Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Am I Losing My Mind?"

I've often wondered what kind of abilities I'd miss most and least, as if someday I might have to choose. Personally, I think losing my eyesight would be worse than my mobility. I had a friend who lost his abilities to smell or taste, though, and that would take a bit of joy out of one's life (even if it would help shed unwanted pounds).

However, I just can't imagine not being able to see my computer screen, for one thing, but what's more, I'd miss seeing the dimples on my little boys' faces as they smile, the variegated shades of green across a wooded hillside, or the ripples in the water as the raindrops hit the surface. Then, there's the fear that surely would come when you can hear something or feel it, but you don't know what it really is, because you cannot see it. I feel shakey even considering the horror. No, I can't imagine losing my ability to see. But one thing would be worse, still: I'd hate to lose my ability to think, reason, and contemplate.

"Am I losing my mind?" That question is one that haunts me, to this day. It was asked by my paternal grandma of my mom, who was pretty much her bestest friend. My grandma had dementia. It was in the early stages, and she vacillated between lucidity and what used to be called senility. She was, literally, losing her mind. My mom insightfully commented that she thinks the worst torture one could experience on this earth would be to have enough of your faculties to know that you are losing them. And I have to agree.

According to some studies, my mom and I are far from being alone in our estimation of that horror: the diagnosis of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia is cited as being the #1 fear for older people, as well as their physicians. Why? Thinking abilities significantly impact a person's quality of life. What's more, Alzheimer's is the 7th leading cause of death among the elderly.

It was hard watching Grandma "lose her mind," hearing about her imagined son who had come back, or her mom--long-since deceased--who'd come to visit, or later yet, forgetting not only to put on her lipstick (she was always so prim!) but to cover herself properly and put in her teeth before friends entered her room.

The process of the fading of her memory was gradual, like that of an old picture as it becomes less crisp and clear and yet still clearly represents something (or someone) that once was. A person's outward beauty is like that too. But inward degeneration of a person is far more devastating.
My Classy Grammy, age 18, circa 1934
Gram, me and my younger sister Judy, circa 1981

Gram & me at my 8th grade graduation, 1992
Gram & me, the day of my high school graduation, 1996
The second and third pictures show the ways my grandma looks in my mind's eye. (My mom finally talked her into stopping with the hair dye! lol) She was active, happy, fun. She cleaned circles around anyone, despite having a bad back. She was also always "hefty" in my memory. The last picture is only a few years after the third, and yet it shows her vastly different. The regression had begun. She was living in a nursing home and losing weight. I couldn't bear to look at pictures of her past that point, even if I had them (which I don't). The funny thing is that in the third pic that I posted, I'm the age that she was in the first.

I encountered a variety of emotions looking through pictures of Gram today to post some. I smiled at happy memories and fought back tears of sadness, missing Gram. But I also grew afraid.

Even now that she's gone, my grandma's story haunts us all: Dementia, as many know, holds increased risks for those with family histories of it. The infamous Alzheimer's disease is a sub-set of dementia, and both affect not just a person's memory, but all cognitive (or mental) processes, as well. That's why Grandma didn't just forget she'd left the iron on, but she'd put it in her bed. (Yikes!)

Add to the difficulties inherent in knowing a loved one is losing cognitive abilities, the fact that Alzheimer's, like all forms of dementia, is irreversible, and the meds that can be prescribed come with heavy side-effects, and many of us notice people "slipping" but don't want to say anything. Even medical professionals sometimes fear bringing up the "A" word ("Alzheimer's") to their patients. (Of course, it's not the official "diagnosis" that really should be feared, but evidently, that's beside the point for many people.)

Another sub-set of dementia has recently been recognized, though, and it's called MCI. "MCI" stands for "Mild Cognitive Impairment," and I attended a free webinar about it last week. I learned that this intermediate condition can be treated by a new drug called Cerefolin NAC. As a medical food, this drug has proven to have no notable side effects, compared to placebos. Yet, it actually decreases brain atrophy by over 50%. The basic ingredients are active B12 and folate (the purist form of folic acid) that can cross the blood-brain barrier.

So if you have a loved one that you can see "slipping," don't be afraid to broach the subject; there may now be hope for reversing the process that can lead to full-blown dementia or Alzheimer's.

Another application of this knowledge is to eat your greens! We Americans typically don't get nearly enough folic acid in our diets; it's found in green leafy veggies, such as spinach and kale (I don't think I've ever eaten kale, have you?). Once we reach our 50s or 60s, we can't "cram" enough in to make up for a lifetime of starving our brain of needed food, but if we start early, maybe we can keep our minds sharp for a little longer.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Heart-Mirror of a Book!

Well, you may have noticed that I haven't been posting on here much, at all, lately. I have been posting other places, like my mommy blog and GoodBlogs. I can hide behind the excuse that I've been busy (which I have) and that we've been having internet connectivity issues (3 techs out here, in as many weeks!) as well as that I write on those other sites for career purposes, networking, and the potential for pay (and that is true, too). But the fuller truth is that I've been purposely avoiding this blog.

Why? Well, I read this statement this week, and it reflected my heart all too well: "If you're resisting the call of God . . . your life will be set adrift on a sea of shifting emotions and unruly ways of thinking. You are inviting depression and anger. You are tempting bitterness and confusion. You are fueling a mind-set that will stay in constant disarray, with no referenc epoint to provide any kind of stability for your life." (That quote is from chapter 2 of "Voices of the True Woman Movement" by Nancy Leigh DeMoss.)

In all the uncertainty and conflicted priorities and tough decisions that has been our lives, for this past year, I've lost my focus, and, like Peter, I've been sinking. And in this kind of water, I can't swim. Here's another excerpt from the same heart-mirror of a chapter: "Perhaps you've been there--perhaps you are there--down where life drags the floor of all human abilities, where everything feels hopeless and pointless and impossible to handle." Um, yeah. That's me. Was me. Will be me every time I take my eyes off where they should be.

The other day, I actually found myself asking Jonathan if he had a "contingency plan" regarding something we were hoping would work out and then adding, "If you don't, can you just pretend to?" He won't play my game, and he shouldn't. I shouldn't need a game. There is Someone who knows and has a plan. So why isn't that enough for me? I feel like I need to see how it makes sense, or at least the Person Who's in Charge. But I can't. Yet I must look to Him.

Yes, that craving for seeing what He doesn't let us see is mentioned in that chapter, too (in part, quoted from John Piper): "In every situation and circumstance of your life, God is always doing a thousand different things that you cannot see and you do not know. . . . the vast majority of His work is behind the scenes, providentially obscured from our view."

Those "providentially obscured" workings require faith to see. Faith, by nature, is about what can't be seen. Nancy continues to address them:

"God's ways for you--just as His ways for [Sarah, Ruth, Hannah, and Mary, in the Bible]--will not alwyas make sense to your human reasoning. . . . It may seem that His plan is not working; you can't imagine how the outcome could be anything but bleak. But you can be assured that God doesn't make mistakes.

"You don't have to know what He's doing. Or why.
"The fact is, He knows. And that's all that really matters.
"And if you trust Him, in time, you will thank Him for the treasures that have resulted from those trials."

Oh, I want the treasures, but not the trials. In the same way, I want a clean house, a fit body, and a stellar writing portfolio without the discipline and sweaty work required to achieve them.

The chapter was based on Romans 11:33-36, and I learned that the Greek word that's translated "depth" in verse 1 connects to the idea of a bath. You know how that warm, soothing water surrounds your body, making it buoyant and refreshed. Oh, the depth of the treasures of God's wisdom! If I bathe my heart and mind in His wisdom that He shares with us, I think I'll be more likely not to sink. 

Even when I can't see how His ways in my life are wise, I need to constantly bathe myself in the Truth so I'm reminded that they are. Will you help remind me of that, from time to time? I need that kind of friendship in my life.