Since becoming an Alzheimer’s Advocate, I have spoken to groups numbering 1 to 1,000. The locations have been auditoriums, small halls, retail stores, bars, and churches. Neither the number of people nor the location ever affects the way I share my Alzheimer’s story. I speak with the same passion, I speak from the heart, I speak from real life experience.
Shortly after my diagnosis in October 2014, I knew what I had to do. It was something I had been doing all my life . . . something I had done in my professional life. Since I no longer had a professional life, I knew sitting around watching TV all day was not going to do me any good. I had to talk about it.
Alzheimer’s is a funny (not a ha-ha funny) disease, in that you never know what memories you will keep or forget.
One memory I have kept is of a wonderful Manager I had years ago. He was a retired Navy guy. I’ll call him, “Mike”. “Mike” was the BEST Manager I ever had for he pushed me. When he felt I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough, he called me a “Rack Lizard.” If I remember correctly, (and no, I’m not joking) a Rack Lizard was a Navy or military term used for someone who was a bit lazy, “laying around in their rack (bed) all day.) He used it not as an insult or not because I was lazy, but as a tool to push me to be better.
It was in the early 2000’s, a very busy time in the Communications business for we were launching Digital Cable and High-Speed Internet. We were knee deep in customer calls wanting information and technical support so we had to hire a large number of temporary employees to help with the overflow. I was the Technical Support Supervisor and I felt I was not giving my regular team members the proper attention. So I went to see “Mike”.
I told him I felt like I was not reaching all my employees and I didn’t want them feeling ignored or unappreciated. What he told me as a response to my concern was something that has lived with me to this day.
He said, “As much as you would like, you are not going to reach every single person. However, if you can reach at least 1 person and that 1 person succeeds because of your interaction, then you have done your job.”
It was awesome advice. From that point forward, I remembered what “Mike” said and it got me through some frustrating times. Although it was excellent advice, the flip side was you never really knew whose life you may have touched, who that 1 person is.
Well, I got see to see that 1 person.
I recently co-moderated a couple of focus groups. We spoke to 2 different groups and they were individuals with Dementia-Related Diseases as well as their Caregivers. The discussions ranged from how they (the person with the Disease as well as their Caregiver) are managing their lives to what they learned from their Physician when they were first diagnosed.
The discussions were very interesting for I could relate to almost every person in the group. We may have had a different Dementia-Related Disease, but some of the symptoms are the same. The first group was a bit reserved at first but after they warmed up to us, they opened up. We felt it was a great success.
The second group was fewer in number but they opened up immediately. One particular person, I’ll call her “Sally”, was very anxious. She was there with her sister.“Sally” had not yet been diagnosed but was showing signs of someone with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s. (I am not a Doctor and my opinions are my own.) Her sister said she had become extremely forgetful and was getting wore.
From what her sister shared with us, “Sally” was consistently worrying about things she forgot about the day before. She was forgetting about the present day and was not remembering what was going going to happen tomorrow. Basically, she was worrying 24/7 and not really focusing on the here and now.
As I said previously, “Mike’s” advice had a huge impact on me, so much that I use it when I give my “Alzheimer’s: Up Close and Personal” presentation.
It comes in the latter part of the presentation . . . “As much as I would like to reach every single person in the world, I know that is not possible. However, if I can affect at least one person in a positive way, I am doing my job.”
I gave “Sally” some of my own advice that worked for me. I told her (and reminded her sister to help her remember) to let go of the things she forgot about the day before and not worry about tomorrow. The only thing she could do was to live in the here and now . . . LIVE IN THE MOMENT! She began to repeat the phrase over and over as if she was trying to burn it into her brain. Surprisingly, it calmed her, not completely but she was a lot better than what she was. Her sister told me she would help her to remember.
Now, when I talk to folks, I don’t usually see them again, unless I go back to that same group. Being I was out-of-town, I knew I would probably never see these folks again. I would have to hope that my words helped them in some way . . . not everyone, but just one.
The next day, I was going back to my hotel and I was hungry. I figured I would stop off at Publix and get both lunch and dinner so I could just eat in my room. I was at the deli counter when I heard someone saying, “excuse me sir . . . excuse me sir.” I turned and it was “Sally’s” sister. She said, “It IS you!” then proceeded to give me a great big hug.
She said, since they left the focus group, “Sally” was changed. She was a bit more relaxed and would say every now and then, “I’m going to live in the moment.” She thanked me for making a difference in “Sally’s” life by listening to her and giving her advice that truly made a difference and had a positive impact. I immediately thought of “Mike” and how finally, after all these years, I experienced “THE ONE!”
We spoke for a few more minutes and I left to go find my dinner. I admit, I was a bit teary-eyed after experiencing something I thought I would never experience. But my joyful moment was interrupted by another voice . I heard, “Mr. Brian . . . Mr. Brian, is that you?” Lo and behold, it was “Sally”. She was waiting for a prescription. She ran up to me and gave me a great big hug, saying, “Thank You, Thank You, Thank You! You changed my life!!!”
I may have, but I don’t remember ever hearing those words before. I just let her hug me and I hugged her back. She told me she had been “Living in the Moment” since the day before and she didn’t even worry about things she forgot. She said she slept the whole night through for the first time since she could remember. She couldn’t thank me enough and she would never forget me and would pray for me and my family as I lived with my Alzheimer’s.
What a WOW moment!!! It was an incredible feeling but also very humbling. Once I got back to the car, tears flowed. I have given that advice to probably thousands of people and not once has it come back like this. It was a life-changing moment. Now that I have it in print, I will be less likely to forget this experience but if I do, I’ll remember when I re-read this.
I owe a debt of gratitude to “Mike” for sharing his knowledge, his experience and his words of wisdom with me, oh those many years ago. “Mike” your words have served me well, sir and in case you haven’t experienced “the one”, well he’s writing this blog post!
Now, about that Rack Lizard term . . . . :)