It’s taken me two years to actually write this post. That’s when I first realized my mind is slipping away and it would be a good idea to document what I still know. Which, by omission, will chronicle what I’ve lost.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association website, I have no risk factors to suffer dementia; no genetic predisposition, none of the physical or mental traits linked to the condition. Still, our health transcends physical science, and intuition tells me that, unless an accident trips me up sooner, I am going to be done in by my mind.
Why do I make such a preposterous claim?
First, I know my body’s weaknesses. Most of my physical systems are in good shape: circulation, muscles, spine, respiratory, digestive, endocrine, lymphatic; all fine. But my neurological system has been faulty from the start. I’ve had random chest palpitations, nervous twitches, and numb extremities for most of my life. My one and only MRI displayed an asymmetrical spinal chord rubbing perilously close to my vertebrae. The radiologist whistled and said, “Whoa, you’re going to have all kinds of weirdness with that.” Thanks, doc.
Second, my brain is too busy to remain healthy as long as the rest of me. It goes all the time. It obsesses, it digresses, it offers up vibrant dreams while I sleep and instead of seeking serenity when I practice yoga or ride my bike, it rifles through exhaustive, arbitrary connections. My brain is so frickin’ busy it’s bound to wear out before the rest of me. So many people have noted that I live in my head; there will be a certain justice if I die in it as well. At least, that’s what I think.
Third, I believe dementia will be my demise because it’s already creeping into my life. Sure, I have the minor cranial annoyances that come with age. I have to make lists to remember things; there is no more space in my brain for new songs to root, no matter how catchy the tune; and I confuse my children’s names, which is pathetic since I have only two. Everyone in their fifties suffers these petty embarrassments.
But I’ve encountered some more sinister problems. Like time lapses. I am walking along the street, or perhaps riding my bike, and a brain pulse identifies my surrounding as completely new. I catch myself, reorient, and realize that some period of time has failed to register. I was there, and now I’m here, but I have no link between the two. I lost the continuity that marks how we move through space.
So far I’ve never suffered a gap in time while driving, which would be dangerous, or long enough that I fall off my bike or a curb. But I do slow down. Sometimes, when I recover my sense of place I am standing still without any idea how long I’ve been standing there.
Although these experiences are exactly the opposite of being ‘in the moment’ they have a similarly mystical quality. Since my time lapses began two years ago they don’t seem to increase in frequency, though they occur often enough that now, when they happen, I make note without too much wonder.
Last week my brain deterioration took a new twist when I hit an unprecedented low in name recall. At a fund raising dinner, my table host’s name was a complete blank. I’ve known her for years. I remembered all sorts of peripheral stuff about her; her job, her partner where she lived, committees we’d worked on together. I knew everything I needed to know – except her name. I did fine with the names of new people at the table and visitors who came up to chat, but during every conversation my active mind was running a background search for her name to no avail. We’ve all suffered this awkward experience before, dancing around a misplaced memory. But I’d never had it so bad for so long. For a full hour I racked my brain to no avail. Finally, thankfully, in time for a proper goodbye, her name popped into my head. Joanne. Simple as that.
What will I forget next time? How long will it take me to retrieve it? When I call some name to the fore, will I have any confidence in what my memory serves?
This post is titled Losing My Mind – Part One, because I expect there will be others. I will try to document my slipping away as a strategy to hold on to everything I still have. Let’s hope that takes a long, long time.