Tag Archives: Alzheimer’s disease

Stress & burnout: a post by Kristen Lamb

This afternoon I read the following post, which says so much of what I feel. It’s a good reminder of things I knew, but also addresses burnout. It’s such a good post I am reblogging it for your benefit, from:
We Are Not Alone —  Kristen Lamb’s Blog

Stress & Burnout—How to Get Your Creative Mojo Back

Image courtesy of Eflon via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Eflon via Flickr Creative Commons

The past few years have been just brutal. My grandmother who raised me was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and it was just one crisis after another and it just never…freaking…let…up. I felt like I was in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu being crushed all the time, but not allowed to tap out. Then, on Independence Day (ironically) my grandmother finally passed away.

I really never appreciated how much her declining health was impacting me until she was gone. It was like I was wandering around in a fugue state only aware that my knees hurt. Then out of nowhere a hand lifted off the 500 pound gorilla and I could breathe again. I never noticed the gorilla, never noticed the lack of air, only the knee pain.

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So now I am in the process of rebuilding. I plan on taking a couple days off to just rest and get away from all the work that piled up for me to do. Hit my reset button, so to speak. But I figured blogging about this might help some of you who are struggling, too.

Burnout can come from all directions—family, job, marriage, illness, death. Sometimes we are not even aware how hard we have been hit until something radical changes (for me, a death). We are the frog being slowly boiled alive, oblivious that maybe we should jump out.

Writer’s Block

The words won’t flow and you think you might have worn out your thesaurus function looking for another word to say “the.” You might be your own worst enemy.

Writing can be therapeutic. True. But, our creativity can also be one of the first casualties of too much stress, which makes sense when we really study what is happening to us when we’re under too much pressure.

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Biology 101

Have you ever wondered why you can’t remember half of what you said after a fight? Wondered why it seems the only time you can’t find your keys is the day you’re late for work? Been curious why you said the stupidest comments in the history of stupidity while in your first pitch session with an agent?

Yup. Stress. But how does stress make perfectly normal and otherwise bright individuals turn into instant idiots?

Basically, the same biological defense mechanisms that kept us alive hunting bison while wearing the latest saber tooth fashions are still at work today. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems work in tandem to regulate the conscious mind. Sympathetic gears us for fight or flight. Parasympathetic calms us down after we’ve outrun the bear…or opened that rejection letter.

In order for the sympathetic system to do its job effectively, it dumps all sorts of stress hormones into the body—DHEA, cortisol, adrenaline—to enable that super human strength, speed, and endurance required to survive the crisis. The problem is that the human body thinks in blanket terms and cannot tell the difference between fighting off a lion and fighting with the electric company.

The human brain is divided into three parts:

Cerebral Cortex—higher thinking functions like language, meaning, logic.

Limbic/Mammalian Brain—used for experiencing emotions.

Reptilian Brain—cares only about food, sex, survival.

I believe that writers (and people in general, for that matter), could benefit greatly by truly understanding stress and the affect it has on the mind and body. A brain frazzled to the breaking point physiologically cannot access information contained in the cerebral cortex (higher thinking center). Thus, the smart writer must learn to manage stress.

And for the purpose of this blog, I am referring to bad stress so there is no confusion.

Modern life may not have as many literal lions and tigers and bears, but we are still bombarded with their figurative counterparts all day, every day. When stress hits, the body reacts within milliseconds.

Welcome to Stress Brain

This is me right now *head desk*

This is me right now *head desk*

The sympathetic nervous system floods the body with hormones, increases heart rate, pulls blood away from digestive and reproductive systems, etc. And, most importantly, it diverts blood supply to the mammalian and reptile brain at the expense of the cerebral cortex. Apparently the body feels your witty repertoire of Nietzsche quotes are not real helpful in lifting a car off your child.

Thus, since the mammalian brain is in high gear, this explains why it is not uncommon to experience intense emotion while under stress. This is why crying, when confronted or angry, is very common. It is also why, once we calm down, we frequently wonder why we were so upset to begin with…mammalian brain overtook logic.

This is also why the gazillion action figures your child leaves littered across the floor suddenly becomes a capital offense two seconds after you accidentally set dinner ablaze. Your emotions have taken front and center stage and knocked logic into the orchestra pit.

Another interesting point…

When the sympathetic nervous system prepares us for fight or flight, our pupils dilate. The purpose of this is to take in as much information about a situation as possible. The problem is that, although we are seeing “more” we are actually seeing “less.” The body is totally focused on the cause of the stress. This is why, when we’re running late to work, we see every clock in the house, but cannot seem to find our car keys.

This also explains how, once we take time to breathe and calm down, those keys have a way of magically appearing in the same drawer we opened 763 times earlier (while screaming at the kids, the dog, the cat, the laundry….). Poof! Magic.

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Once we understand and respect stress, it seems easier to give ourselves permission to go on vacation or truly take a day off. It is a matter of survival. When bad stress piles up, we physiologically are incapable of:

1) Being productive.

That book proposal will take 15 times longer to prepare because you keep forgetting the point you were trying to make in the first place.

We will wear out the thesaurus function on our computer looking for another way to say “good.” Face it. Stress makes us stupid.

2) Making clear decisions.

We won’t be making decisions from the logical part of our brain, so eating everything in the house will actually seem like a good idea.

3) Interacting in a healthy way with our fellow humans.

The new trees for your back yard might never get planted because your husband will be too busy plotting a way to bury you under them.

The most important lesson here is to respect stress. We must respect its effects the way we should alcohol. Why do we make certain to have a designated driver? Because when we’re sober, we think clearly and know that driving drunk is a very poor decision. Yet, the problem with alcohol is it removes our ability to think with the higher brain functions. Stress does the same thing. It limits/obliterates clear thought.

That’s why it is a very good idea to have people close to us who we respect to step in and 1) force us to back away and take a break, 2) convince us to take a vacation, get a pedicure, go shopping, hit the gym 3) give us a reality check, 4) take on some of the burden, 5) run interference with toxic people.

Like great violinists take great care to protect their hands, we writers would be wise to do the same with our emotions and our minds. So when the stress levels get too high and you start seeing it seeping into your writing, it is wise to find a way to release stress. Take back the keys to your higher thinking centers! Take back that cortical brain!

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Exercise, read, pray, meditate, watch a movie, laugh, do yoga, take a walk, work in the garden. Most of all…write. But do a different kind of writing. Write without a care in the world. Ever wonder why experts advise us to do freewriting when we hit a wall?

Seems counterintuitive, but it is actually super smart when you think about the biology lesson we just had. If we can just write forward, without caring about the clarity or quality, we often can alleviate stress rather than fuel it. This freewriting can calm us back into the cortical brain so later, when our head is back on straight, we can go back and clean up the mess.

Which is exactly what I will do…after I go for a walk.

What are some ways you guys deal with stress? How do you overcome writer’s block? Have you been through caregiver burnout? How did you recover? Hey, I am a work in progress too😀 .

I LOVE hearing from you!

 

A reminder: The above is reposted from Kirsten Lamb’s blog you can visit HERE.    Please visit her blog and leave her a comment, too.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

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Glen Campbell’s Alzheimer’s song: I’m Not Gonna Miss You

As a caregiver of a family member with Alzheimer’s disease, when I heard this song by Glen Campbell it really moved me. (Well, okay, I cried a little.) This talented singer songwriter has had the terrible disease for several years and is in the last stage of it now. While he was still able to function well enough he wrote and recorded this ballad called I’m Not Gonna Miss You.  It could be considered funny, but – if you really listen to the words – the irony of it is so real, so painful. Glen Campbell expressed in the words of his song something most people may not even consider about Alzheimer’s – that it does not just make one’s brain forget, it destroys the brain so that memories are completely removed as if they never existed in the first place, as if there’s nothing to remember. The patient eventually gets to the place where there is no loss, there is simply a ‘not knowing,’ of anything.

I want you to hear this beautiful ballad. Please listen and tell me what your thoughts are about it. I hope you can take the time to play it a couple of times.   I’m Not Gonna Miss You – by Glen Campbell

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

 

The last one standing

It happened. The sad news we knew was going to come too soon was delivered. My aunt – Dad’s youngest sibling – passed away very early Tuesday morning.

Alzheimer’s disease.

This leaves Dad the last one standing. All his three brothers and his three sisters have passed from this life. 

The memorial service was held Saturday morning. Uncharacteristically, Dad was very quiet during our hour-long drive to get there. He was a little jittery at the service but held his composure. It was a lovely service. The reverend who conducted the service shared Scripture in a way I had never heard it presented at such a service – or maybe ever before. He brought it alive and spoke it in a way that should make its meaning very clear to most there; it was wonderful. What was shared about my aunt was very fitting and even funny. Everyone loved my aunt who could brighten any gathering, the mischievous one who always made people laugh, the gentle one with the positive outlook and sweet spirit.

At the reception afterward I knew Dad didn’t immediately know most people who came over to talk with him, and most didn’t realize they should introduce themselves to him to give him a chance to remember. I tried to clue them in, but looking at Dad you wouldn’t know there is anything wrong – in his late 80’s he looks years younger and is very spry for his age – so unless you know about the dementia you just … wouldn’t know at first. And he covers it well, with grace, and with humour.

We all made it through that morning quite well, despite our loss. It is always wonderful seeing family members we don’t see much, but is your family anything like ours? It’s usually at funerals that we see each other again. Over forty years ago my parents, sister, and I moved to this county (notice I said county, not country), which means we live farther from most of our relatives on Dad’s side. We used to have a family gathering every Canada Day, but that hasn’t happened for many years. On Saturday my sister suggested to some of our cousins that we have a ‘cousins day’, which she wants to organize for down our way one day this summer. It seems to be a favourable idea, even though they would have the longer distance to travel for the get-together, but if they’re willing it could be fun.

Out of sorrow will come something positive. My aunt would like that.

Do you have family gatherings or reunions? How do you handle distance from family?

 Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

 

 

Important info about Alzheimer’s research! My rant

I’m on a rant! Please indulge me.

As you know, Alzheimer’s disease (one high-profile aspect of dementia) has invaded my family and taken over a major part of my life. Today I have very important information to share with you.

Before you read further, I would like it if you would take this Alzheimer’s quizRight click on the link so you don’t lose your place here.

Much research is being conducted to learn how to prevent, slow, predict Alzheimer’s disease, but study of the actual brain of Alzheimer’s patients cannot be done until after death. I recently learned that the main focus of study is of the male brain because it is easier to work with due to the female brain being more complicated due to hormonal changes and differences. This means that drugs formulated to help Alzheimer’s patients are geared more to the male brain! This is shocking since more women are afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease than are men! Now, does that make sense to you?

I don’t know about you, but that does not sit well with me. Alzheimer’s is following the generations in my family and I for one do not want to have to rely on ill-targeted studies and drugs should it come to that for myself or any other woman in my family.

There are not many causes I believe in enough to commit to support, but Alzheimer’s research is one in which definite strides are being made and support is not misused. In fact, Nova Scotia is a leading force in research and progressive work in learning about this disease. I’m proud of that fact. I also see the huge and urgent need of continued research for breakthroughs. I truly believe that for the generation of my own offspring there will be discoveries made to determine very early if an individual has the actual disease and then stop it from progressing further, thus saving the individual from the horrible regression due to a deteriorating brain. Although now there is a blood test that can reveal if a person has the gene, at present the drugs we have, at best, sometimes slow the progression but cannot stop it. 

I wish I were a scientific genius who could come up with the answers to save so many lives from the agonies of Alzheimer’s disease. There is so very much we don’t know about it … what causes it, what triggers it to start, how to stop it, how to prevent it, how to cure it. There are guesses, lots of those, and there are studies which have found diet has a lot to do with trying to fend it off – foods that make a positive difference for the brain (coconut oil being emphasized now) – but when one is in a family stalked and oppressed by Alzheimer’s that is not enough.  Answers, helps, a cure, PLEASE!

I found a website I would like you to visit. It is called Hope Knot. The name comes from the Hope-Knot project – to combat women’s brain aging disorders. A beautiful design was created by a renowned jewellery designer whose family has experienced the devastating effects of dementia. He explains the inspiration for the design, which I hope you will go HERE to check out for yourself.  Here is what is said on the site: The Women’s Brain Health Initiative wanted an icon to raise awareness and escalate concern over the unchecked growth of dementia and other aging brain diseases in women.

Here is additional good information about Alzheimer’s.

There is more I could say but for now I will simply thank you for permitting me this rant. You can see it is a cause I believe in. I urge you to please visit the website, and if so inclined, make a purchase of that beautiful jewellery to support the effort and honour the many women afflicted – or who will be afflicted – with brain disease. I did.

If you took the Alzheimer’s quiz what were your results? I missed one.

There is talk of a blood test now that will reveal if someone has the Alzheimer’s gene. If given the chance, would you want to know ahead or would you prefer to wait (if you have it) until it is obvious? If you knew ahead, would it change your life?

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

PS:  From the Hope-Knot website:  Almost 70% of new Alzheimer’s sufferers will be women. What makes this fact even more alarming is that there is little understanding of why this is the case, and there are no studies currently being undertaken to explore the discrepancy. We at the Women’s Brain Health Initiative intend to change that.

 

 

Alzheimer’s caregivers support group & pre-birthday party

First, I apologize! It seems the link I posted yesterday for NASA (space photos) no longer works. Perhaps I can find a better one later, or do you know of any?

For today’s PiBoIdMo I wrote down an idea for a picture book. Idea #19 on day 13. Still nothing more on my NaNo novel. I may have made a mistake by trying to do that this year, half way through the month already!

Tonight I went to a meeting of the Alzheimer Caregivers Support Group. It is something I don’t like to miss. We’re a small group that meets once a month and are free to ask questions, talk about our concerns, worries, problems, also sharing what good things have happened and what works for us. Our group moderators provide us with information and sometimes we have guest speakers. This time, since Saturday is my (rather important) birthday, I took cupcakes and Ambrosia (a fruit dessert) I’d made for us to share, for a sort of little pre-birthday party.  🙂 

From what we (my sister and I) are going through with our experience with Alzheimer’s Disease, I’m gathering ideas for a book – ideas based on anecdotes from which come chapter titles, such as The Fire Extinguisher, The Hedge, The Car. Who knows whether this book will become a reality. It’s one thing to have the experience, quite another to write it out in an interesting and captivating way that someone else would like to read about.

Tomorrow I may not post about my PiBoIdMo and NaNoWriMo progress since it is Book Reading Challenge day here on my blog, but I will update on Friday.

If you are taking part in any challenges this month, how are you doing? How’s your writing coming along, and are you participating in my book reading challenge?

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

 

 

When Reality smacks you upside the head

Reality bites. hard. Ever notice?

Saturday was one of those reality check days.

Last week was full of beautiful weather days, so when it worked out for us to take a drive to visit someone we love we took that opportunity. It was time for us to visit. She has been failing quickly; each time they brought her to visit us this year there has been a marked difference. Now that she was recently moved into a nursing home (a very good one) it was our turn to go to her.

The three of us got off to a late morning start, directions in hand. By the time we arrived in the area, almost an hour later, we thought she would soon be having her lunch and we didn’t want to interrupt. It was about 11:40 so we found a little seafood restaurant and took our time there.

The instructions we had been given were easy to follow and it wasn’t long before we got pointed in the right direction again. Soon we found the creatively designed, tastefully decorated building – our destination – set back from the busyness of traffic and away from city life. Besides the alternating attractive colour scheme, we noticed high iron gates around well-kept garden sitting areas. It was immediately noticeable that no residents could wander off and get lost or harmed.

After we made our way through security – a must-have feature for this type of nursing home – we found our way to the second level and down winding halls with paintings on the walls and nautical-named units. Upon entering her section we were told she was in the dining area. That’s when reality met us head-on.

Up until that time we knew she had become frail, more and more confused and forgetful, and recently very restless which made it too difficult to keep her safe at home. (If you know much about Alzheimer’s disease then you understand what I’m saying. I’m leaving out a lot.) We were not prepared to see her being fed her lunch. We were not prepared to see this loved one, when taken back to her room where we waited to visit with her, seemingly hardly aware of our presence.

What we expected was to be able to converse with her on some level. We expected to have a conversation that would be disjointed, even nonsensical, perhaps, but at least some kind of communication once she sorted out – even temporarily – who we are. I was prepared for her to not remember me even though she has known me all my life; I could have handled that. That is not what we found. What we found was the cold hard reality of advancing Alzheimer’s. Our sweet, funny, fun-loving, precious loved one is getting away from us. Through the medication that helps to keep her calm and safely and respectably manageable she seems to be fighting to hold on to who she really is, but it is a battle no one yet has been able to win. That is the horror of it. That is reality. Cold. hard. reality.

It was emotional for the three of us. One of us visiting her that day is on the same path, although not as far along. We don’t know if it registered with him that what he witnessed – a journey taken by his father decades before, then his younger brother, and now his youngest sister – is also the strong possibility of where his journey will take him. We don’t know. We won’t ask.

Our drive home was more subdued, conversation minimal, each of us travelling with our own thoughts.

A few hours earlier I was noticing how lovely our Autumn colours are as the leaves are changing from their greens to reds, yellows, and orange hues. I was admiring and thankful for God’s handiwork in the beauty around us. On the drive back home I noticed everything in sharper little snapshots.

Autumn colours

gorgeous displays of colourfully painted leaves, click!

the dull grey of dead tree limbs set against the blue sparkle of a pond, click!

streaks and layers of a rippled blanket of clouds laid across the sky in various shades of grey and white, click!

muddy tidal waters filling a river, click!

stands of tall dead grasses, click!

the small bright green car driving in an oncoming lane, click!

Each place I looked seemed to have its own glory, as if my mind was grasping everything in new awareness, capturing little moments of wonder after a time of sadness. Funny how the mind does that. It’s as if God was reminding me … 

This is reality, too. Enjoy it.

Post Script: I learned while writing this post that she did have a memory of his being there to visit her, and that is good.

Comments? Anything to share?

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

Book Review: Still Alice – by Lisa Genova

Book: Still Alice
Author: Lisa Genova
Publisher: Gallery Books
Date: January 6, 2009
Genre: fiction novel; mental health
Pages: 337; paperback
Price: $15.00 US; also available from Simon & Schuster Audio & as an e-Book
My Rating: A ‘must-read’ for anyone dealing with Alzheimer’s in any way, or wanting to know more about what it’s like – from the inside of it.
 

This is a book I discovered at a meeting of our local Alzheimer’s Support Group. I was urged to read it, so months later – when I felt I was ready – I borrowed it. [As an aside: We meet once a month, and I highly recommend that you join a support group if you are a caregiver of anyone with dementia.]

At first I put off reading this book. I lent it to my sister to read, she said, “Read it!” I lent it to one of our respite workers, he said, “Read it!” Finally, yesterday .. I read it.

This book will open your eyes to, and broaden your understanding of, some of the inner workings of Alzheimer’s disease and what it is like to be its victim. Even though this is a work of fiction, the author did extensive research and study to get it right. It is so very believable. To me, it felt as if I were reading the memoir of an actual person, I felt the frustration and pain of her family, and I laughed out loud at one incident which was both funny because of what happened and sad because of why it happened, and in another place I had tears in my eyes because of the truth of it.

This is a painful and terrifying disease. Even as I write this review I feel the emotion of it. Alzheimer’s steals its victim away, a little at a time. Lisa Genova so aptly described the disease through her characters and helped me better understand the cruel reality of what I (and my sister) deal with every day in some capacity.

Lisa’s main character, Alice, is a very intelligent, highly regarded and respected professor of cognitive psychology at Harvard University. She and her  husband (also a Harvard professor) had brought up their three children and now, at only fifty years of age, Alice knows something is seriously wrong with her memory. She puts off telling anyone and sets out on her own, at first, to find out what is going on. What she learns changes her whole world, and that of her family.

The author draws the reader into the lives of Alice and her family in a very smooth and captivating way. I wanted to know, I needed to know, and Lisa does not disappoint as she covers two years in Alice’s life.

At the end of the book, there is a section of Discussion Questions for a group, or for personal study of the novel. There is also an interview conversation with Lisa Genova.

Lisa Genova, holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard University and Still Alice is her first novel.

Now, to you I say, READ IT!

You can find Still Alice listed on my BUY THE BOOK! page.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings! 🙂