The fine art of juggling

Janet Fanaki, Artsci'91

Maggie Knaus

When I was about ten years old, the kids in my class were taught how to juggle.

Everyone was given three small beanbags. We started by passing the first bag from our right to left hand, tossing it in the air, catching it, and then repeating it all over again.

Eventually, we were tossing two bags, and finally, a third.

Juggling back then was tricky. It’s only become harder as I’ve gotten older.

At 51 years old, it’s still a big challenge for me. The difference now is that the props are more precious and the risk of falling behind is much higher.

Work, kids, house repairs, aging parents, expenses...the list is endless.

Many of us are in the same boat, especially if we’re in the sandwich generation.

I recently wrote an article for my website, RESILIENT PEOPLE, titled “Make mine a triple-decker,” about the stresses of being middle-aged and caring for both children and aging parents.

My kids are 18 and 20 years old and, as self-sufficient as they are, they still require mom and dad’s support. Drives, paying for their schooling, and – as much as I try not to have this happen – their stresses become my stresses.

My parents are divorced and while my dad lives a couple of hours away, he’s in poor health. He lives in a long-term care facility, but doing the regular out-of-town drives to visit him has been exhausting and stressful.

Managing both children and aging parents is already a lot to handle, especially because we still have many other things to tackle as well.

But if you’re like me and also have a spouse who requires extra care, I welcome you to the “triple-decker sandwich generation.”

My husband is living with Glioblastoma (GBM), an aggressive form of brain cancer. The ongoing treatments, MRI scans, the effects of the disease on him, and maintaining my role as the central point person is really overwhelming.

When I allow myself to stop and think about it all, I can’t help but cry.

Many caregivers face burnout because their focus is solely placed on their loved ones and immediate family’s emotional needs with little time left to nurture themselves. Some face depression, the decline of their own health, isolation, and alienation from their friends.

Fortunately, I have a fantastic group of people around me who are supportive, funny, empathetic, and nurturing. Without them, I would be toast. I’ve also learned to place a higher value on self care. It’s true what they say: “Unless you take care of yourself, you’re no good to anyone else.”

So if you’re in a similar position, here are a few ideas I’d like to share:

  • Build the best team around you. This doesn’t just refer to your medical team, but your support circle too. Whoever surrounds you, make sure they have your back, bring you joy and are terrific listeners. Have the best of the best around you always and keep the naysayers out.
  • Learn to say “no”. When you have a lot on your plate, it’s impossible to do it all. Prioritize your time and delegate tasks. If someone offers to help, take them up on it.
  • Find joy in something every day. Whether that means doing a quick workout, taking a walk with a neighbour, or curling up with a magazine, it’s vital to take time out for yourself.

These have helped me to stay mentally strong and resilient during the most challenging of times and, under the circumstances, be the best version of myself.

Janet (Petruck) Fanaki, Artsci’91, lives in Toronto and is the creator of RESILIENT PEOPLE, a website that profiles extraordinary people who inspire others with their resilience. The message of RESILIENT PEOPLE is "Take the major challenge you experienced and create a platform to help others be resilient too.”

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