Monthly Archives: August 2013

What do you have at the end of your cane?

cane     My knee suddenly swelled and it became painful for me to put my foot down so, I took out my late father’s cane which is made of sturdy wood and has a bent handle. It transferred the weight of my body to my forearm and kept me balanced. I held it with my right hand which was the same side as my good knee. When I reached the stairs, I had to place my hand on the bannister with the cane in my other hand. Automatically, my good leg took the first step and then I brought my injured leg up to the same stair. Going downstairs, I gingerly put my injured leg down first.

The rubber stopper at the end of the cane, which is called a ferrule, seemed to be in good condition which was useful as it’s function was to stop me from slipping. Its condition amazed me because my father was well over 80 when he passed away, and left us many years ago. The article I read stated that the ferrule  should actually be replaced periodically. Apparently, they are available at most drugstores. I did not replace mine as I knew that I would not be using the cane for long.

Fortunately for me, the swelling, as well as the excruciating pain disappeared after a couple of days and I am back to running up and down the stairs instead of using the elevator.

Normal aging senescence ?

My husband visited a geriatric neurologist every month or so and after a while, I felt that if the learned doctor was looking for early signs of dementia, she would do well to aim her questions at me or even at my daughters and not only speak to my husband. I drove him there, made sure he remembered to make the next appointment, and then was all but ignored.  

I did not know whether my husband was suffering from Alzheimer’s or  not and felt that until a medication became available that prevented cognitive decline, there did not seem to be any point in doing investigative tests.  There are simple tests that can be done on the spot, like asking the patient to draw a clock and then fill in the time. Another test; to  check the person’s ability to remember words. The doctor mentions them once, and then  checks again about ten minutes later whether the patient can repeat them. But this does not prove that Alzheimer’s is the culprit.

Left to its own devices, the dementia industry will have everyone either at risk at an early stage or deep in the grips of dementia. Let’s face it. It it a huge potential money machine. The sad truth is that we all forget, and it becoms harder to lay down new memories as we get older. When or if this becoms pathological, especially when it is still mild, is a question that is highly dependent on cultural, social, economic and political factors. Except for feeding the burgeoning dementia research community and placating those who feel better if they have a diagnosis, there seems little advantage at this time in pursuing an early diagnosis of a disease that is still without decent therapy when the patient is only destined to get worse.

I wonder whether doctors remember that subjective cognitive decline used to be called and maybe should still be known as normal aging senescence?  A diagnosis of dementia can create anxiety in our aging population …  people who already have sufficient to worry about.

Tomorrow must be different.

Although mental health problems are very common and affect about one in four or five families around the globe, stigma and discrimination towards people with mental health problems are still very common and a lot of myths still abound. Unfortunately, psychiatrists don’t seem to be in agreement about the way mental health problems are diagnosed, what causes them and which treatments are the most effective.

However, despite these challenges, it is still possible to recover from a mental illness and live a fulfilling and even a productive life. There is something that I would like to stress here; something that my family learned the hard way. Having a mental health problem is NOT a sign of weakness. Mental illness is an illness like any other.

Our son had to learn that life was not about being classified by his mental illness. It was about learning to accept himself the way he was. When he got up each day, he had to try to have a productive and even enjoyable day because the following one might be different. In spite of that, we told him to repeat to himself; ‘Tomorrow must be different.’

Nobody can live without hope.

Dining with schizophrenia

I remember the time that our family decided to celebrate my husband’s birthday in a restaurant.  Our daughters walked in with me and the men followed. David caused something of a stir becaused he lurched as he walked. A diner at a nearby table asked why David was examining his plate so carefully and for so long. “Checking for defects,” my husband quipped. “Some people do that all the time, you know.” It amazed me how he was able to kid around this way.

David stared at the people in the restaurant then announced. “There is someone from the Establishment here. He’s sizing me up. The restaurant owner is an army sergeant, you know.”  He became very restless and looked about uncomfortably. We managed to change the subject and even enjoy our meal.

After dinner, we strolled to our car and sang all the way home. We were greeted warmly by our dog and went inside. Then we sat down to watch a  movie on television. David became more and more agitated, then went to his bedroom. Not long after that we heard the sound of something breaking and my husband ran to investigate. David was hammering at an African ornament standing on a ledge in the passage. “STOP David,” my husband shouted. “Stop that now! Why did you do that?” He looked at his dad and shouted; “Because you planted microphones under that statue. The voices are worse. They’re out to get me.” David shouted and then walked toward the front door and went out with his dog. “You can’t let him go out alone in that condition,” I told my husband. “You’re right on that score. I’ll see you later.”

Our daughters helped me scoop up the glass and clean up.  “What a birthday celebration this is turning out to be. Dad loves this sculpture. Maybe we can glue it together Mom?” one of our daughters suggested. “Are  you referring to the statue or to our lives?” I asked tearfully.   

                                                                       african head 2                    

An embarrassing moment

I’m going to the supermarket,” I called out. “To the nearest one. Won’t be long,” I called out to nobody in particular, scooped up my purse and walked towards my car. Our local store was a hazardous place at the best of times as the aisles were built to accommodate only one and a half trolleys at any given time. All four wheels seldom worked in unison; three going in one direction while the fourth ran in the opposite direction. For a change, I’d found everything on my list easily and stood in line amongst a multitude of shoppers at the checkout counter wondering whether my son would ever feel happy again.

I realized that no one knew what I was really thinking as I’d become an expert at changing my facial expressions for different occasions. I had become an expert at changing masks. I had a work expression, another for social occasions, a fixed,  non-committal expression  for psychiatrists and another when with my son, David.

My thoughts were rudely interrupted when a young woman standing in line in another checkout line further along, waved at me; “Hi there. Remember me?” she shouted in a raucous voice. “I – er, remember your face but not your name,” I mumbled, not sure whether she could hear my response or not. “I’m Janie, you know – Janie from the closed ward,” she yelled.  I blushed as I looked about to see who had heard her as I was sure that everyone in the store must have been aware of what she’d said. And there I was, wearing my noncommittal mask, looking around suspiciously the same way David did nowadays. “Say Hi to David, Janie yelled.” I nodded, paid and fled.

A perfectly normal moment?

This incident occurred years ago, long before I had learned how to speak out; before I’d learned to ignore the stigma and cope.

SANE Australia’s campaign: say no to stigma

With the permission of Dr. Paul Morgan, Director of Communications, SANE Australia, I am posting one of the youtube blogs they are using as part of  their new campaign Say No to Stigma.  Combatting stigma is at the heart of their work and their campaign aims to spread the word that this prejudice is unacceptable today. Follow the link to see: Mental illness and the media.

No, he was not cured.

The first time my son was released from a psychiatric hospital after a psychotic attack, a nurse handed him a packet of pills reminding him how important it was to keep taking them even when he felt a bit better. She also told him that he needed to return to the hospital for a check up in a month’s time.

He was 24 years old at the time and had spent many months in that hospital. He’d been in the closed ward for all that time too. As we walked out into the sunshine, I wondered whether he was cured.

During the drive home, I sat next to my husband while David sat behind his Dad, staring obsessively at the people in the cars next to ours whenever we stopped at a red light, saying; “They’re making signs at me.” As we reached home he said; “When I went into the hospital, I didn’t feel well. Today, I feel really ill.”

Our world rotated. No, my son was not cured. I knew that if I wanted some quality of life, I’d have to learn that life was not about waiting for the storm to pass, but about learning to dance in the rain. My husband and I drank coffee in silence then I turned to  him, “Now what?” He hugged me impulsively and said; “We’ll think of something. We always do.”

An eye-opener

My late husband was a member of a Rotary Club and every now and then we chatted to a psychiatrist who was a fellow Rotarian. He asked why I was so keen to speak to a psychiatrist who had a child with a mental illness. I explained that I needed someone who could empathize with me; someone whose knowledge did not come from a textbook. “Would you only consult with a female gynecologist?” he asked once, and I have to admit that I did not have a ready reply.

Some years later, I met him at a lecture and happened to ask after his wife His body sagged as he told me that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. “I’m so sorry,” I told him. “And I’m so sorry that I dared give advice to patients and their families on how to deal with Alzheimer’s. As it turns out, I knew nothing about it and have only gained knowledge since I’ve been forced to live with my wife’s illness.”

I admired his strength of character – the fact that he’d been able to say something that many professionals would not have dared to do. He was  no longer the same person we’d known which was a real eye-opener for me.

An Alzheimer’s Poem

This poem was found posted on the door of someone’s loved one who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. It is not ne, but so touching that I  am copying it. Unfortunately, I was unable to find the author’s name.

Do not ask me to remember

Don’t try to make me understand

Let me rest and know you’re with me

Kiss my cheek and hold my hand.

I’m confused beyond your concept

I am sad and sick and lost.

All I know is that I need you

to be with me at any cost.

Do not lose your patience with me

Do not scold nor curse nor cry.

I can’t help the way I’m acting,

Can’t be different though I try.

Just remember that I need you.

That the best of me is gone.  

Please don’t fail to stand beside me,

Love me ‘till my life is done.