Losing Your Mind

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This week I started meditating. With commitment. In a subsequent post I’ll share more about why, ‘why now’ and the approach that I think will work for me to do so with discipline for personal commitment. What I know about bringing all I have learned into practice with intention, is that the mind can be such a force. A control over and for us. It creates our reality. It compels us to have emotions, make decisions, to demonstrate the full spectrum of our nature and nurturing.

Thanks to a recommendation from my brother-in-law of a book written by a student of the writing school in which he is enrolled, I am nearly finished with Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey. A first novel about a woman with Alzheimer’s and the story of her life which includes the story of her missing sister who disappeared when they were girls. The author moves back and forth from the forgetful, caregiver-dependant episodes of the narrator back to events in her childhood.

I was able to start the novel during our vacation these past few weeks, having given myself permission to read a novel. An exercise I know is good for my mind – to rest, to retreat a bit.  I was worried about sticking with the main character’s memory lapses but with her as the narrator and the intertwining of the story of her earlier life, it properly sucked me in. It was a great way to spend a few minutes here and there as we transitioned through different parts of our travels and places. I also began the non-fiction on meditation that would inform my new practice. Balance in genres, always.

During our return flight from Europe, I watched Still Alice. The only remaining 2015 Oscar Nominee yet to see. Yes, Julianne Moore truly deserved this one. It might have been that the book I’m reading that has connected me directly to the illness, or to lagging intestinal distress or the complete relax from being ‘away from it all’ on vacation, but I wept though most of the movie. What a compelling demonstration of the feeling of loss for this brilliant linguistic professor. The way in which the family covets moments of ‘her’ in their repeating interactions. In an early part of her diagnosis she tells her husband (played by Alec Baldwin), “I wish I had cancer. At least everyone gives you a pink ribbon day and rallies for you.” With cancer, there was a chance she could win.

Today in skimming the news, Flipboard shared a NYT times story “The Last Day of Her Life.” Again about a very accomplished woman named Sandy Bem who also had Alzheimer’s. A year ago, tomorrow, she took her own life. After living five years with the mind deteriorating disease.

This all reminds me of a volunteer role just after my undergraduate education and during a time of working odd jobs. I spent evenings with a woman with Alzheimer’s so her husband could go play cards with his friends. I did this because a close friend was also a companion volunteer to her. It was my first exposure to this mysterious and emotionally painful disease. I’m thankful for my friend’s influence as I realize now that brought perspective to me I would not have necessarily undertook. The woman would spend much of our two hours together preparing for her date with Carl. They were to go to a ball. She would lay out her gloves, her jewelry, her dress, the undergarments that she carefully selected. She would ask about her hair, her makeup, her nails. Every detail. Her recollection and descriptions connected me to an earlier time. A time nearly 40 years earlier. Every night I spent with her, her mind was living out her most treasured memories.

As I reflect through my own mindfulness and face the official record of turning another year older tomorrow, I am aware of how precious are the respective abilities of our minds. To think, reason, relate, connect, analyze, and decide. How complex all of this is and how we overcomplicate the complexity.  Another attribute of the mind.

Selfishly I can’t fathom having to deal with the disease in someone I love or myself. I only know friends who have. Having had a concussion 20 years ago, I hope my own hard head was able to heal correctly. I am thankful for the doctor who required a helmet for frequent roller-blading shortly after the injury. I’m more thankful for the courage to still get out (and that I didn’t fall.)

I consistently read the NFL-related news on concussions and consider not supporting the sport moving forward. A sport I was raised to love. Something I can chose to do. I can’t understand how so many get this disease who aren’t victims of severe brain injury. Why would we as a society support momentary pleasure in sporting events with a high likelihood to cause life-altering brain injury?

Additionally, I can mindfully support Alzheimer’s research and prevention as part of our annual giving. I look forward to continuing to bring knowledge to my mind about this disease. To learn. To share.

In what ways have you been affected by this disease? 

What organizations do you support? 

Tomorrow on my birthday, I am also going to celebrate Sandy Bem’s life. Her courage, her legacy to so many mindful things. And I’ll commit to meditation so I can be mindful about more.