In my March 2018 post, A new chink in my armor, I wrote about my temporary hesitancy to tell Keith of my inability to remember my daughter’s last name—a significant gap, as my daughter has been married for more than 25 years. Here is a portion of that essay:
“Should I tell Keith? I silently argued with myself. If I tell him, he’s likely to get upset, make more out of ‘it’ than it is. Maybe he’ll react in the extreme, and think I need constant watching. No, I shouldn’t tell him.
But of course, I did tell him. Since the post I’ve received a number of responses from people who know Keith and me personally and expressed surprise at my hesitancy to tell Keith about my lapse. These are folks who have witnessed my willingness to talk openly about MCI and have seen Keith’s support in action. Their questioning inspired me to write more about the ever-evolving means of communication that Keith and I employ in regard to my memory and cognitive issues.
Keith is a problem solver and thrives on being able to find solutions to anything. And he’s good at it; in our fifty years of marriage he has always been able to fix any appliance, customize furniture and products to suit our needs, repair our tractor and lawnmower, develop and grow new businesses—you get the picture.
But try as he might, Keith cannot fix my MCI. Which can be very frustrating to him, sometimes more than just a little annoying to me, and also at times, a source of conflict between us.
In the early stages of my memory and cognitive issues, if Keith saw me having difficulty of any sort he would immediately step in and try to solve my problem, or more often, fix it himself. It didn’t matter how trivial or small the task was, or if it was something I had handled scores of times before; Keith wanted, out of the goodness of his heart, to help me. It could be something as mundane as me having trouble attaching the disposable bag on to the vacuum cleaner, or talking aloud to myself as I was trying to recalculate a recipe to a larger or smaller quantity, or opening cupboard after cupboard searching for an item—if Keith witnessed any signs of frustration on my part, he would step in and take over.
Even as I knew he was trying to be helpful, I easily became resentful and annoyed with him. I interpreted his behavior as not only an interference but also as an unsubstantiated assumption that I needed help—which translated in my mind as, He thinks I’m no longer capable. That I’m really demented. I felt shamed, embarrassed, humiliated, resentful, and angry. “I can do it myself,” I would snarl. “You are totally overreacting. I’m not that bad!”
In time I realized my emotional negative reactions to Keith’s intended kindnesses were a result of at least two aspects of my own perceptions of my circumstance: first, I wasn’t ready to fully accept my diagnosis. I often questioned the diagnosis and tried to convince myself I was just fine. Second, I didn’t appreciate how uniquely MCI affects each individual, and by association every care giver relationship. Back then my diagnosis seemed too dire, too frightening, and too shaming, so I tried to discount it. At the same time I mentally forecasted the most bizarre behaviors I thought I would soon exhibit, and feared how people would pity and shun me. I felt as if time was compressing, closing in on me with warp speed. That soon I would be ‘out of my mind,’ followed by my premature death.
As I began to read more about MCI, and learned the importance of eating right, exercise, yoga, meditation, brain exercises, sleep, and perhaps most important, having a supportive care giver, my anxiety, fear, and forecasting began to lessen. I started seeing a therapist. And I started writing—which has always been my vehicle for sorting, healing, and understanding.
I made a shift from thinking about my looming decline and death to looking at my condition as part of the journey of aging, a natural part of living that was new for both Keith and me.
With that shift, I realized I had just two choices: I could resent my situation and be miserable, or I could accept it and do all I could to make the best of it. For me, that started with my relationship with Keith.
I realized it was unfair of me to expect Keith to know what I needed when many times, I didn’t even know what I needed. I learned to reframe my emotional reactions from being angry when Keith stepped in, to being appreciative of Keith’s loving kindnesses. I learned to voice my needs to Keith, by communicating to him that I wanted him to ask me first if I needed/wanted his help before assuming—instead of stewing in my own annoyance that he didn’t already know that. In turn, I promised to not be as stubborn and prideful as I had been in asking for and accepting help.
It has been more than a year since that conversation took place and, oh my, what a difference that simple shift has made in our lives. Life is so much easier and more pleasant. I no longer hesitate to ask for Keith’s help, because instead of feeling judged or less than capable, I feel grateful. And Keith is delighted to be ‘fixing’ for me whenever he’s given the opportunity.