Saturday, May 2, 2015

How Do You Fix A Broken Mind?

My latest column, in May's edition of The Laker ... 

How do you know you're losing your mind?

I don't mean a scenario where one day, you wake up and your mind completely snaps and you go on a murderous rampage for no reason, or you trap and eat your neighbour's cat for dinner, with a nice Chianti.

I'm talking about those times that you can't, for the life of you, think of the word you want to say.

I'm talking about those times that you're in mid-sentence, and have no idea where you were going with the conversation.

I'm talking about letting the dog out one night, and suddenly realizing you have no idea how long you've been standing there with the door open, staring at the stars, in the cold.

I'm talking about not being able to remember the name of the hair colour product, that you've used for over ten years.

I'm talking about reading the directions on how to cook something, getting to the stove, and having to turn around and read the directions again, because you can't remember what you just read.

I'm talking about the times your child says to you, 'Hey mom, remember the time when ...'  and although you reply with, 'Oh YEAH', and smile and nod, you silently realize you really have no idea what they're referring to.  And it makes you sad that you simply don't remember.

THAT'S the type of 'losing your mind' I'm talking about.

I have experienced every single one of these scenarios.

I'm 44yrs old.

Yes, I understand our brains change as we get older. We forget things.  It's a natural sign of aging, and the natural progression of 'getting old'.

But when should you start to worry that what you're experiencing is not only a natural symptom of age, but perhaps the warning signs of early onset Alzheimers, which affects people in their 40's and 50's?

My grandmother is 90 yrs old. Over the past few years, we noticed a drastic change in her personality.  Little things at first, like being forgetful, or not having a sense of time, or who she was talking to.

But now, it's full fledged dementia.  She has no idea where she is, she has no mobility, she can no longer speak, and she no longer recognizes her children or grandchildren, and won't accept affection from any of us.

While I love my grandmother dearly, I hate seeing her like this, and I worry.

I worry that given the issues I have with my own memory, I'm seeing into my future, and it scares the crap out of me.

I didn't really spend too much time thinking about my memory loss, until I recently watched a movie called, Still Alice.

If you have someone in your family suffering from Alzheimers, I HIGHLY recommend seeing this.

It was a fantastic movie, about a smart, professional, educated woman struggling with early onset Alzheimers, and her journey through it with her family. Someone who was considered 'young' and who was completely taken by surprise by the diagnosis.

As movies tend to do, it made me smile, it made me laugh, and it made me cry.

But it also made me think.

About myself.  About my future.  About my mind.

I'm scared. There.  I've said it.  I'm scared to end up in a chair, completely immobile, and unaware of my surroundings or my kids. 

I'm terrified of losing, myself.

And I'm scared that it's already started.

This morning, I was having a conversation with the boy, and mid-sentence, I couldn't think of the word I wanted.

This was not the first time this has happened.

I knew what I wanted to say.  I knew EXACTLY what I WANTED to say, but I just could NOT get that word to formulate in my brain, and come out of my mouth.

Perhaps I've just been thinking about all this too much lately, because I started to cry.  I didn't mean to, it just happened because I was frustrated, but I think it scared the boy.

And I don't want to do that.

So after he left, I got online.

I searched for 'symptoms of early onset Alzheimers'. 

And then I made a phone call, and booked myself into a free Memory Clinic being run by True North Clinical Research.

I go in three weeks.

I've never done anything like this before, so I have no idea what to expect.

They asked me a few questions over the phone to determine WHY I wanted to do this, and although they said that these types of symptoms can be brought on by stress, or even worry about HAVING dementia, they still thought I should come in based on what I told them.

I'm happy I made the appointment.  If nothing else, they will tell me how my brain is functioning in comparison to other 44 yr olds.

And I'm still scared.  I'm scared of what else it might tell me.

But I'd rather know for sure, what may or may not be going on in my brain, so I can finally stop worrying about it.

Breaking a bone, dislocating a shoulder, having a cold, even many diseases can be cured and fixed.

But, how do you fix a broken mind?

How do you fix losing yourself and the person you once were?

How do you hold on to the memories, that you feel are like grains of sand, slipping though that hourglass and the sand is running out, and you have no way to flip that glass to keep things flowing.

I don't want to be an empty hourglass. 

Photo by Salvatore Vuono and taken from

I'm terrified to find out the answers to these questions.  But I'm more terrified of doing nothing and not knowing.

So one way or another, I'm going to find out!

I suggest that if you have ANY doubt about your mental health, you should, too!

And with any luck ... I'm just getting old naturally, and the neighbour's cat is safe for a few more years, yet!


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