and Oklahoma providing care for her brother while he worked, putting her career on hold for three decades. Koenig says the silver lining to being a caregiver is that she was able to there for her family. She felt as though God is enabling do these things for her loved ones and so she thought it was best to do them.
“I also cared for my mother during her struggle with Alzheimer’s and dementia in the later years of her life, several of those for both my brother and my mom simultaneously. My father, overtaken by schizophrenia, was of no support to us and passed away at the age of 56,” Koenig said.
After teaching K-12 for almost 40 years, she brought this book to fruition. “My primary goal was to get the story out so I could start the healing process,” Koenig says.
Koenig titled the book “Full Immersion” because that’s what she calls her own motivations for everything she does. Her intensity, focus and resiliency make her “go the extra mile and contribute above and beyond expectations, hopefully crafting amazing outcomes in the process.”
However, she also admits this self-protective strategy covers vulnerabilities noting a “fully immersed overachiever hedges one’s bets that some level of acceptance will be achieved.”
Koenig says her faith helped her get through tough times. Each chapter of the book includes scripture. She uses each passage as a way to help readers understand her life’s journey at a different level.
She says the unpredictability of caregiving is the most difficult part. “The other downfall is just losing yourself,” Koenig said.
Providing care, especially in the home, can be isolating. Koenig encourages others in the situation to find resources in their area.
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, about 44 million Americans provide 37 billion hours of unpaid, “informal” care each year for adult family members and friends with chronic illnesses. Many find themselves in this position with little to no formal training.
Locally, the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments Area Agency on Aging, provides caregiver support to El Paso, Teller and Park counties. Agency Case Manager Kent Mathews, who holds a master’s in social work, says, “my client is the caregiver.”
During the current shelter in place, the agency offers over-the-phone and virtual consultations. Mathews said they cover a variety of issues that affect caregivers including medical, legal, and financial challenges. Perhaps most importantly, they offer numerous ways to support a caregiver emotionally.
Mathews said the agency typically gets a call for assistance “after someone has gone down the rabbit hole” of providing care to a loved one. The agency is working on a way to conduct classes virtually, or in person, once the pandemic has passed. Mathews noted there are several support groups in the area for those providing in-home care. Call the agency at 471-2096.
My own mother suffered for six years with dementia before succumbing to the disease April 25, 2018.
Dr. Magdalene Lim, clinic director of the UCCS Aging Center says, for the caregiver, self-compassion is important for optimism and resiliency. It can also improve the care you provide once you’ve been able to support yourself mindfully. She suggests taking small breaks if possible, be aware of the challenges, try to find a relaxing moment and reframe unhelpful self-talk. “Self-compassion can buffer anxiety and improve psychological health,” Lim says.
Although the UCCS Aging Center is closed until May 15 due to COVID-19 pandemic, resources can be accessed at uccs.edu/healthcircle/aging-center.
Koenig says she hopes her book will be a benefit to others who are providing at-home care and a blessing to others in similar life experiences as her own.
After the death of her mother, Koenig decided to begin a life of her own. Shortly after, she met and married Denny Koenig and they moved to Colorado Springs. “I started to say yes to life,” she reveals.
Koenig is working on her next book about the strong women in her life to be titled “Not as Planned.” Her current book is available online and in local bookstores including Covered Treasures in Monument.
Learn more about Koenig on her Facebook author page, facebook.com/AuthorNancyKoenig.