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No Barriers Podcast Episode 80: Caregiving for Veterans with Melissa Comeau



Our second installment of our Caregiving Series features the Director of the American Red Cross Military and Veteran Caregiver Network, Melissa Comeau. Erik and Jeff speak with Melissa about how her personal experience influenced her to pursue a career in helping Veterans cope and thrive in life after combat. 

Show Description:

Melissa Comeau is honored to serve as the Director of the American Red Cross Military and Veteran Caregiver Network.

Her book Sleeping with the War was published in 2015 and has brought the family and caregiver perspective to life after combat.  Melissa served as a Fellow for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. She has a long history of providing peer support to military families and is supporting efforts at Blue Star Families, Psych Armor, and the Military Family Advisory Network.

Melissa was appointed to the Federal Advisory Committee for Veterans’ Family, Caregivers and Survivors at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. She is a recognized advocate for the military and veteran community with a career supported by an MSM in Information Technology and Project Management.

Her education and background have made her a valuable resource and a pioneer in the development of technology to support caregivers.  Melissa is invested in the long-term care of our Nation’s heroes as well as their families, children, caregivers, and survivors.  She is also the spouse and caregiver of a combat-wounded United States Marine.

Resources:

American Red Cross Military and Veteran Caregiver Network

Visit the MVCN Website to log in to the Online Community, use the Hero Care Resource Library, or find upcoming events on the Caregiver Calendar

 


“There is help. There is hope. There’s a lot of support out there. You just have know that you are a caregiver.”

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Episode Transcript

Melissa: It's really my greatest honor that I've created a safe space for people, even just in our little friendships, that it's okay to talk about this and there is help. There is hope. There's a lot of support out there, you just have to kind of know that you're a caregiver.

Erik: It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon, and I happen to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call a no barriers life, to define it, to push the parameters of what it means, and part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way. In that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in and the summit exists a map. That map, that way forward, is what we call No Barriers.

Jeff: Melissa Comeau is honored to serve as the director of the American Red Cross Military and Veteran Caregiver Network. Melissa is invested in the long term care of our nation's heroes as well their families, children, caregivers, and survivors. She's also the spouse and caregiver of a combat-wounded United States marine. Her long history of providing peer support to military families includes efforts at Blue Star Families, Psych Armor, and the Military Family Advisory Network, and her book, Sleeping with the War, brings the family and caregiver perspective to life after combat. Enjoy.

Erik: Melissa, you were recognized by Elizabeth Dole. I think she called you a caregiver's hidden heroes and I know you have a personal connection to caregiving, of course, because your husband is a service man and he was in the military for 13 years, four deployments. Start us out with that personal connection to caregiving. How did it affect you and your family?

Melissa: Okay, well I always like to start at the beginning. The first question I always get asked is, "How did you meet your husband?" To which I respond, "We met the old fashioned way." Do you know what that means?

Jeff: On a dating app or something?

Melissa: No, in a bar.

Erik: On a rollercoaster.

Jeff: On a Ferris wheel?

Erik: On a mechanical bull in a bar.

Melissa: I love it. You guys are so fun. No. So we met in a bar back in 2005 and it was a little bar outside of Camp Pendleton, which is the Marine Corps base down in southern California. It was completely that stop-me, notice-him-across-the-room, kind of instant attraction. At the time I was actually working at a military barbershop. I worked at Stud Cuts, which is... I was working there.

Jeff: Stud Cuts.

Melissa: Stud Cuts in San Clemente, California, and it is known for being a military barbershop. Busy days on Sundays right before the week kicks off. We would cut, it felt like, thousands of marines' hair.

Erik: Isn't that easy? You're just doing like one crew cut after the next: one buzz cut. There's no art to that, is there?

Jeff: You're just putting it on number one and going, right?

Melissa: Yes and no. I've learned all about the high and tight haircuts and the different levels of fade and all of these fun things. I was working there and I was out with my sister. We went to this bar and lo and behold I see my husband walk in. I already had sort of a "I'm not going to date marines," because I'd watched my sister do it and it was just heartbreaking with the deployments and the distance.

Jeff: But, not to cast any situational... You went to the bar that night with your sister knowing the demographic that was in that bar. I'm just going to leave that there, okay? "I didn't want to date a marine but dot dot dot." Keep going. Sorry to interrupt.

Erik: There's some contradictory behavior here. That's all good. That's life.

Melissa: You're calling me out on things I've been called out on before. Anyway, we met that night and it was right before Memorial Day and Memorial Day holds a special place in my heart anyway as the day we honor those who have fallen in service to the military, so it's a tough weekend for these marines. There's a lot of things that come up. My husband had actually just returned from a deployment in Fallujah in 2004, which was quite hard and they suffered many casualties and it's still written about to this day. And I didn't really know all of that but I knew that Memorial Day was important and I knew that I was going to some services and he was and we really have been inseparable since that weekend. We lived up in the high Sierras right off of Bridgeport. That's where the base was. It was a very interesting time in our lives and a very good time in our lives. Again, we had come out of being at the fleet to going up into the mountains and getting some peace with that nature. My husband loves the mountains. He loves the cold. He loves pine trees. He loves everything to do with that, and so the Military Mountain Warfare Center, which is just outside of Bridgeport, California... tiny little town... this is where they house these marines that do military mountaineering, so kind of training for cold weather. He was crossing rivers and he got to go to British Columbia and ice ax up waterfalls. It was a dream situation for him. He climbed Mount Shasta with the Marine Corps and really got to talk to other marines that were brought in from all over the country to train and get these special mountaineering skills and skiing. He loved it and it was really good. His nickname was LOM, L-O-M, which stands for Lord of the Mountain. I mean, he really enjoyed his time there and we made some lifelong friends in that environment. Always remember it quite fondly. After that we were sent to 29 Palms, California, which is the desert.

Erik: Yeah, my dad was there when he was in the Marines.

Melissa: Yep. From there my husband deployed to both Afghanistan and then his last deployment was actually to the country of Jordan, and this is where we started to notice his injuries. For the longest time my husband, ever the marine, never going to show weakness. Very strong, proud, dedicated, committed marine. I knew sometimes... You know when your husband's hurting. Physical pain, I would see that. But the start of things really always happened at night. I like to share the story about post-traumatic stress disorder because we've all heard of it but sometimes when it's manifested, even in the most obvious ways, you don't necessarily know that's what it is. For me that was the case for sure. My husband was having horrific nightmares where he was acting them out. He was getting violent in his sleep. And every morning he would he would wake up like nothing had happened, and I, of course, laid awake all night with my heart pounding not knowing what to do and also not sure that it was happening. Like, was that a dream for me? I was a new mom at the time so I was up all the time with a toddler and lots of sleep deprivation during those years. When he came back from his fourth deployment, which wasn't necessarily combat focused... he was really working with the Jordanian troops... that's when I noticed the isolation. He started spending the whole day in the garage. And it's not like an air conditioned garage, but he would play loud music and he would only really ever come in to ask what was for dinner. It was just a very isolating time. We never went anywhere any more. That feeling of walking on eggshells because you don't want to upset someone, and you don't want to pry. They tell you, "Don't pry. Don't ask questions about what's wrong all the time because they're working through some tough things." This is what the military tells you. So I was trying to dutifully do all of that but at the same time I was getting hurt. I was getting hurt at night and I was hurt emotionally: feeling very disconnected. After one particularly tough time he went to work the next day and came home early. That was like... He never came home early. If anything, he was always the last one there. He sat down and said, "I have PTSD," and then all of the sudden the past behavior, these things I had wondered about and worried about, all clicked into place. I knew, "Okay, I know what that is." So-

Jeff: Can I interrupt you Melissa?

Melissa: Yes.

Jeff: What do you think was the turning point for him where he came to you and admitted that? Or I guess what gave him the traction to be able to reflect at that point and say, "This is what's going. I'm aware it, and to my wife I want to share this with you"? Was there an event or was there a conversation? What triggered that for him? Do you know?

Melissa: I don't. I always say I was one of the lucky because so many of our service members don't know that they have this and aren't even willing to go and talk about these tough things that they're experiencing. At the time I was only really experiencing the isolation and the horrible nightmares and the crazy anger outbursts, but he was experiencing much more than that, which we later discovered. There's no one event. He just went one day and went to the doctor, said he needed help, and they told him that same day that it sounded like this and this is what it is. Sent home a book for us to read and that's really where I started becoming kind of an expert on PTSD. I read every book. I read every article. I was so thirsty for knowledge. I went to the base for any event they had that was related to combat stress or combat trauma. I sought out others who were experiencing it. But what I found is I didn't have anyone I could talk to. I didn't know anyone else. There's still such a huge stigma in talking about this tough stuff and I didn't... We were still worried about his career. Could we keep going in the military? Could he continue his very infantry-based career with this diagnosis? We decided together. He went and did every treatment they recommended and I participated as actively as I could, but again it was just him and I, and we didn't really talk about it. We talked about it like the elephant in the room. "This is the situation. This is what we have to fix. This is the challenge. We're going to overcome it." What I didn't know then was that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Erik: What was he going through?

Melissa: The first course of treatment was a six week outpatient treatment, meaning he was going to therapies, he was learning. I believe this is when they started him... No, this wasn't when he started on medication. It was really just a talk therapy and it was a six week program with workbooks trying to help you come to terms with what traumas that you might have experienced and really the tools and tricks to overcome some of the symptoms of PTSD like the need to isolate, the trouble sleeping, the hyper-vigilance, like always being on guard. It was really focused on those symptoms.

Erik: And for you as a spouse... and again, I'm not dissing the military because I know they do a lot of things really great... at that time you're saying there wasn't a good support system within the military for spouses to really get together and talk and just share their experience.

Melissa: Right. At that time there wasn't, and that kind of leads into why I started doing what I did. After he did the initial training he actually got transferred to the special operations training group at Camp Pendleton. So we moved. We thought, "Great. We've done this six weeks. We've all learned everything we can. We're going to go forward and continue our life in the Marine Corps." What people don't understand, though, is PTSD is very treatable. While there is no cure for it, there's a lot of things people can do to manage their symptoms and go on to live full lives and lives where maybe you think PTSD would be a deal breaker. The military is doing everything it can to try to break down these stigmas and make people come... make it easy for people to come forward and get this help and also have more discussions about what it is and what it's not because there's a lot of misconceptions about it. What happened to my husband is once he did get to Camp Pendleton we discovered it wasn't just PTSD. PTSD and traumatic brain injury, which is TBI, have very overlaying symptoms: the trouble sleeping, the mood changes, things like that are very common in both, but he was also having light sensitivity. He had to wear dark sunglasses all the time. Our house looked like a cave. All the windows were always shut and he was having headaches: intense headaches. He had an incident during one of his training sessions and they took him to the hospital and that's when we started our path with the brain injury and we learned about blast TBIs, which are related to blast exposure, and I learned things like he was in a Humvee accident and he had hurt himself with a rocket propelled grenade explosion that happened and that's what he was awarded his Purple Heart for, but he had never... Back then in 2004 they would hold up fingers. Now we know so much more and they give guys a 24 hour break if they're exposed to these blasts, but back then they didn't. It was more like, "How many fingers am I holding up? All right, you're good to go." What we've learned is brain injury, especially those blast ones, have a real good chance of healing with that 24 hour downtime.

Erik: Your brains get rattled when those massive explosions go off or the Humvee crashes.

Melissa: Yes, and it's cumulative, so more and more of these is not good. More exposures to blasts, more falls, more just things... Also, he did military martial arts, so any kind of hit to the head... I mean, he was hit in the head and that leads to traumatic brain injury.

Jeff: Just for people who are listening, it's almost like chronic diffuse axonal injuries, so it's like the axons in the brain, it's like a yoke inside an egg, and when you shake that egg up over a time a time the yoke messes around and hits the inside of the shell, and over time that yoke is damaged over time with chronic use. That TBI is absolutely a cumulative effect. I want people to understand that. It's not just a... We hear about it with football and everything, these chronic hits, but service men and women who are exposed to chronic and serial explosions like that have a far more profound incidence of TBIs and closed head injuries. I just want to make sure everybody's aware of that. Yeah, keep going, Melissa.

Melissa: It's so great to hear people that understand that. So after that happened... we discovered it was traumatic brain injury... he was actually transferred to the wounded warrior battalion at Camp Pendleton and that's really where I say that's when I became a caregiver. I didn't know I was a caregiver. There's no one day I'm like, "Oh yeah, I'm a caregiver." But I was sitting in the military hospital there waiting for him to come out of some test, I don't really remember, and a nurse came out and she said, "Are you Steven's caregiver?" I kind of got taken back. I laughed a little and I said, "No, my husband's young," because in my head I always thought caregivers took care of the elderly. Grandparents have them. She kind of said, "No, you can be a caregiver for anyone." Then again, "No, I'm just his wife." And she didn't really pry, but she said to me, "You're probably both."

Jeff: Yes. So well done.

Melissa: That's all she said.

Erik: This sounds like that threw you because maybe there is a stigma to that. You're like, "No, I'm his spouse. I'm his wife. I'm not his caregiver," right? It may be a bit like when somebody said, "Erik, you're going to blind." I'm like, "No way. I'm not going to blind. Those..." I didn't like that word.

Melissa: Yeah. It didn't fit with any narrative I had ever heard of. And yeah, we were going through some tough things and I was certainly going to be there in sickness and health to do everything I could to help with these injuries but that word threw me for a loop.

Erik: Melissa, how did you feel? How were you feeling at that time? What was your heart and mind as you were trying to walk on eggshells and respond to this? What were those feelings? They must've been overwhelming.

Melissa: Yeah. Those were some tough years and I was feeling very alone. I just didn't have anyone I could talk to about it and I had a young son at the time so I just felt like I was taking care of everyone and everything and I maybe became the last person I thought of. I lost a lot of sleep. I gained a lot of weight. I was eating my feelings. There was a lot of things that were happening, too, that I didn't know were at all related to what my husband was experiencing. I always explain it as really an alone time where a big part of your lived experience you are just not talking about or sharing.

Erik: Yeah, and you feel pretty uncomfortable sharing your feelings, right? I mean, at that time your husband's dealing with so much that it's probably impossible to really share how you're feeling.

Melissa: Right. I didn't feel like I needed that or deserved that. I was really was focused on what we could do to help him and how we could make him feel better and then also make sure you're raising a happy, healthy baby boy. It was really just being on the back burner of your own life. I always call that period of time kind of like that Wonder Woman time of caregiving because I just threw myself into it: "I'm going to read every book. I'm going to go to every class. I'll watch webinars. I will find research on brain injury." I mean, I was doing everything I could, but in doing that I was not eating right. I was not exercising. I lost hours and hours of sleep. And when I talk about self care, which is such an important part of being a caregiver, I really know the ramifications of not practicing self care and I really wish someone had, earlier on, mentioned, "Hey, this is going to take a lot out of you and make sure that you have your bagged packed, meaning that you're eating right, that you're exercising, that you go to your own doctor and you're taking care of yourself just as well as you're taking care of everyone else."

Jeff: I'm trying to imagine you on the base, on multiple bases, and in your rear view mirror, now that you know what you know... and it's always easy to sort of look back and see what could've been done perhaps differently but... here you are in really what sounds like full isolation. You're fighting multiple battles. You're trying to be the best wife and mom you can be and you don't feel like you have a network to communicate with. Do you think now, looking back nine years ago, that there were other spouses that were surrounding you that were having the same experiences you were and you happened to be the one who said, "Wait a minute. It turns out it's probably not just me." Did you start connecting the dots at that point?

Melissa: Yeah. I can tell you with 100% accuracy that there were people in my sphere that were experiencing the same thing, feeling the same isolation, feeling that same hindrance in sharing what was happening. You know, that's one of the greatest honors of the work that I've been able to do, is even finding people from years and years ago in my military life and they come to me at all hours through social media, through email, through text message, to ask, "I'm experiencing this. What do you think this could be? Or how should I approach this?" It's really my greatest honor that I've created a safe space for people, even just in our little friendships, that it's okay to talk about this and there is help. There is hope. There's a lot of support out there, you just have to kind of know that you're a caregiver, and that being a caregiver for invisible injuries or mental health is just as important as being a caregiver for, say, the elderly or severely disabled. It's a different kind of caregiving but it still has all of the heart and soul that you have to put into it.

Jeff: It really is compassion and it's love, right? It's compassion and it's love and it's listening and communicating. I mean, the caregiver in helping somebody brush their teeth, sure. That gets done. But you're providing compassion and consideration and love and that's what it comes down to. You wrote a book that was published in 2015, so I'm imagining the timeline of you realizing, "Oh, this is a real thing. This means a lot to me and I want to continue not only to help my spouse but continue to be an advocate," and you wrote a book.

Melissa: Right. My book is an example of self care, and I didn't know it at the time. I was going through these tough nights where I couldn't sleep and we were having all these experiences with the nightmares and with the mood swings and just some dark times. And what I did was write them out. I've kind of written short stories and poetry my whole life and I've always kind of used it as an outlet. What I would do is when these awful things happened and I would have these really heavy feelings I would just sit and write. I would write these little I called them brain farts... like little things... out so I could just clear my mind of the tough stuff. I would just write it out and put it down and then go on the next day to try to be very positive and encouraging and hopeful, and that little book of poems that I wrote... I had a wonderful opportunity to work with the Writers Guild in New York and they have a program where they were bringing in caregivers, especially those of our wounded warriors. I went with Wounded Warrior Project and they put us up there and gave us these writing mentors. And [inaudible 00:23:27] it's embarrassing to kind of share this stuff but I started sharing it and watching caregivers around the table shake their heads and then having the writing mentor be like, "Does that even make sense?" And everyone else is like, "Oh yeah, this is what that means." It was so empowering and inspiring, and again that peace where I found people that have had this and understand how hard it can be, but also how hopeful it can be. All of those I think... I probably wrote 500 of them over the years.

Jeff: And they're little sonnets or poems and little short guys?

Melissa: Yep. Little bytes of writing: things that just ran through my head and I wanted to get out. I then learned the power of... There's actually a whole therapy related to journaling and mindful writing and I didn't know that's what I was doing at the time. It really just a little self care that I was doing and it was [inaudible 00:24:28] and that is another amazing story. The War Writers Campaign, which unfortunately is no longer operating, was started by a marine. It was a marine that was running that and that marine actually served with my husband in Iraq and I was the first caregiver that they published. I had a great run with that. I've shared it. It's been in plays. Parts of my writing have been in plays. They've been in PhD dissertations. It's really gone on to share that little slice of my very tough time but in a way that impacts people and is hopeful and lets them know they're not alone and it's okay to talk about.

Erik: That's such a great impact. Wow. Very proud.

Melissa: Yeah.

Erik: Let me ask, when a typical thing I can only imagine... and just tell me if I'm totally off base. Your spouse changes in certain ways and things get dark and you're trying to stay positive. I say you, I just mean generally a spouse is trying to stay positive, trying to be a good, quote unquote, caregiver, and I imagine it's very easy to lose yourself. Even just in a marriage with no stress it's easy for one partner to lose themselves and then when you lose yourself sometimes you stop talking. You stop searching for your own, as you said, self care, and you get resentful and you get angry and eventually you split. Is that like some of the fears, the ramifications, the consequences, of not getting help? Tell me what that looks like.

Melissa: Well, I don't want to speak for everyone. I didn't have-

Erik: Right. It's different for everyone.

Melissa: It is. And the thing about losing yourself, that is such a valid concern and it should be concerned for anyone in a marriage. You really need to honor yourself and hold your own space. For me, I didn't have any of the anger. I'm not angry. I'm not resentful. I never wasted time with that. It always felt... I have seen it in the community and I've seen others that have gone through that and it's, no judgment, very valid, real feelings. But for me, I always tried to dive that into some other purpose, and a lot of what I've done is trying to give myself a purpose, which holds your space, which makes you... It makes me a better caregiver. The work I've done, like working with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and now managing this network at the American Red Cross, has really helped me define that not only am I living this caregiver journey but I'm also doing my best to make it better for myself and for others: really, having that purpose-driven life. And I never would've had this had this not happened. I worked in accounting before this. It was a very numbers-oriented person, very introverted, and here I got thrust out to share this because I was so passionate about finding others and empowering them and wrapping them in all the support that I felt caregivers deserved. That's really where my husband is so supportive of what I do. He knows why I do it. His marines reach out to me as well. It's really become a sense of purpose for us, to make this a bit better for the people coming behind us.

Jeff: What are your thoughts on those alternative therapies? Have they entered into your sphere at all? How did that play into your whole experience with being a caregiver and how you dole out information and share with your community?

Melissa: Absolutely. Thank you so much for bringing up complimentary therapies. That's what I call them. Not alternative. Alternative has a connotation like you do this type of care or this type. When you say complimentary it means that yes, you're getting your clinical support, you're getting your medication, but you also have all these other complimentary types services. My husband's best complimentary treatment was a service dog. We've had our service dog... I call him our service dog. He became a member of our family while he very much had a working role. We got him Alpha Canine in Sacramento. Fabulously trained dog specific to PTSD and brain injury. This dog is magic. I don't know how else to describe it. He's an all black German shepard: a big, scary looking dog, but he is a big teddy bear and he's been-

Jeff: And he is a caregiver.

Melissa: He is. That is what initially got us out in the community again: being able to go place because the dog has a crowd control feature where so people can't come up. He has a watch back task so if my husband's standing in line or something the dog watches his back so he doesn't have any of that anxiety that can be caused by brain injury or PTSD. And we've taken this dog to the top of the Empire State Building. We've taken him to the Grand Canyon. He's walked the Vegas Strip. This dog's had such a good life with us. He's retired now. He's 11 years old. He's got the little white on his snout. But just the best complimentary treatment. Others... There's no one group or medication or magic bullet for this, so really the more people that come together and think of out-of-the-box ways to support our service members with these injuries, the better.

Erik: Melissa, as we wrap up tell us about the Military and Veteran Caregiver Network. We talked earlier about the idea that spouses just get a lot of moral support and connection. You lean in. You say, "I'm not alone." Sounds like maybe talk about these kind of therapies. Are they working? What other ways does the network support caregiver spouses and kids too?

Melissa: The Military and Veteran Caregiver Network actually started at TAPS, which is the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, kind of the go-to organization for our gold star families: those who have lost someone in service. We have the amazing opportunity of being incubated in their 20 plus years of peer support in the survivor community. Now with caregiving and with being a survivor there's a lot of grief involved in that. There's some loss: ambiguous loss, they call it. We really found that some of these grief models would work for caregivers, who now have a different path that they're on and they might be experiencing loss in other ways. We took their model of peer support in the survivor community and we wrapped around with leading edge technology and changed the scope to caregivers using the companioning peer support model, which is sort of walking alongside someone, just being there, holding space for them and allowing their journey to have meaning and support, and also the reciprocal peer support model, which you guys probably have felt this in your life. You know how good it feels to help someone? You know that innate you get that kind of fills your own cup? We use that model out of Rutgers University, meaning that if you help people you are also helping yourself. We really structure everything around those two concepts: the idea of companioning and providing reciprocal support. We have caregiver peer support groups, so virtually... They're all virtual right now due to the pandemic, and when that started back in march we just started having more and more of these groups and it seemed like there was an insatiable need for caregivers to connect and talk about it: really express the fears about what this pandemic is, was, going to be. Then we have an online community that operates 24/7 and it's moderated by other caregivers and we have a variety of topics that are important to caregivers. When we're talking about them they're caregiver specific. We have a group for mental and physical health for the caregiver. We have groups on financial and legal assistance, benefits and compensation. We have them based on the relationship. While I'm a spouse caregiver many caregivers are parents. They're parents caring for their service member child, or they're siblings caring for a brother or sister, or they're a friend or family member, and actually there's a large instance of veterans caring for other veterans: sort of taking care of their battle buddy after service. We wanted to create a space where they can connect and engage and have these ongoing forums and also the peer support groups and then we have a website that... Resources are so important: knowing where to go in your community to get help for whatever comes your way.

Jeff: What is that website?

Melissa: Our website... If you remember nothing else about what I said today, redcross.org/caregivers.

Erik: And say there's a caregiver or a person who doesn't even know they're necessarily a caregiver. They're just struggling. They have a military friend or service member in their life, a dad, a mom, spouse. What are the signs that you might be looking for and then what do they do about it? How do they contact you all?

Melissa: Excellent. At the Red Cross we actually have an are-you-a-caregiver quiz because really people just like me don't necessarily associate the task that they're doing with caregiving, especially for a big, strong service member. It's just not necessarily the word people are using. So we created a little quiz and it asks things like, "Do you take someone to medical appointments? Do you do medication management? Do you prepare meals? Do you do the shopping? Do you provide emotional regulation?" It just has a lot of questions that cover broader than the activities of daily living that usually get associated with caregiving like feeding, bathing, clothing, toileting, all of those that are very common tasks. There really is so much more to it and learning that those tasks that you might be doing... managing someone else's schedule, help putting someone to bed, all of those things count. From a mental health caregiver to an elderly caregiver and everything in between we wanted to make sure they felt included and they understood that while you might not want to identify as a caregiver you can identify these tasks as caregiving tasks and with that you can open up a suite of support like the Military and Veteran Caregiver Network, and anyone is welcome to join as long as they're caring for a service member or veteran. We do verify that the care recipient is service connected in that they served. You don't have to have a VA rating or line of duty documentation or a Purple Heart. We really are all-inclusive and we make it as easy as possible for them to get engaged with us.

Erik: Wonderful.

Jeff: Amazing.

Erik: How is your husband doing now, by the way? What's he up to?

Melissa: He is doing well. We're continuing to... With the COVID environment some things have changed a bit but he continues to try to get out in the community when he can. He's been doing some fishing. We still keep up with his treatment plans and his care plan. We're very lucky that he has really good providers. We just keep moving towards best. That's all you can do. One day at a time, ever hopeful, always hopeful things will get better.

Erik: All right. Well, thank you Melissa.

Jeff: Really grateful for you.

Erik: Yeah. Jeff, how did that go for you? What did you take out of that, for everyone?

Jeff: Melissa mentioned that she didn't... I guess none of us really know what we're getting into in our heart. If we listen to our heart, our heart tells us where to go and what to do and where to put our energy, and she's one clearly that listens to her heart. Her love for her husband really, I think, was the catalyst for impacting so many. And you know what, Erik? I don't blow smoke [inaudible 00:36:38] a lot but that's really kind of your story too. Your love for your community gave you the platform to be able to impact many, and I just have a lot of respect for people who listen to their heart and understand that their singular experience is very subjective but if they can turn that outward that they're not alone. They're not doing this... They're not the only person that's having these experiences. The both of you have had the skills and the insight to be able to turn your individual experience outward and then as a result impact thousands of people positively. I'm always just quite overwhelmed with how that works, so kudos to Melissa and, I guess, to you too.

Erik: Thanks, buddy. I couldn't have said it better. I really agree that it's heart-centric programs and it began from this heart journey, and that leads to some amazing places for people that have huge impact in the world. I'll just be a broken record and say what I said on the last podcast, which is when you hear about these incredible organizations and networks and resources they're not going to come to you. They may try, but if you're just facing isolation and fear and anxiety and you're sitting in your own house, in your basement, just not knowing what to do, know that these resources are out there but you have to take the first step. You've got to reach out to them. So don't sit there and just suffer on the sidelines. You got to reach out to these amazing organizations like the Military and Veteran Caregiver Network. They're out there, so don't lose faith.

Jeff: It's a great point because a lot of folks, I think, are self perpetuating and feel sadness and sorrow and then just sort of allow that to be the overall tapestry of what's happening. You're right. You do have to take that initial step to make that connection, so well said.

Erik: We've seen it in No Barriers, right? People are like, "I just feel like I'm on the sidelines. I'm not the person I want to be. I have yearnings to have this kind of life and I'm not quite there and I don't know if this organization is any good but I'm going to reach out. It's got good reviews and maybe it'll help. I have faith that something will be out there for me."

Jeff: Yeah. But taking a chance, that's the step.

Erik: Take a chance, yep. All right, great. Thanks everyone. Thanks Jeff. Thanks Melissa. No barriers.

Jeff: See you next time. Speaker 4: The production team behind this podcast includes senior producer Pauline Shaffer, executive producer [Dedrick Jonk 00:39:27], sound design, editing, and mixing by Tyler [Cotman 00:39:30]. Graphics by Sam Davis and marketing support by Megan Lee and Carly [Sansmark 00:39:35]. Special thanks to the Dan Ryan Band for our intro song, Guidance, and thanks to all of you for listening. We know that you've got a lot of choices about how you can spend your time and we appreciate you spending it with us. If you enjoy this podcast we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it, and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.com.


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