Saturday, June 13, 2015

Bucket List - NOT or Don't Worry Be Happy

A few days ago I asked Sweetie if he had a bucket list which started a whole bucket list conversation and stopped my writing in its tracks. I decided I was going to write about bucket lists in general then narrow it down to our personal lists. I started but never got past quotes from the Jack Nicholson/Morgan Freeman movie. Perhaps it's the fact that I don't have my own list that got in the way. Which came first - the list or the essay?

Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow,
 it only saps today of its joy.
Leo Buscaglia

It is also possible that I stopped writing because I had begun the descent into stay-in-the-bed sadness. I'm a total ostrich when it comes to facing tough stuff. Even though I've learned over the years that depression is not my friend, it is my go-to defense mechanism. At least in the beginning. Close the curtains, unplug the phone, then give me clean sheets and a fluffy pillow, a cat curled up at my feet, a CD the soft, soothing sounds of ocean surf or gentle rain, and I'll show you how to hibernate through most any problem except a house fire. I am fully aware that this method of coping is not helpful or good for the rest of my body, yet nothing feeds denial like morphean oblivion. Ask any Grizzly bear.

When not asleep, I've been worrying. I only know one person who can worry more than I do. She's 94 years old. She lives alone with no one to talk to except her son who spends a whopping 15 minutes with her every day and me. This gives her 23 hours and 45 minutes a day to worry. Like Mary I tend to worry about my own health as well as others. If I get a mosquito bite, I feel sure I'll come down with West Nile Virus. A headache will send me to the mirror to see if I can still smile without half my face dragging. Forget where I put the keys? It's a pretty good bet that I've got dementia. Only now, Sweetie has dementia for real. With all that comes with that, what if I have it too? Or cancer? Or both, plus West Nile? Criminy, it's enough to send even a normal person to bed.

 If I've heard it once, I've heard it a kazillion times. That age old caregiver adage "Put your own oxygen mask on first." I've had to restrain myself when on an airplane and the flight attendant goes into her spiel. I swear, those 7 words makes me nuts. Every caregiver I know would love to spend a few minutes of self care inhaling pure oxygen, or downing a shot of tequila, or grabbing a quick nap, but I dare say the only time this is possible is in a locked bathroom. Sitting on the toilet and taking a few deep breaths is the ultimate in multi-taking. I decided this week it was time to put on my own oxygen mask. I made an appointment with my psychiatrist.

DR. J: Mary, it's so good to see you.
ME: Yes, it's been awhile.
Dr. J: I hope life has been treating you well.
ME: Not so much (half chuckle/half groan) I guess that's why I'm here. We just learned Sweetie has ALZ.
Dr. J: No words necessary. The look on his face says it all.
ME: (I give the short version of the last year - memory loss, doctors, tests, scans depression, diagnosis) But here's the kicker. My memory is not any better that Sweetie's. There's no way I can answer those 30 questions. Some days, (okay, most days) 2 year old Bella is smarter than me. And I probably have cancer, too.

Dr. J:  (To his credit, he did not burst out laughing. Instead he used his most soothing voice as if talking someone off a 20 story building.) I'm sure you don't have ALZ. Or cancer. Most likely you do have "adult, age-related cognitive decline," and you are a bit neurotic. Neurotic? Me?

The strange thing is as soon as he said this, I began to feel better. I still can't quote the quadratic equation that I once knew as well as my phone number or where I left my keys, but I felt less scared, less helpless.  Of course, I remember that Sweetie's GP told him the exact same thing a year ago. However, the relief I felt wiped out all my "yeh buts." I almost felt energized.

Here's the thing I/we know. Worry zaps us of energy and joy. I'd be much better served to put my worry into action instead of sleep. The Introductory Guide to Alzheimer's states on the very first page that
"Alzheimer's is not a death sentence but if your bury your head in the sand (i.e. sleep whenever possible)* you will fail. 
There are no 'magic bullets' - you have to work at it!"

Ironically Dr. J's prescription for me is similar to Sweetie's - exercise, eat foods rich in anti-oxidants, breathe,  spend the time we have together living, not dying, don't isolate myself, get counseling if I need it and, while he didn't say it I'm pretty sure he was thinking it, keep my own oxygen tank close by.

Signing off,
Neurotic ME

* this is not part of the original quote. I made it up!

PS. Do you have a Bucket List? What's on it? Why?

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