A couple of weeks ago I was at a loss for a topic to write about in my posts. I just couldn’t come up with anything that seemed of value. I finally asked my editor for a suggestion, and without hesitation she offered: “Write about how it feels to have memory and cognitive decline.”
My initial response was, “What a strange suggestion. That’s what I’ve been trying to write about in my posts all along. What more can I say?”
Nevertheless, her response stayed with me over the next few days. I value her insight and wisdom, but I couldn’t shift out her intent. Finally, I called and asked for clarification.
“Give me examples of what it feels like when you can’t remember,” she said. “What does that situation feel like in your mind and body while it’s happening?”
Immediately after getting off the phone I went to my computer and wrote, “My brain often feels spacey, spongy, as if it’s worn out.” Later in the day I added: “…generally this happens during or after a day that has been filled with mentally stressful activities, which for me can be cooking or baking, trying to read a detailed novel or instructions, or participating in large groups. After a short period of time I feel incapable of taking in any more information. The format doesn’t matter at this point in time, whether it’s in print, verbal, visual, or physical.”
The next day I continued; “These brain lapse symptoms can occur randomly. One example is being unable to name a familiar object such as a pencil, blanket, or a garden tool. I know, I know what the object is, but I’m incapable of pulling the name out of my memory bank. The most concerning lapses are when I can’t easily recall the ages of my grandchildren, or a conversation I had with Keith no more than five minutes prior. These misses cause me great frustration, and are always followed by thoughts of, Am I getting worse? Will I soon become a human vegetable? I describe these times as my brain feeling mushy and worn out, and label my condition as Brain Fatigue.”
The only remedy for me is to focus on something different. Walks are extremely helpful, not only for the physical movement but also for the change of scenery. Other distractions can be working on my embroidery, reading a book, working on a jigsaw puzzle, or welcoming my cat on my lap. All of these activities occupy my brain and attention without having to access my worn-out memory bank.
I’m acutely aware I have very little control over the progression of my disease, which means there likely will come a time when I won’t have control over redirecting myself and re-framing my thoughts or behavior; a time when I don’t recognize my husband, children, or grandchildren.
Of course, these thoughts frighten me. But as time has passed, I’m much better at just letting these thoughts be and reminding myself not to fret, because fretting doesn’t help or change anything. It only causes anxiety. And truly, the reality is my brain has a mind all of its own.