Friday, February 21, 2014

The Imposters

It still happens weekly. She catches my eye. I see the short, beautiful white hair, the petite build, and I gasp. I recognize her. I know her. But then, after a longer look, I am plunged back into reality.

I see this woman taking walks, in the store, and just the other day, in a bar. Walking was and still is her thing, so that mistake is almost understandable. But a bar? She was never one to frequent bars. Either way, it doesn’t matter. It’s not her.

Despite the fact that my mom has been in a facility for years due to her battle with Alzheimer’s disease, something in me holds on to the woman I once knew. I am not sure why. Maybe it’s habit, because it sure isn’t hope. There is no going back from her disease.

When I see her “imposters,” I tend to gasp and have uncontrollable feelings of happiness and recognition. They are the sort of feelings you experience when you see a friend in an unexpected place. The quick feeling of joy and the slight adrenaline rush is quickly replaced with disappointment, sadness, and also a feeling of internal embarrassment.

Embarrassed because I have continually let myself be tricked. Tricked in an instant, even though I am very aware of the reality. I live that reality every single day. The reality that she must be in a locked down unit for her safety. Although she loves to walk, she certainly won’t be seen walking the trail in Zionsville, where many times I thought I saw her. She walks only at the facility.

To be in public and have that happen is tough. It’s a burst of emotions that tie my mind and heart into knots of confusion. Each time it happens, I try to recover just as quickly as it happens. I immediately begin an interior dialogue as I wonder why it happened. I ask myself how I could think that was her when I know, in my mind and heart, that it isn’t, that it can’t be? The instant joy, followed by disappointment buoyed on a layer of confusion and sadness, is almost too much to take in and process in seconds. But I do it, every week, when I glance and see a person who I suppose for an instant to be Mom.

I have never told anyone that this happens. It is one more entry on a laundry list of strange things that happen as I try to deal with my mom’s disease. It is just another situation that sounds crazy if I try to explain it. Stranger still, I sometimes think that, even if those moments are too strange to be explained, maybe they are not entirely unwelcome. For even if each moment is fleeting, and is inevitably followed by disappointment, for that instant I am so happy and excited to see the mom I once knew. A walk in the park, a day of shopping, having a drink at a bar are everyday experiences that we take for granted. When I think I see Mom experiencing life in the ways that I know she would be, if she only could, rather than fearing my momentary confusion, perhaps I will learn to accept it as a gift of imagination. Time will tell.

But for now I will settle for holding her hand, taking her on a walk around the ward, and helping her drink her lemonade at lunch. These moments soon will be gone, too. Though these times are different from the times we could have had together, they are the moments I now have with my mom. These moments are real, and I must cherish each one.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Take Care

This first month of the year has been anything but what I had expected. Wrought with health crises, winter storms and broken “stuff.” You would think having 31 days filled, and I mean FILLED, with all of this could about break a person, yet somehow I have remained calm and fairly balanced. This girl, who has been known to be filled with anxiety, has managed to be anything but.

Yesterday I was thinking about why I have had such a sudden change. I don't have the answer yet, but these last 31 days have brought insight. This month has taught and retaught me lessons of love, compassion, and responsibility.

  1. If you feel like something is “off” with your body, you are probably right. This statement comes from my own personal experience, as well as what others have said. Examples of feeling "off" are aches and pains that you never had before, being tired all the time, and losing hair. Or maybe it’s just the feeling that something is off and your body isn't functioning as efficiently as it should be. Now, many people will make the excuse that they are older and this is probably the reason they aren't feeling quite right.. Could be, but in my case, as well as with some of my friends, it was not age, but something out of whack with the body. Don't make excuses, find answers.

  1. If you aren't getting an answer that satisfies you, keep looking. It took more than three years for me to finally get an answer to my problem. Three years of chronic fatigue, losing strength, and feeling off despite the fact that I was eating clean, exercising, and lifting weights. Doctors were telling me that I was fine and that it was probably due to stress. After three years, you start to wonder if you are crazy, if this is just how it is going to be. I finally switched doctors and explained to her what was going on the past three years. After a full blood panel, as well as a few other tests, I had my answer within a week. I am on my road to healing my body, but others are not as lucky. They do not have three years to figure it out. Some may have a week, a day, or only hours to get treatment. Press for an answer that makes sense to you. Not an answer that makes sense to your doctor or spouse, to you. Push for it. Trust your intuition. It could be a matter of life or death.

  1. What you do to your body matters - a lot. Two of the most important things you can do for your body are to eat well and exercise. I can see some of you rolling your eyes and saying “I know, I know,” totally annoyed at this statement. Still, research shows that diet and exercise are the most important ways to keep illnesses and disease at bay. Eat whole foods. Do not eat foods that are processed and filled with chemicals and hormones. Eat in moderation. Once you have fueled your body with healthy foods - move. I CrossFit, but I am in no way, shape or form saying that is what everyone has to do. It works for me. Find what works for you. Walk, ride a bike, swim, do yoga, or play basketball. Do one or do them all. Just move and keep moving. Make it a habit. You will be so glad that you did.

  1. Slow down. We are all so “busy.” Really, it seems that we are just busy being busy- filling every spare moment with jobs, activities, and responsibilities. Then we all are so exhausted that our “spare” time is plopping down on the couch watching TV because we are too tired to do anything else. Take the time to stop whatever you are doing and greet your spouse as he or she comes in the door. Sometimes we all want to quickly put the kids to bed. We are exhausted from the day, and we just want to have a glass of wine and watch Netflix. But what about that sweet little child who just wants three extra minutes with you. She just wants a short story or to tell you something that she forgot about her day. Maybe she just needs to be with you.  Stop, snuggle in close, breathe in the smell of your little one’s messy head because the day will come when these opportunities are gone. Put down the phone and pay attention. The real world is going on all around you. A world full of messy kitchen counters, kids launching monster trucks off their homemade ramps, dogs wanting an extra pat, and the cool silence of snowfall outside your window. 

  1. You are not alone. There are times in our lives when we have felt alone. We have hated something we have done. We can't imagine anyone liking the “real” us. Or maybe you are in a situation that seems hopeless. You are in crisis and need help. And while you are up to your eyes in poo, while you feel like no one understands, that no one loves you and you feel so alone, there is an army of people battering down your door, wanting to help you. This month, three friends and their families have been in crisis mode. It was time for them to drop everything- jobs, lunch dates, all those things that keep us busy- and focus on what mattered. And guess what? Each time they couldn’t do for themselves, their battalion of helpers showed up to do for them. Family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers were eager to help. Kids got taken care of, meals were made, hugs were given, prayers went out, and tears were shared. Breathe easy and know that you are not one, but instead are part of a great and powerful army that will fight for you any day you need them.

Put down your phone, turn off the TV, get off the computer, and pay attention to the life that is happening all around you. Don't put things off until tomorrow. Listen to your body and honor it. Feed your body and mind with the good stuff. When that bad stuff starts to creep in, know that your army is waiting to do battle with you and for you. People love us even at the times it is hard for us to love ourselves. We must do the best we can with each day we are given because we never know when this day may be our last.