I've been reading an inspirational self-help book called Choose Yourself, by James Altucher. I happened upon his blog via a Twitter site I follow called Positively Positive. It linked to a post by Altucher. The post spoke to me. I was in a particularly dark mood.
I read a couple more posts, following the links on the side bar and felt like someone who understood me was actually talking to me. Given the number of comments on each post, heaps of people feel the same way. That’s good to know; the power of the internet to connect.
So why was I in a dark mood? At the risk of conjuring up the mood again, I’ll go there; summarise.
Last year was a trial. In April, after it became clear that mum wasn't coping with living alone, I/we began to come to terms with my mother’s memory loss; her dementia. (Talk about words with negative connotations!) Much of the year was about finding a place for mum to live where she could potentially be happy. We tried having her live between my sister and I, but that was awful for everyone.
After the requisite assessments for mum, I started looking for an Aged Care Facility offering low level care with potential for mum to move to high care as and when she needed it. This is a really depressing task. Actually, that’s an understatement. It’s a nightmare which begins with glossy brochures from the Aged Care Assessment service and lots of internet searches. I actually only visited three hostels before I found a place for mum. Suppose that’s lucky. The first three places left me sobbing in the car afterwards. After the fourth place, I didn't cry. Felt bleak, of course, but thought, as I looked over at the fountains in Queen’s Park across the road, that mum might be okay in that place. They had a vacancy and in August, mum moved in. (Reading that back, I make it sound so easy. It wasn't.)
Heaps of people have been through this process. It truly sucks, despite what the glossy brochures tell you about Aged Care Facilities. Where mum is they display big colour photos of the residents having a wonderful time, apparently. My mum has starred in a couple. In one I saw the other day she is the archetypal daft looking old person – won’t say woman because gender doesn't seem to be a factor in these shots. She’s holding the ‘stalk’ of some sort of big helium filled balloon flower arrangement and wearing a silver ‘tiara’ that says 'Happy New Year!' She’s smiling off into the middle distance. I hate seeing my mum like this. It's something she would have scorned in her former life.
I pointed her out to herself - never miss an opportunity! - when we were walking along the corridor the other day. She peered. ‘That’s never me,’ she protested. So what? She seemed to be having a better new year celebration than I was at my place, pissed off at all the fireworks making my insomnia even worse.
I ‘get mum out’ of the facility a couple of times a week. When I arrive she’s always surprised and delighted to see me. Why wouldn't she be? She has few visitors and I never tell her when I’m going to drop in. She forgets anyway.
I’m scared writing this because I’m perhaps fueling the stereotype of the elderly person with dementia. There is a stereotype. Whenever I talk about mum everyone makes it quite clear that their own aged person is/was ‘sharp as a tack/sharp until the end’. Seems it’s better to need assistance getting dressed or getting around. Clearly you’re lower down the scale if you need a bit of reorientation in the morning; a reminder what day it is – and really, who cares what freaking day it is? Or what year? But yes, everyone wants to make it quite clear that their aged parent has/had no cognitive impairment.
Don’t think mum is suffering. She misses my dad but she’s not wracked with grief now, nearly two years after he died. She’s truly living in the minute. She has few worldly possessions apart from a few framed photos and paintings on her walls, her comfy recliner chair and her old Queen Anne chest of drawers. Her bed is a single hospital Occupational Health and Safety approved job. All her goods and chattels have been dispersed among the family, op shops and eBay. She quite likes that I've got her sixties teak dining table and chairs in my kitchen now. But she’s not bothered about all that ‘stuff’ that she’d acquired during her adult life. Furthermore, she sleeps for twelve hours a night. I wish.
As I've written before, you wouldn't necessarily know my mum has dementia unless you spend lots of time with her. She's still canny.
The other day I took her to the podiatrist. It's a short walk from my house, down to the corner and across the road. Mum was a tad disorientated, unsure which way to turn at each intersection. I got a bit frustrated as mum dithered about which way to turn because I forgot- sheesh! - that mum's brain wasn't sparking as it used to. I made her link arms with me and this solved the problem. (This sounds minor but it's not. It's a constant reminder that even though mum is physically the same, mentally she's not the person that she was.)
I accompanied mum into the podiatrist's office. In what I assume was a normal voice, he asked me questions about mum's feet. 'Why don't you ask mum?' I said.
Holding mum's hammer toed left foot in his hands, he beamed up at her - she was in the high chair, of course - and started talking to her like she was a two year old.
Farque alors. I didn't want to queer our pitch by telling him to talk in a normal voice.
And then his phone rang. "Sorry, I have to take this,' he said. He held onto mum's foot with one hand and answered his phone with the other.
He then regaled the person on the other end with the story of some prospective employee, who he named, having reneged on a job he was due to start the next day. We listened in to the conversation. After he hung up he filled us in on the details of this guy who'd been 'so unprofessional', giving so little notice that he's taken up another job offer; leaving this practice in the lurch.
He finished mum's feet and then we left.
As we were walking home she said "I actually thought he was being unprofessional giving us all that information. Didn't you?' And that's the thing. Just when I think mum's lost it she chimes in with something so apt.
This post doesn't tell the half of why all this has led me to a dark place. It's possibly my particular sensibilities. I over-empathise; can't go through all this without seeing myself in twenty years and then thinking why not quit now, while I'm ahead?
The James Altucher blog and book helped. I carried out one of his Daily Practice suggestions the other day. One thing he suggests is to forgive someone. You don't have to tell them - I'm paraphrasing Altucher - just write it down on a piece of paper and burn the paper. "It turns out this has the same effect in terms of releasing oxytocin in the brain as actually forgiving them." That's from his book, Choose Yourself. $1.86 Australian on Amazon Kindle.
Well, assuming that my brain needed oxytocin - whatever that is - I wrote my little note on a piece of paper, all the time feeling ridiculous. Then I thought about burning it. Now I live in Melbourne, and it's stinking hot and it was a Total Fire Ban day. Looked over at the kitchen sink and the lighter. Uh-uh, I thought. I'll probably set fire to the curtains and then burn the whole freaking house down. So I folded the paper a couple of times then ripped it into tiny pieces which I fluttered into the recycling bin. By the time I'd finished I was bubbling with laughter. Was that oxytocin or am I an 'oxy-moron'? It certainly lifted my mood.
There's some good advice in Altucher's book, and if you have the wherewithall, you could make zillions of bucks.