In 1996, Barbra Streisand directed and starred in the movie, “The Mirror Has Two Faces.” Streisand plays a homely-looking, Columbia University English Professor with low self esteem issues, who, through a personal ad placed by her sister, meets Jeff Bridges , a Columbia University leading figure in the Math Dept. They agree to marry based upon what they describe as a “palsy-walsy pseudo-marriage.” They see each other, as well as themselves, being not who they really are but seeing themselves only on the surface.
At this point, you may be asking yourself, “What does Alzheimer’s have to do with a Barbra Streisand movie? Well, other than the title of the movie, it has to do with the perception of how we see ourselves and how others see us. This brought to mind what I wanted to write about. Confused? Great! Welcome to my world.
Maybe this will help:
More than several months ago, at least I think it was, Shannon (my beautiful, understanding, loving wife) and I were returning home after a presentation I gave to a local Rotary Club. I always ask her how things went for I know she will be honest with me. This time, instead of giving me an answer, she started to cry. (I must tell you that due to the fact that Alzheimer’s has already begun its destruction of my short-term memory, I don’t remember many things, however, I do remember this.)
I asked her what was wrong and this is what she told me.
“You stand up there looking all polished and professional, reading from your prepared speech, smiling, cracking jokes, basically being the man I fell in love with, the man I married, the man I terribly miss.
They, your audience, don’t see who you are when you are away from the spotlight.
They don’t see the confusion, the anger, the anxiousness.
They don’t see the man who can’t remember how to do the simplest of chores.
They don’t see the man who has a reminder on his phone to eat and to take a bath.
They don’t see the man who can’t remember something he was told 5-10 minutes ago.
They don’t see the man who, without a prepared speech or notes can’t speak without stuttering or going blank.
So I’m sad and I’m pissed off that you can show that side of yourself when you are in the public eye but they don’t get to see what Alzheimer’s has done to you . . . what it has done to us.
How do you do that?”
I was speechless. To be honest, I had no answer. I just sat there feeling sad. I knew she wasn’t mad at me, that she was mad at the situation. I feel sad right now writing the words as I recall that event, not sad for myself, but for her. You see, she thought she was getting someone she would get to spend the rest of her life with travelling, laughing, living out all the dreams we shared. Now she sees only glimpses of that man . . . glimpses of me or who I used to be.
The only explanation I could give her was the Public Relations / Marketing / Advertising guy was stored somewhere in my long-term memory bank. When I got in front of an audience, whether it was 1, 10 or 100, something clicked. All of the insecurities and difficulties that Alzheimer’s brought on just went away and the long-term stuff came flooding forward. It only happened when I was Advocating for Alzheimer’s. I had no other way of explaining it.
There’s a part in every speech I give where I say, “This is the best job I have ever had that I don’t get paid for.”
I guess my passion for what I do pushes through the fog and allows me to get my message out. The funny thing is, when Shannon and I first met one another and we just sort of clicked, we said to one another, “Everything Happens for a Reason!” I think there was more to this reasoning thing than we realized.
After she told me how I am perceived in public compared to how I am in reality, it made me realize how difficult it is for people to understand that I, and other people like me, have Alzheimer’s Disease. We probably all have that dual persona, one where the long-term memories kick in and and the other where it turns off. It also makes me realize that more Alzheimer’s Awareness and Education is needed in our society.
The biggest takeaway is understanding what a Care Partner goes through on a day-to-day basis. I (and those of us with Alzheimer’s) don’t remember how we act, what we say, how we say it, etc., but our Care Partners do and it’s probably the most difficult job imaginable. It’s why I use the term Care Partner instead of Care Giver. It’s because they are right there along with us, loving and caring for us every step of the way.
I found a quote from “The Mirror Has Two Faces” that I thought to be pertinent.
Rose Morgan: This thing that we call a wedding ceremony is really the final scene of the fairy tale. They never tell you what happens after. They never tell you that Cinderella drove the Prince crazy with her obsessive need to clean the castle, cause she missed her day job, right?
The quote reminds me of my diagnosis and because I’m not able to work any longer, how I probably drive Shannon and the kids crazy with all my bitching and complaining about things that really don’t amount to a hill of beans; how they have to put up with my anxiousness and OCD; how I snap their heads off if I am having a bad day; how I forget things oh so quickly.
I know I’m not easy to live with because of this damn disease, but I’m still me, not all the time, but for now at least some of the time. I know the face I and my family see in the mirror. We don’t like it all the time but it is what it is. I have no choice but to accept it. My family chooses to accept it.
I think it’s why the one thing I DO REMEMBER is how much I love them and how very much they love me. I also appreciate the friends that have not deserted me, with hopes they NEVER go away.