Monthly Archives: November 2013

Advice from all sides

cadbury's YESOver the years, I have heard that it is the simple things that count in life, so, when I feel down, I walk as fast as I can to the nearest supermarket to buy a large chocolate; especially a white Toblerone if available. What can be simpler than that? Yes, I love chocolate, and although I do not allow myself to eat it whenever I ‘feel like it,’ I have been known to manage far more chocolate in one go than anyone else I have ever met.

Something else that I read by laughter specialist  was, Laugh often and laugh loudly. Feel alive and get active. Well, the feel alive part is easy, but the laughing part is a bit harder. Although I used to be the kind of person who laughed a lot and laughed loudly, I don’t do much of either nowadays.

On television there is always someone saying; when the tears come, endure your grief and then move on. How right they are but they omitted to give instructions on how to do that.

Health books are full of, cherish and preserve your health and if it’s unstable, find ways of improving it. Then I noticed an addendum: if you are unable to do this alone, seek help.

I know how important it is to tell my near and dear ones how much I love them at every opportunity as it makes me feel warm and good inside.

Then I attended a lecture where I was told not to be afraid of failure. The lecturer said; ‘You’ve all failed many times even though you might have forgotten about all those times. The first time was probably when  you tried to toddle at an early age and toppled over. When you swam for the first time you might have felt that you were drowning. Maybe you messed up when you tried to swipe a ball with a bat for the first time, but that didn’t mean that you had to give up, did it?’

Now for the seniors. I’ve come to the conclusion that now that I am a senior citizen, I should throw out non-essential numbers including age, weight and height. I also think that I should try to  keep in close touch with cheerful friends as the grouches pull me down. It’s easier said than done but worth trying. Not for one moment am I suggesting that I am going to dump my wonderful older friends when they don’t feel well, but am going to have some good times with those who are able to do so.

Memories from November 29, 1959

climbing roses On November. 29, 1959, Alec and I got married in a fairy tale wedding in my parents’ garden.  Today’s date is Nov. 29, 2013 and I have to get through the day that would have been our 55th wedding anniversary, with all the memories it evokes.

February 12, 2014 will be 4 years since Alec passed away. All I know is that while grieving, I managed to keep myself alive. While missing him, I managed to keep myself alive somehow. While handling the million and one things I had to do and have chosen to do, I kept myself alive even while feeling so terribly lonely. Alec’s side of the bed was empty. His place at the breakfast table stood waiting. Suddely, food had  little taste for me and became a survivor’s tool. When night fell, our apartment which is such a bright, happy place during the day, became lonely and depressing. Most nights I wandered about opening and closing closets and doors, thinking the usual if only’s that one thinks at these times. To mark the first year, I bought and planted a creeper with lemon blooms that he loved. To mark the second year, I planted cyclamens in a shady spot and the third year, the family had breakfast at his favorite restaurant overlooking the sea where we spoke about the good things that we remembered and had done as a family.

After someone you love dearly dies, the first year consists of solitary firsts filled with memories too countless to describe. And slowly, ever so slowly, I decided not to descend into a depression but to keep on living, loving, enjoying my children and grandchildren and to make a new life for myself.

Thanksgiving and Hanukah … time for change

time for change

Today, November 28, 2012, is both Thanksgiving and Hanukah and as always, holidays bring me to the subject of all the people who have mental illnesses, other serious brain illnesses as well as developmentally disabled people. Let’s stop trying to ignore them. Let’s think about the way they must be feeling  while the rest of the world goes by doing their shopping, celebrating, yet seldom giving a thought to anyone less fortunate than themselves. I know how  my son felt when he suffered from schizophrenia. Seeing this occur to someone so dear to me, left an indelible mark on my attitude to life.

It’s time to give time and thought to the less fortunate people around us.

Chances are that you might know someone who is developmentally disabled, or suffers from a brain illness or one of the mental health illnesses. Disorders such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, dementia, bipolar illness or schizophrenia can affect anyone from any walk of life and cause more suffering than many physical health problems.

A lot of individuals are ignored or feared. People behave in a hostile and disaproving manner rather than show compassion, support and understanding. These reactions cause isolation and unhappiness. It must be terrible to be confronted by stigma and discrimination especially when using public transport or even when out shopping.

Critical or derogatory attitudes are damaging to anyone, especially to someone with a brain illness. No matter how hard he/she tries, being accepted is difficult. Because he/she is unable to shake off the stigma, that person loses confidence in himself and in time, might come to believe that he is not even a worthy citizen as he is unable to find a niche in our society.

Living with mental illness in a more positive manner

3 in a band #2Trying to lessen the stigma associated with mental illness requires a change of societal views through education and increased awareness. When we talk about people by naming their illness first, as in he is a mentally ill person, we actually dehumanize that individual and reinforce the stigma.

So, what should a person with a mental illness do? What can they do? How should they behave?

Well, they can try to walk away from all the situations that upset them and try to ignore all that is bad for them.

They can learn to fill their lives with something creative, constructive and positive.

If they are sufficiently brave, they can learn how to share information with others that they feel they can trust. But this is very difficult to do.

They can work very hard at forming happy, rewarding, symbiotic relationships, either people in the same position as they are which is easier, or in another circle.

They can try to find hobbies that will bring them joy and an interest in life once again. I know someone who starting playing a musical instrument and eventually met other musicians with whom he formed a close relationship. He also provided himself with a time-consuming hobby that helped him pass the long hours after work. He was only able to concentrate on his work for four hours at a time so his days stretched endlessly until he discovered music. From that day one, his life changed for the better.

But it is not easy to learn how to cope with each new hurt and loss. Not everybody is caring and tactful, but there are surprises en route. One of the most difficult things to cope in today’s world is to be different. No matter what that difference is and no matter how large or small it may be. People in general are either uncomfortable or afraid to be with someone who does not fit into society easily.

It isn’t easy for for anyone to cope with old memories that are continually being raked up by family and friends but this is something else that they have to accomplish.

They have to learn how to adapt, evolve and find peace within themselves.

They need to find laughter and remember how to enjoy themselves once again, slowly at first, step by step.

They have to learn how to think positively and try to erase all thoughts of desperation and of harming themselves. One can live on various levels and although they might not manage to live the way they did before the diagnosis of mental illness was dropped on them, they can live balanced, happy  lives once again.

Their families have to give them all the support that they can. This is not easy. My family noticed that many husbands leave home, finding mental illness too hard to bear. These men left their wives and childdren with an unfair burden. Marriage vows state, In sickness and in health, so this applies not only to one’s attitude towards a spouse, but to a sick child too. These young people have more than enough to put up with so the last thing they need is a splintered family.

How I was advised to sharpen my memory

sudukoSome tips I was given for sharpening my memory:

  • Try to recall the location of as many objects in your house as you possibly can.
  • Learn something new every single day if possible but concentrate while doing so.
  • Try to remember people’s names after the first introduction. Avoid distractions while thinking about them.
  • Make an effort not to multi-task.
  • Pack away your calculator and calculate figures in your head.
  • Do crossword puzzles or sudoku.
  • Make sure to have sufficient sleep. If  you don’t sleep well at night, take a nap after lunch.
  • Eat healthy food.
  • Go for a walk every day or at least every second day.

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Sue Jones nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award and I would like to thank her for doing so and congratulate her as this is her second award. Here is the link to her blog.

She threatened to take her life. “I didn’t know how to respond,” her mother cried.

It is so important to tell a person who threatens to take  his/her life by suicide that there’s help out there.

It’s important to tell him/her that those feelings might very well pass, and, that their condition is treatable.

It’s so important to throw them a lifeline and repeat that there are people out there who know how to deal with their problems and help them.

It’s so important to stress that they are not alone and once again tell them that mental illness is treatable today.


If we use the term committed suicide, it is not a correct description as committed means that one did something illegal like commit a crime. Saying ‘he/she died by suicide’ is far more correct and acceptable. (In the past, I used the wrong term to describe the act of taking one’s life and I apologize.)

Journalists often give far too much information about the actual suicide or even about the place where it occurred. All that is so unnecessary. The less detail given the better.

I have read accounts of suicides where the journalist has portrayed the act as heroic. Now why would anyone do that?

It is not a good idea to say that suicide ends a person’s pain because in my opinion, one has to be very much alive to feel any relief from pain.

It sounds so wrong to me when I read things like: ‘it was a failed suicide attempt.’ Isn’t it more realistic to say; ‘It was an attempted suicide?’

After there has been a spate of suicides, I’ve read bold headlines stating; ‘There has been an epidemic of suicides.’ Wouldn’t it be better to say that suicide rates are falling or rising?’

All that I have written here might sound simply like words, words and more words, but I truly believe that the way things are written, project certain results.

after a suicide attempt

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease

Even though Alzheimer’s disease is so common, it can go unrecognized or misdiagnosed in its early stages. An early diagnosis is important as both patient and family worry a great deal and aware of the fact that there are medications that can slow down its progression, they are keen to start on them as soon as possible. I have been told that a definitive diagnostic test cannot be done until after the death of a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, as only then can the brain be examined for microscopic changes. Frankly, after my husband’s death, I was unable to bring myself about to donate his brain to science, even though I’d given it a great deal of thought beforehand.

When our geriatric neurologist realized that my husband had a memory problem – and it took quite a while as he was so good at covering up – she sent us for a series of questions and tests known as MMSE.

Oriention to time: The tester asked my husband what the date was.

Registration: She told him that she was going to say three words and expected him to repeat them. The words she chose, at random, i think, were grape, chair and dollar.

Naming: She pointed to objects in the room and asked him to name them one by one.

Reading: She asked him to read a sentence and act it out, like: ‘Give me that book please,’ ‘Please sit on the other chair,’ etc.

A few months later, they re-tested him at my request, even though it was obvious that they were loath to do so, as his condition had deteriorated. They’d been unable to guage a change in him due to his ability to concentrate and cover up. This time, they asked him to draw the face of a clock showing all 12 digits in the correct places and the hands of the clock to show the time, which was then 9:15. Then she mentioned five words, chatted to him about general topics, and then asked him to repeat the words. He was unable to repeat more than one so he asked her to repeat the whole process as he told her he could do better than that. She agreed but the results were the same.

Only when the neurologist saw the results, I felt it was the first time that she started to take note of what I had been saying. Until then, I had been given very little time to say anything during our sessions.


Memory Loss – the signs I noticed

white bougainvilleaLiving with a person who forgets is shocking, especially if that person was so bright and full of life previously. I kept hearing about the wonderful progress in medical science, especially in imaging studies that allow doctors to study a living brain.

The warning signs of memory loss as I recall were; my late husband forgot recent events or had difficulty retaining any new information. There were times when he couldn’t find the right words and even worse, used inappropriate ones. When we were in our car, disorientation was evident. Once, we were on an organized trip and en route home, he became agitated. It took time but eventually he told me that the bus driver was going the wrong way. That shocked me. He showed difficulty with abstract thinking and all of a sudden he started buying large household items that we did not need. He became much quieter and stopped working on his stamp collection which was something he’d spent many years on. I no longer felt safe when he was driving so asked his geriatric neurologist to get him to stop. It is always upsetting when a person has to stop driving. The same applied to banking. I had to ask our bank not to renew his credit card which broke my heart as he had been the main breadwinner.

Until then, I had assumed that he was suffering from some kind of dementia but then, he was asked to undergo tests and I wondered what form they would take.


Participatory Medicine

I have been writing about Narrative Medicine and today, I came across Participatory Medicine which is what I have been dreaming about. Except, I don’t think that it should only be used by doctors and specialists. I wonder whether it can be used in the field of psychiatry. If there is anyone out there who can give me more information on this subject, it will be so helpful to so many people.

Below this, you will see the link to Professor Bas Bloem on TED at  MAASTRICHT. This doctor thinks that it is time for all doctors to descend from their ivory towers.

To see this clip, follow the link:

They knew how to comfort me

It is never easy to know how to help someone when they are grieving. It might very well feel as if there is nothing one can do or say in order to help. I think that I have learned a few things along the way which I will share. No, nobody can take the pain away but it was a great consolation for me to simply have people who knew me well, to be there. They were positive people and knew how to offer a glimmer of hope for the future which helped a great deal. I realized how difficult it was for them to know what to say to me. One friend always stopped short when she was about to mention my son’s or my husband’s name. I told her it was fine to talk about them. In fact, I wanted to talk about them. By skirting the subject, I almost felt as though we were erasing the lives of two people I’d loved dearly.

Being a good listener is always a positive trait and there were times when I had a great need to talk and be listened to. When I mourned the loss of our son, my husband was there for me and we had each other, but when I was mourning the loss of my husband, I needed to talk a lot, and not only to my children. Maybe I was repetitive, but I think that it is natural to relate what occurred over and over, especially when it is very fresh and excruciatingly painful.

I so appreciated it when friends asked me to join them for walks along the beach, for a casual meal, or for the odd day trip away from it all.

Friends who had also lost their husbands, were the ones who  offered the best suggestions as they understood only too well, having experienced similar emotions. They were the ones who pointed out that the process would be a long, uphill one, but with a positive attitude, I had to make the journey from pain and despair, to living again. They were right. Almost four years have dragged by since my husband passed away, and I can see a small light at the end of the tunnel. Of course both my husband and my son will always be remembered.