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 . . . . 🙂
I was recently challenged by my friend Diane Tisseur, Groovy Lens Photographic Art (check her out) from Quebec, Canada, to post a Nature Photograph for 7 days, while challenging a new person each day to do the same. I’m so glad she did.
Being asked to do something with my photographs forced me to look at what I had photographed years ago. Seeing these images brought back feelings of joy, peace and satisfaction. It also filled me with a sense of pride to look at some of the beautiful things I created using my camera, my iPhone but especially, my mind.
Seeing these images transports me back in time, a time I can remember clearly. It’s like listening to your favorite song or smelling a favorite/familiar scent. You go back to that particular time and experience what you were feeling at that time. Being my short-term memory is depleting, utilizing my long-term memory allows to clearly experience the joy and excitement I once had about photography.
It is also forcing me to think outside the box in an effort to take new photographs. It’s giving me a new sense of purpose, a feeling of excitement. To be honest, it’s giving an escape from thinking only of Alzheimer’s.
So, thank you Diane, for giving me a gift I already had but was hidden in the back of the closet. I’m digging it out and will be putting it to good use.
It’s Valentine’s Day once again . . . the yearly celebration of love, romance, flowers, chocolate and Hallmark cards. It’s a Day set aside every year to remind those of whom we love just how much their love is appreciated.
For those of us with Alzheimer’s, we may not remember from one day to the next what day it actually is. Tomorrow, we may forget that today was Valentine’s Day, yet we will still tell (and show) our Spouse/Significant Other/Family/Care Partner just how much we love them. For us, without really knowing, every day could be Valentine’s Day and we wouldn’t have a clue.
To be honest, the only reason I know It’s Valentine’s Day is because it says so on my calendar. It may sound strange but I no longer know what day it is. I go by the numbers of the month. I sort of know when the weekend is because everyone will be home. I still won’t know if it’s a Saturday or Sunday but I will know it’s a weekend. 3 day weekends, however, confuse the hell out of me. Looking at the calendar now, I see tomorrow is Presidents Day . . . a holiday . . . CONUFUSION DAY!!! LOL
But back to Valentine’s Day. I tell my Wife / Care Partner / Best Friend Shannon “I LOVE YOU” several times a day. I do the same with Asheton and Bradley. For Shannon, I will write her a note and leave it on her pillow or bedside table, send her a text or an e-mail, not just on a holiday, Anniversary or special day, but on any day, at the moment I think of it. If I don’t, I’ll forget. For the kids, I’ll send them a corny joke or just a little something just so they know I am thinking about them.
Why should we wait for a special romantic holiday to tell our special someone how much we love them and how much we appreciate all they do for us? One day, we will not be able to communicate those things with whom we love the most. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my family to ever wonder how much I loved them or if I ever appreciated them. I want the last words they ever hear from me, the last words I want them to remember me saying, is “I LOVE YOU!”
I guess what I am trying to say is, don’t wait for a holiday to come along to tell your loved ones just how much you love them. And no, I’m not just speaking as someone with Alzheimer’s, I’m speaking just as a person. You never know when that “last time” you see or speak to someone will be. So, don’t let a card say the words for you. Say the words with your own voice. Don’t wait until you’re not able to communicate to then try to communicate your feelings. Tell them now and tell them often.
Although I won’t remember saying those words to them or hearing those words from them, they will remember hearing those words from me and hopefully, feel them in their heart forever.
To me, that’s all that matters.
One of the things that makes me angry about having Alzheimer’s Disease are people that DO NOT WANT TO UNDERSTAND that I, and people like me, still know what’s going on around them and can still carry on an intelligent conversation. Sure, the words may not flow as evenly and smoothly as they did before, the mind may not allow us to remember the conversation an hour or a day or a week from now, but we still enjoy being in the moment.
Before my diagnosis, I had friends . . . lots of friends, or so I thought. These people who I thought were friends kept in contact with me, returned a phone call whether or not I left a message, would interact me with through Social Media or in person. Where in the hell are these people now? I have no idea. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not mad that these people don’t talk to me anymore, I mad for the reason they don’t talk to me anymore. There’s a difference , and in addition, I feel sorry for them.
People that don’t understand something or have misconceptions of something tend to make their own decisions about that something. It’s called STIGMATIZATION!
(WOW, the Alzheimer’s Guy knows a big word and can use it properly in a sentence. Imagine that?)
When it comes to Alzheimer’s Stigma, the Alzheimer’s Association does a great job of describing it and how to deal with it here : Alzheimer’s Stigma @alz.org
Here are a couple of examples of stigma the Alzheimer’s Association uses:
– A diagnosis may test friendships. Friends may refuse to believe your diagnosis or withdraw from your life, leaving a feeling of abandonment or isolation.
The first part of this I believe to be true.
The 2nd part about isolation and abandonment is not. My wife and kids, as well as the friends that have stuck with me, and some family members, have not allowed me to feel abandoned and/or isolated. I am thankful for their continued presence in my life.
I can’t say the same for others.
– Relationships with family (and friends) may change. Family members (and friends) may not want to talk about the disease, perceive you as having little or no quality of life, or may avoid interacting with you.
This is the biggest issue. I really feel that most of my friends just don’t know how to deal with my disease, or just don’t want to deal with me having the disease, so they just don’t deal with me at all.
This was one of the main reasons I created a Facebook page. I still post “some Alzheimer’s related things” on my profile but my Facebook page is strictly for Alzheimer’s related information. Due to lack of engagement on my Facebook profile, I felt people would rather read about family and funny things instead of the reality of Alzheimer’s.
In case you’re interested, my page is: My Alzheimer’s Journey
For more examples and information on Alzheimer’s Stigma, go to: Alzheimer’s Stigma @alz.org
All of this is glaringly evident to me since I no longer work and since I no longer drive. It’s not like I stay at home and do nothing. I spend a lot of my time researching and Advocating for Alzheimer’s. For me, my Advocacy has turned out to be the best job I have ever had without getting paid and has introduced me to some pretty wonderful people, both with and without Alzheimer’s.
You see, I’ve learned to overcome the Alzheimer’s Stigma. It took me a little while and because I still retain my long-term memories, I still miss the friends I “used to have” but it hasn’t stopped me from living. I’m still active on Social Media, I still make phone calls and leave messages, I still wait for the phone to ring from the people that say they will call me back.
Does the fact that my phone goes days without ringing make me feel sorry for myself? No!
Does it piss me off? Sometimes, but all I can say to that is, it’s their loss.
My life is simple now. It’s not what I envisioned my retirement to be but just the same, it’s simple. I live with 3 amazing people who love me and take care of me, and I have my little furry friend who is always by my side. He’s also an excellent listener.
I know the world would be a much better place in which to live if there were no racism, no inequality in the workplace, no unnecessary violence, and if we could all gather as a world and join hands every once in while and sing Kum-Ba-Yah.
Until that happens, just do me favor . . . just because someone, a friend or not, has a disease, do not abandon or isolate that person. There is a great chance if the tables were turned, that person would stick by your side.
At this time of year, most everyone starts looking back at the past 12 months with wonder as to where the time has gone. Please don’t think I’m more confused than I already am. I know it’s Christmas Eve and not New Year’s Eve. I’m just getting a jump start.
You may be thinking:
Were my New Year’s Resolutions successfully carried out?
Were plans, made early in the year, brought to fruition?
Did I become the better person I set out to be?
Why didn’t I start that Christmas Saving account like I planned?
It’s the natural thing to do. It helps to look at the un-dones and positively plan for the future, a future we don’t know.
As for me, Alzheimer’s has taken away my abilities to look at the immediate past with clarity. I’m not saying that for you to feel sorry for me, I’m just letting you know. I can see some of the past but most of it is guesswork.
The phrase, “You cannot change your past” comes to mind so there’s really no use in looking back or dwelling upon the “what if’s!”
So I look for the postive’s in having Alzheimer’s. It helps get me through each day. You see, the only thing I can do at this point is to “Live in the Moment” and enjoy those moments to the best of my ability.
So, on this Christmas Eve . . .
I will not look to the past for accomplishments or miscues
I will not look to the future for I have no idea what waits for me
I will look at the beautiful face of the woman who has pledged her love and life to me and be so very, unbeleievably thankful she has put up with me through all of this.
I will look at the faces of my 21 and 15 young adult children who each and every day day give me not only their love, but their support, kindness and patience.
I will think about my 28 year old son and the young man he has turned out to be.
I will think about the little, tiny Yorkie-Chihuahua fur ball named Dallas who has made such a difference in my every day life.
I guess not having the ability to look at the past makes it easier to look at the here and now. The past is what we had, the present is what we have now and the future, well, there’s no certainty as to what we will have.
So, if you like, you can join me on this Christmas Eve, not thinking about what was, or thinking about what will be, but instead about what is. The “IS” is right here, right now.
Enjoy It . . . Experience It!
The “IS” is now!
Until Next Time,
PEACE and Merry Christmas!