When You Don't Have the Option of Living in the Past...
We often are told that we need to live in the present, to put the past behind us and move on. For those of us with short term memory loss, this is not a suggestion, but a way of life. Wonder what it is like to live like this?
I am constantly being reminded of my memory loss. People do not purposely set out to remind me. My appearance is normal. My speech, most of the time, is normal. My thought processes have lowered from the genius range to the normal range of intelligence. It is easy for others to not understand or remember my memory loss. I am forever having to say that I don’t remember. Most of those people closest to me understand better now, thankfully.
My dear granddaughter, who is fifteen, still has a hard time with my short term memory loss. She thinks that if I think long enough, I will remember. I humored her the first time she told me to think for a while.The second time she said it, I explained my short term memory loss again and told her to just tell me the answer.
Thinking about it, my granddaughter is not too far off. I CAN sometimes pull out the memory but I have to think and think and think. Relate and relate and relate. Almost working up a sweat, I can s o m e t i m e s P—U---L—L out the answer. There are times that this method does not work. Like, when I was driving, and I needed to know where Ross (a clothing store) was located in my home town. This was NOT the time to say, “Come on, Grandmom. Think about it…Where is Ross?” I answered my granddaughter’s encouraging remark by barking out, “Just tell me what it’s close to” Once she told me it was close to Michael’s, a store that I do frequent, I knew exactly in which direction to drive. I just needed some point or memory I could relate to.
I recently was embarrassed while at a mammogram appointment. A young woman - who might have been all of 21 and had NEVER had a mammogram herself - was the one who was doing my mammogram. She probably asked the same questions she asks everyone, like when my last mammogram had been taken, when I had been biopsied, etc. With each question, I answered I didn’t know. She laughed. I was embarrassed.
Finally, I told her about my dementia. I got the feeling that she became a little uncomfortable. Perhaps she didn’t know much about dementia. Again, since I look and act so normally, I think she was just taken aback. And, of course, she didn’t know me personally, so from that point on she wasn’t sure really how to take me…
There was another interesting time that I had to face a negative reaction. I was at the grocery store. The amiable elderly man checking me out (maybe literally?) started a conversation with, “Well, you got the day off today?” (I do look a bit younger than my 59 years of age!) Not thinking, I blurted out that I was retired, that I have dementia. Well, you could have knocked that cashier over with a feather. He mumbled something I couldn’t understand and took a step or two back, away from me. I wanted to say, “Don’t worry. It’s not contagious!”, but just smiled, took my groceries and left. Once again, embarrassed.
Because I have dementia, I have done much research on it. I tend to forget that others do not carry the same knowledge about it. I forget that others may have been touched by dementia and Alzheimer’s and may have a different picture in their minds than I have. I forget that I look so normal and have such a debilitating condition. I forget that I forget.
Each day is new for me. Yesterday almost does not exist most of the time. I do try to remember what I did the day before…and sometimes I am successful in remembering. More often than not, I have to look at a calendar. My sister or dad will call and ask what I’ve been doing - and I can’t remember. That grows old for me. What is it like not to remember?
It’s like something has been stolen from me. I miss not knowing. All I have is a big void…a nothing…it’s like trying to grasp the air. You reach for it and end up empty handed.
Not remembering, I suppose, can be a good thing. I don’t remember the bad stuff. I don’t hold grudges. On the other hand, it is horrible. I forget to take medication. I forget to eat. I forget to do what I start out to do. I forget how to get to places I am not very familiar with. And once, I forgot how to make the car GO…I hadn’t driven for five days. I remembered to put the key in, shift the gear…and then couldn’t understand why the car wouldn’t move. I used my granddaughter’s advice (to think about it) and after much thinking, remembered that I had to do something else before the car would move…eventually, I remembered the gas pedal. (Since that experience, I have driven every day so I remember what to do.)
I choose not to dwell on my limitations. I try to learn from them, instead. I choose to live each day to its fullest to my best ability. I am learning to accept the reactions of others. I am striving to teach others about dementia. I am determined to give dementia a better connotation, to encourage those with it to live the best life they can. My expectations, as usual, are high, and I expect to achieve all that I have set out to do.