depression

CHOOSING HAPPINESS OVER DESPAIR AND ALZHEIMER’S

For Charlie Brown’s group happiness is a warm puppy.  For many kids it’s Santa Claus in the mall, Christmas morning and a new bike.  For lovers it’s their next meeting; a bride and groom their wedding day; students – graduation; for the unemployed it’s finding a job, and to a billionaire watching his stocks double is cause to gleefully celebrate.  For a young couple happiness comes with a new baby, and baby’s first smile brings immeasurable joy to its mother.   Happiness can be as constant as the surf splashing against the sand, elusive as shadows on a moonless night, and as fragile as a dandelion puff.  Happiness is many things to many people, but for me happiness is a choice.

I used to be a pouter.  Not recently, but when I was a young teen I somehow came to the belief that if I looked sad there would be a vast number of boys and girls who would want to be my friend if only to cheer me.  Illogical conclusion: sad had more appeal than happy. 

Our group of girls often went to local teen dances on Friday and Saturday nights.  The adorable bouncy girls with smiling faces were soon asked to dance while I sat against the wall, arms folded across my chest looking glum, hoping a cute guy, or not so cute, would take pity and ask me to dance.  I was the absolute archetype of a wall flower, and I didn’t know why, nor did any of my friends tell me to put a smile on my face and look happy.  Maybe my girl friends didn’t see me as a sad-looking dance dunce, but I was and I didn’t like it

Eventually I figured it all out.  It was more of a growing process, a maturing process when realization cleared the mystery concerning adorable girls.  It wasn’t about adorable, but more about bouncy and smiling faces.  My friends looked happy and I didn’t.  No one, even the kindest of cute guys, or not so cute, wanted to be stuck for any amount of time with Saddie Sad Sack.  So it was that I began my long journey in choosing to be happy.  Happiness didn’t come from without, it came from within.

Happy is an easy choice when the fates smile, when Mr. Right comes along, when babies arrive in addition to promotions and salary increases, when a new house is acquired and the lawn gets cut.   Just as in the story books:  “And they lived happily ever after.”

Time for a reality check:  Snow White’s babies had colic and threw up all over her favorite dress (actually her only dress), Cinderella’s prince was a lazy oaf who expected her to run the entire kingdom by herself, and Beauty’s beast, after all was said and done, turned out to be a grumbling turkey, but still decked out in the clothing and skin of a handsome fairy-tale prince. 

In spite of it all Snow, Cinder and Beau decided to work through life’s problems with their men, Charming, Charming and Charming, seeking help if needed setting happiness, once again, as their goal.   The babies grew into delightful children; the lazy oaf, threatened by Cinder’s Fairy Godmother who arrived with a pumpkin and a bunch of rats, fully accepted his responsibilities.  Under the prince’s guidance the kingdom flourished even without the touch of Godmother’s magic wand.  The doctor assigned to our snarling, growling beast removed several irritating rose thorns from Charming’s bottomside, which had been hidden under his very tight tights, returning him immediately to the prince of Beauty’s dreams.   

Life does ebb and flow.  While we would all like to remain in the flow, it just doesn’t work that way.  Adversity is a part of everyone’s life no matter what their rank or station.

If we are smart, during the good times when choosing to be happy is easy, we need to recognize our bounty of blessings and place them in a memory bank for future reference.  It’s during the ebb, the tough times, getting caught in the under current of misery when it’s difficult to say, “I’m happy.”  Yes, life can be miserable, and at times we all walk through the Valley of Doom and Gloom.  Interesting place to visit, but we wouldn’t want to live there.  Remaining in misery unless there is a clinical problem is also a choice.

It is not my intention to be a Pollyanna, constantly in denial, never acknowledging that things may go wrong, did go wrong, are wrong, or that life can become an overwhelming challenge, or that life is, at times, the absolute pits.  However, it is my intention to advise all the Snow Whites,  Cinderells,  Beautys, and their Princes Charming to recognize that life does have a mean left hook and when you get whacked it’s best to meet it head on.  Dodging, denying, and hiding under the covers won’t make adversity go away.

When Ken was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s it was a tragic blow even though we were not surprised.  Knowing it was deeply entrenched in the family we had  thought we could somehow sidestep it if he ate right, exercised, and continued to live a clean, wholesome life.  We were wrong.  “Your husband has Alzheimer’s.”  That’s what the doctor said and that’s how he said it.

Did we go home happy, smiling, clicking our heels about his disease?  Of course not!  No matter how well prepared we were, the news was devastating.  We were sad.  We cried and finally we accepted the diagnosis, and then we took a road trip, planning to squeeze everything we could into a limited amount of time before the disease robbed Ken of his ability to be Ken.

I have long understood about the link between acceptance and happy before I listened to Michael J. Fox as he was interviewed for his book, “Adventures Of An Incurable Optimist – Always Looking Up,” but it was good to hear him verbalize what he too had discovered.  It was accepting his disease that finally brought him to happiness after making peace with Parkinson’s and then moving forward with his life.  Fox also emphasized how awful it would be to live in despair, but on the plus side mentioned how this adversity had led to so many amazing people and places.  I couldn’t agree more for I too have rediscovered the goodness, compassion, love and concern which is found in good people everywhere.

So I choose to be happy.  I answer the phone with a cheerful voice and keep the “Woe is me” off limits. Do I have sad times?  Do I cry?  Certainly, but I don’t remain in the negative because I choose to be happy.  There is not room for both.  My new answer to, “How are things going?” is “Smoothly.”  My grandson, Brain, tells me a better word is “Swimmingly,” whatever that means.  But then again “Swimmingly” might be a good response if it means going against the current and making it?  Perhaps I will change “Smoothly” to “Swimmingly.” 

Looking way down from where I perch in the sunlight I see the dark pit of despair, but using my right to choose I choose to not go there.  Being happy while coping with any of the Devil’s diseases is something one must choose to be on a daily basis.  That’s why each and every morning I remind myself, “Today, I choose to be happy.”

Originally posted 2010-09-12 04:16:57.

GRATITUDE PRAYERS

A few months ago while still healing from major injuries, I browsed through a stack of magazines, mostly untouched. However, as I shuffled through the pile, I noticed my church magazine, the pages already dog-eared, was opened to an article intended to be the next read. Interesting, I thought picking it up and noting the eye-catching title, “GRATITUDE,” then asking, “Was this a message for me?” Certainly, I felt gratitude. After all I was alive and recovering, and yet I was nudged at times with, “Poor me.  Angry me.  Why me?”  Perhaps I needed to ponder about gratitude a bit more deeply.

Written by a practicing psychologist who had researched the use of gratitude interventions in promoting well-being, he found that by interceding at appropriate times during counseling, thoughts of gratitude were helpful in treating depression and other problems. The doctor also advised that acknowledging thankfulness would be helpful to everyone’s mental health no matter how grave their situation. As a result of being grateful, we could all lead richer, fuller lives.

He also defined gratitude: a positive experience when we recognize gifts or blessings and feel thankful.  It sounded so overly simplistic, yet I continued reading.  Soon I began to reflect on this later portion of my life concentrating on the positive rather than the negative.

In my own defense I counceled me that I have always been prayerful.  As a child, my teachers of faith described prayer as like a sandwich:  a top and bottom piece of bread, or better known in addressing Diety as a beginning and an ending.  Inside of the prayer sandwich we were to express our thankfulness first.   “Before we ask our Heavenly Father for anything,” he explained, “we must always remember to thank Him for what He has given us.”  That could be the peanut butter portion of the sandwich.  The teacher followed giving thanks with permission to ask — the jam or jelly.   As an adult I have wondered if this pattern for prayer was a bit irreverent, but it is such a good pattern, one which I have followed all of my life, and long ago I put aside any thoughts of peanut butter and jelly when making supplication.  Perhaps now, I needed to be more outreaching in my gratitude. 

I recalled from the past that Oprah devoted the better part of a year’s programming to gratitude and journal writing. At the time, I too was caught up in the thought process of making myself more aware of blessings, but never kept a specific journal. Recently, in her magazine, Oprah admitted that through the years she had become so consumed with work there was no time left to write about the good happenings of each day. Reading from an old journal she recognized those great years from before, and commented on how happy she had been.

 The author of the “GRATITUDE” article encourages keeping a Gratitude Journal as well, with the purpose of recording several remembrances each week, but not just in list form. He suggested describing the experience, recording thoughts and emotions for the purpose of savoring and reliving what you had experienced.

In reviewing the past six years of struggling with Alzheimer’s, battling the war which is never won, I remember my friend, Madalyn, who had also battled the same war, until her husband, Darwin, died three years ago. “It wasn’t all bad,” she would tell me, and we often laughed about some of the funny things Alzheimer’s victims do and say. She reminisced about trips they had taken, visits with family which brought joy to her and momentary pleasantries to him. Her happier times with Darwin were similar to mine with Ken. These were all positive experiences: gifts and blessings recognized and thankfulness felt: gratitude.

When I came to the paragraph titled “Express Prayers of Gratitude,” I decided that would be my new beginning. As I continued my recovery in the quietness of my daughter’s home I reflected on being grateful for little things:   One at a time I could lift each foot, place it on the opposite knee and tie my own shoes, I could shower alone and I was beginning to feel confident once more. I wasn’t searching for big, dramatic epiphanies.   Deliberately, I looked for small things to appreciate because there are so many, and small blessings are often overlooked.  Every morning before I struggled out of bed I would look up at the ceiling — still wearing my neck brace and unable to kneel in formal address to Diety — close my eyes and offer a prayer of gratitude without pleading for any favors. (The favors could be requested in later prayers.) My morning prayers would be only of gratitude. I was amazed by the multitude of gifts taken for granted  for which I had to be grateful.

I have been home now for more than two months and my gratitude list grows each day. Ken’s Alzheimer’s is getting worse, but because of his caregiver, Ben, I have a sense of freedom. If I write for a few hours during the day, I know Ken is all right. Ben is with him, and I can nap undisturbed because Ben is here. I am grateful for Ben and for his relief, David. I am grateful for each new day, and my growing ability to actually help Ben with Ken. I am eternally grateful for family and friends. I won’t say I’m grateful for Ken’s illness, because I am not.  I detest this dehumanizing disease and how it has robbed us of so many good years. However, I am grateful for my coping mechanism, my compassion and awareness of others who suffer from Alzheimer’s and other devastating illnesses. I am grateful that through my writing I may help someone else; letting them know they are not alone in their struggle. I am grateful for Ken and the wonderful years we have spent together. Every so often, I see a spark in his eye and a smile. For a moment he is the man I married. Feeling gratitude and offering thanks each morning for all of this and more gives me strength.  Each day I can and will go forward into our daily battle, beginning with a prayer of gratitude.

Originally posted 2010-07-25 07:18:33.

Sometimes It Just Takes A Good Cry

This should have posted previously. (March 10, 2010) I wrote it just before I left, over a month ago. I post it now, so that others will know caregiving, like life has many different kinds of moments. None last very long. You just have to go with the flow. – Debbie Schultz

This morning the sun shines gloriously after a hard rain. Surrounding me the world is bright green, and sparkling blue, with sun glinting on the delta from my son’s backyard.  All seems right with the world. I will be on my way home in a few days; back to Utah and my mountains. The snow is gone from the streets and spring is peeking through, or so my husband says. These last few days I have really been homesick and it feels good to say that Utah is my home, an ambiguous phrase that I couldn’t say before I left a month ago.

Taking care of my Dad has been one of the most challenging experiences I have had in my life.  I did the best I could, and I could not have done anything else. Whether the systems I have set up work remains to be seen.  He has good, kind people caring for him in his home. They may not be able to meet his needs if he continues to get more combative and difficult to keep clean. Unfortunately another one of the evils of this disease is the patient is often his own worst enemy.

Before I cared for my Dad, I thought families who put loved ones with Alzheimer’s in institutions were somehow copping out. Now I know that each family makes their decision based on their own resources and abilities. For some it is an easier decision to make than others. I don’t know what my father was like right before the accident, I just know that caring for him has been really difficult. I cannot, however, excuse the treatment of turning people into vegetables, hoping they die quickly. I feel he was treated that way in the hospital: sedation, catheterization, tube feeding or no feeding. The will to live is given up very easily in those circumstances.

What the answer is, I don’t know. I feel a huge responsibility in leaving. I know when I get home I will worry about how he is getting on. On how both of my parents are coping. If the caregivers work out and can handle both of my parents? Will my mom be able to heal while still worrying about my father? I know I will be back soon, but I am not independently wealthy and I have a family and business to run in other places.

So yesterday among all of these conflicting feelings, and burdened by the enormity of everything, and the difficulties continually surfacing regarding my father’s care, I had a good, hard sobbing cry. And then I watched some tender movies and cried even more. Like this morning’s early rain I now feel cleansed, and I’m ready to continue forward doing the best I can, while trusting in a God who sees the whole situation and will someday answer all of  my questions.

Originally posted 2010-04-28 03:54:10.

Blessings In Disguise

Ken, Mabel and his daughters Julie and Debbie and daughters-in-law, Mary and Sabina at his 80th birthday 2005

This is, possibly, my last guest post. My mom should be back here writing next week – or soon thereafter.  Debbie Schultz

One of the blessings that came from my turn at caregiving was a chance to become reacquainted with my dad. Obviously he is not the strong, but gentle man, who raised me, helped me through a divorce, get back into school, and proudly watched me graduate from college at the age of 41. This man is definitely different, interesting in his babbling, making sense only in fragments. He was always a great storyteller, but even that aspect is gone from his tangled brain. I see his personality in layers. Some of the facial expressions I remember as a little girl, the mannerisms are still there. When I first arrived here from my home in Utah, he was lying in a hospital bed, mumbling in heavily sedated sleep. He seemed so very old and vulnerable to me. I softly stroked his head and muttered my good byes, thinking that might be the end. But like my mother, he has a tremendous will to live, and two weeks out of the hospital, he is gradually becoming his old pre-accident, self.

The disease is horrifying, taking a person a bit at a time, but in a somewhat detached way, it is also fascinating. What makes a personality? What bits and pieces of one’s history stick, and why do they stick? What jogs memories? Why do some things stand out, while others are forgotten? When asked, he will say he has no children. He confuses me with my mother, but I correct him and tell him that I am his daughter and I love him. I  especially use the technique when I am doing things he doesn’t want done, like showers. Looking in his eyes and telling him seems to calm him. I call it speaking spirit to spirit. And when my daughter goes to move something of mine, he says, “Don’t touch that, it’s my daughter’s.” For a brief moment I am remembered.

He knows he was in an accident. The first few days he was home from the hospital he complained about being stiff and sore. He told me that he hurt because a truck hit him. He knows, when he remembers, that my mother is in the hospital. His love for her, despite the forgetfulness is so evident. Besides often asking where his wife is, there is wistfulness in his wanderings. He sleeps on his side of the bed, waiting for her to come. He asks me if she is working and if so, when will she return home?   Although my voice may sound the same, my reactions are different than hers. He is confused by the similarities.

I am grateful for the opportunity that I have been given to get to know my father all over again. I have more feelings for him as I have served him these past few months. I miss the man that he once was, but I love this frail, funny, shuffling person he has become. Who knows why we go through the things we do in this life? As hateful as this disease is, it often brings out the best in the people that it touches. I have gained a new appreciation for my mother and all she has gone through as she cared for the other members of our family, who were also struck down by Alzheimer’s. The positive side of this negative situation is the opportunity I have been given to serve my father and make some effort to understand what has happened to change him. Without caring for him, there would not have been the reconnection I have felt.  When he is truly gone I will not only mourn the man my father was, I will also mourn who he has become. I am indebted for the chance that I got to know that other man.

Originally posted 2010-04-28 03:39:46.

BREAKTHROUGHS AND IMPATIENCE ABOUT ALZHEIMER’S

This morning one of my emails was titled “We will NEVER see ads like this again.”  A truer statement was never spoken with the viewer’s emotions running from a hardy laugh to severe annoyance: weight loss using sanitized tape worms; the ever-sought-after freckle cream – probably from the 1920s — a very young Ronald Reagan, Lucy and Desi Arnez, plus a couple of babies, and a few doctors endorsing some of the popular brands of cigarettes. Others ads from the 1950s demonstrated the arrogance of Madison Avenue in its view of “the little woman,” and the ultimate of ads approving male chauvinism during the peak years.  But the one that really grabbed me was a poster featuring a thin, angry old man waving his cane as a possible weapon.  Printing was simple and to the point “for prompt control of Senile Agitation – THORAZINE.”

“SENILE AGITATION!”  That was a new term for me. I thought I had heard them all.  Yet there it was in all of its stylized advertising glory; another reference to Alzheimer’s disease easily dismissed as nothing more than a confused grumpy old man. One more reminder of 50-plus years wasted when early attention to this devastating illness might have brought a cure closer.

Frustration dismissed, I wondered about Thorazine, the wonder drug to calm the irritable elder.  Was it a flash in the pan of long ago, just hype for the public, or did it have merit?   I looked it up on the Internet, and found, that indeed, it did have merit and was the first drug breakthrough for help with mental illnesses.

Developed in 1950 Chlorpromazine (CPZ) was a banner achievement for both the medical field and for patients alike.  Marketed in the U.S. as Thorazine (and Largactil in other parts of the world) it was the first synthesized drug with specific antipsychotic action.

That statement made me go “knock, knock” on the door of my memory bank recalling a time when state mental hospitals were commonplace; a last resort where desperate families unable to cope placed their “crazy” loved ones.  The state facilities, under-funded, over-crowded and under-staffed were unable to cope as well, and the hospitals became ugly and shocking “snake pits.”  Early in our marriage Ken and I saw a movie with that title: “The Snake Pit” starring Olivia de Havilland.  An over simplification of her character’s illness was, no doubt, depression which led to horrifying delusions where she saw herself surrounded by countless, slithering snakes.  I suppose it was our first awareness of ordinary people suffering from psychotic problems.  Yet, even in our youthful innocence the movie and the growing social crisis were tucked away in the back of our mental filing cabinet.    

A few years later Ken’s cousin, who was a fabulous school teacher, but suffered from episodes of severe depression tried to commit suicide — several times.  Her husband, at a loss for any solution had her confined for a short time in a state mental institution where she received electric shock treatments, better known as electroconvulsive therapy. At the time I thought how barbaric and wondered if there was no other kind of treatment.  There wasn’t – yet.

Reading about CPZ I found it was considered the single greatest advance in psychiatric hospitals worldwide and became the prototype for phenothiazine, which would later be developed into a class of drugs comprising several other agents, all for the treatment of mental illness.  Furthermore, the availability of this kind of medication began to curtail the indiscriminate use of electroconvulsive therapy and psychosurgery.   Fortified with Thorazine as an alternative treatment, the new phenomenon also became the driving force behind the movement to deinstitutionalize the nation’s mental hospitals.  No doubt those state hospitals, those snake pits, had their share of dementia-related diseases.  In hindsight we know that Dr. Alzheimer’s first case study was found in an insane asylum in 1906 where treatment and conditions were probably even more deplorable.

After reading about Thorazine and how thrilled everyone must have been at that breakthrough, I will now consider that I have been too critical of the medical community. (Although I still believe Alzheimer’s and related diseases would be sitting motionless in a dusty back room had it not been for persons of note: namely former President Ronald Reagan, Michael J. Fox, Sargent Shriver and others who brought The Dementia Umbrella diseases to their full prominence finally receiving the medical attention they deserve.)  I have been critical of precious time vanished while waiting for results from research, impatient for concrete solutions.  However, I also believe it’s easy and understandable for me to be restless while Ken continues to slip away and all I want is something to make him better, to bring him back to where he was, to where we were. I just want my husband back.  So we, the loved ones, can’t help but be anxious for researchers to find a cure, or at least a way to effectively manage Alzheimer’s and all of the other Dementia-related diseases.

Through technology, we hold unending information in the palm of our hand in an electronic device no bigger than a deck of cards.  Doesn’t it seem logical; somehow, that knowledge, information, technology and treatment for the ill should be as available as well?  The answer ought to be, “Of course,” but that’s just not true especially for those with mental problems and diseases.  I suppose the mind is like space: so much of it is yet uncharted.  We need a big breakthrough – like Thorazine — and while we are waiting for one, we tend to be impatient.

Originally posted 2010-10-02 20:01:03.

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