Aging, Alzheimer's, Dementia, Mild Cognitive Impairment, Self Care, Stress and Anxiety, swimming

Roller Coaster

A quick post after a roller coaster few weeks.  Some highlights (and lowlights):

Don’s short term memory problems appear to be getting worse.  He repeats the same question over and over, and cannot retain a sequence of instructions.  If I ask him to do “a” and then “b” he will go do “a” but come back and ask me what else I wanted him to do…even when the instructions/requests are quite simple – e.g. please feed the dog, then get your gym bag.  At the same time, he is still able to manage all of the “tasks of daily living,” drive, use his Iphone to navigate to unfamiliar locations, etc.  We saw the neurologist last week, and while he still says it is a “grey area” the symptoms are increasingly indicative of some form of dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s.  This was not a surprise, but still felt a bit like a punch to the gut.  Don is now on Aricept, which we hope will improve some of the symptoms at least in the short term.  We are also working on sleep issues, which both the neurologist and Don’s primary care doctor thing are playing a role, so there is likely a CPAP machine in his future.  And I am working on maintaining routines, and providing enough daily activity to keep him occupied and give him some structure and a sense of purpose without having so many activities that he feels overwhelmed.  It’s a challenge.

The memory issues are not made easier by the fact that they trigger both of us.  I get too impatient and short-tempered (mostly out of fear, I think), and he gets angry and upset with himself when he forgets something or gets confused.  I frequently feel like I am between a rock and a hard place, because if I remind him to do something (like bring his glasses when we are going out) he gets offended or upset, but if I don’t remind him he forgets and that creates its own drama.

Add in the adjustment to so much togetherness, which seems to be a common challenge if the experiences of friends whose husbands have also recently retired are anything to go by, and it has been pretty stressful.  I am doing my best to manage the stress, and to do what I need to take care of myself.

I have met with a psychologist who I got to know through the Memory Club program that Don and I joined, and that was really helpful.  I (and sometimes we) are going to meet with him regularly, which will give me a safe place to face what I am feeling and a way to get insight and advice from someone who is very familiar with the challenges of being the care partner for someone with dementia.

I also started two activities that have long been on my bucket list – a weekly “Introduction to Masters Swimming” class, and ocean swims with a local club.  I love being in the water, honing my skills, and being with a group of people who love being in the water as much as I do.  It feels like I have found my tribe.  My first time out with the ocean swimming club I did two miles…I was pretty slow, and was surprised to learn the next day that I was one of only two people to complete the entire distance!

The ocean swim was tough, but it gave me two hours of uninterrupted time to just think and reflect.  Finishing it was also a huge confidence booster, since I was in the company of people who are much stronger and more experienced swimmers than I am.

Other highlights of the past few weeks have included time with good female friends, including a lunch with two of the women in our Memory Club cohort who really know what I am going through, several fun social events for us as a couple, and regular movie dates on $5 Tuesday.

Tomorrow we head to Alaska for a long-awaited adventure.  We’ll be gone two weeks.  Wifi connections permitting I hope to post some updates….look for photos of beautiful scenery and amazing wildlife!

 

 

Acceptance, Family, Mild Cognitive Impairment, Retirement, swimming

Swimming

I am a swimmer.  I’ve never been on a swim team, had my last swimming lesson when I was 12, my stroke is far from perfect and even my fastest pace is slow….but starting when I was in grad school, and continuing with only short breaks due to injury or lack of pool access, I have shown up several times a week and swum laps.

Swimming is my exercise of choice, but more than that it is what keeps me sane when my world is going crazy.  Counting laps is my mantra, and the rhythm of my breath is my meditation.  As Krista O’Reilly-Davi-Digui wrote in this blog post, 

“In the pool, I let go of all my responsibilities and inner chatter and focus on my breath and the way my body tilts gently with each stroke.”   When I emerge from the water, my body is tired, but my soul is revitalized.

Lately my life feels even more turbulent than usual.  My last few weeks at work before retirement are busy as I wind down or hand over tasks and projects, there are too many retirement events for an introvert like me, and we are partway through a month of non-stop house guests…family members that we love, but who bring long-standing triggers and dramas.

Most of this will die down once I retire, but I will still be faced with the roller-coaster ride of Don’s cognitive issues and the uncertainty, stress, anxiety, and fear that we both are feeling.

I will swim my way through.

To borrow again from Krista O’Reilly-Davi-Digui, swimming “is one more invitation, on this life journey, to step into small, imperfect action.  I am reminded that I am the type of person who moves through fear and anxiety, and does hard things, who seeks freedom and does not quit.”

I have a feeling that the coming months and years will test me in ways that I never wanted to be tested, but I will swim my way through the fear and anxiety and I will not quit.

 

Aging, Mild Cognitive Impairment, swimming, travel

Whales, dolphins…and angels

We just got back from a long weekend in Puerto Vallarta.  It had been more than 10 years since we were last there, and we had forgotten how much we like it.  This time we stayed a block from Los Muertos beach, walking distance from all of the city sights and in the thick of the action.  We loved the vibrancy, the color, watching the local families crowd the beach on what was for them a holiday weekend, and the food.  We ate lots of street tacos and several meals with our feet in the sand, drank far too many margaritas, took the water taxi to the little beach town of Yelapa, and saw some spectacular sunsets.

On Monday we took a 1/2 day whale watching trip with Wildlife Connection – a small, biologist-run outfit that takes people out in zodiacs so you can get really close to the whales.  It was a blast watching the humpbacks frolicking in Banderas Bay.  We got some amazing photos, but I think this is my favorite:

 

The next day we went out with Wildlife Connection again, this time to find dolphins with the hope of swimming with them in the wild.  One of the biologists studied a particular pod of dolphins for her Master’s thesis, and they became friendly with her and will often swim up to people.  We found the pod, and I volunteered to jump in first along with another man since Don did not want to go in.  A couple of dolphins swam right up to me and circled around, one of them so close it nearly brushed against me.  In just a few seconds they were gone, but the experience will stay with me for a lifetime.

It all happened so fast that it was hard to get a picture, but Don managed to capture it in the last second of a video he took with his iPhone, and I was able to extract this very blurry image from there.  That is me in the  back with a dolphin swimming right in front of me.

Image may contain: ocean, outdoor, water and nature

Unfortunately for the people who went in the water after me, the dolphins became more interested in surfing the wake and in teasing people by swimming towards them and then flashing past, so no one else got such an up close and personal experience.  I feel truly blessed.

I also feel blessed that Don and I got to spend such a fun time together, “making memories” as my grandmother always used to say.  These times together are becoming even more precious as we face his aging process and the cognitive challenges it has brought.

The trip could have ended badly as Don wandered out of the VIP Lounge at the airport and found himself on the wrong side of security without his passport or boarding pass.  He had left to go to the restroom, which he didn’t realize was inside the lounge, and then got disoriented and lost.  I started to worry when he didn’t return, and tried checking the restrooms both inside and out of the lounge.  One of the waiters in the lounge saw my distress and was about to go out and search with me when I got a call from Don on my cell phone and he told me where he was.  The waiter told me he would watch our stuff while I went and retrieved Don, and then when we returned was so solicitous, bringing us bottled water to take on the airplane, and checking every few minutes to make sure Don was ok.  I tried to find him to thank him when we left to catch our plane, but didn’t see him.  A few minutes later he came hurrying up the departure hall to say goodbye to us.  He was a lovely, kind man who went above and beyond to help us…an angel when I really needed one.

 

Reflections, swimming

One of those days

Today was one of those days where one issue or challenge seemed to follow another and even “good” news had a dark twist.

These included –

  • A summons for jury duty…in downtown LA instead of any of the courthouses within a reasonable drive from here.
  • Being notified that I am being awarded a locally prestigious business leadership award from the Chamber of Commerce only to learn that the awards luncheon will take place at the local Trump National Golf Course, which creates both a personal issue for me and a potential political issue for my Board, some members of which had already proposed a boycott of sorts of events at the Trump golf course .  It is hard to “support” a business whose profits go to a President who has cut all federal funding for libraries from his budget proposal.
  • A voicemail from a crank who has for years called my work number monthly to demand that I resign and/or called my Board President to demand that I be fired.
  • Carving out time for a soul-restoring swim only to find the pool jammed and with a long wait time so that by the time I got in the water I had to cut my swim short.
  • Discovering that our dishwasher, which was full of dirty dishes, had detached from its mounting bracket such that the door would not close.

In other words, not much fun.

At the same time, I’ve managed to stay pretty positive and to salvage what I can from the days dramas and disasters.  I’ve postponed my jury service until December, and hopefully timed it for the week when the pool at our gym is usually closed for maintenance, and adjusted my schedule so that I can fit in a longer swim tomorrow.

I’ve reminded myself that the crank caller is really more of a nuisance than anything else, and that I am in good company since he makes similar calls to pretty much every Library Director in the greater LA area.

I’ve decided that accepting the Chamber of Commerce award even if it means attending an event that provides some small profit to Trump is better than rebuffing the many people in the Chamber of Commerce that I respect and have enjoyed working with over the years…but that I will use the opportunity as a platform to inform and educate people about Trump’s attack on libraries.

Tomorrow I will call the excellent appliance repair man that we discovered a few weeks ago when our refrigerator was leaking water, and hope that he can reinstall our dishwasher with new brackets.

And I will remember this morning’s beautiful walk along the ocean with Don, the great conversation a friend and I had when we met for coffee (tea for me!) this morning, my house that is clean and shiny after our cleaning lady came today, and the fact that I actually had a productive day at work and at home despite the challenges.

Even “one of those days” has its bright spots!

 

 

 

Christmas, Holidays, Reflections, swimming

The only time I’ve got

After succumbing to my inner Grinch last week, it feels like I am turning a corner.  While I can’t say I am really feeling the Christmas spirit, I am looking towards the next couple of weeks in a much better frame of mind.

My gifts are bought and mostly wrapped, I sent Don off to the post office this morning loaded down with packages for our East Coast family and friends, and after two really fun holiday parties this weekend we can now look forward to a couple of weeks of quiet evenings at home and a low-key Christmas with my nearby family.

After talking it over with Don, and with my sister (the only other person who understands the dynamics), I have bowed out of my stepmother’s family holiday party – something both Don and I face with dread each year.  While my step-brothers and their families are always very nice to us, it isn’t much fun spending hours with people you see once a year at best, who have a shared family history that excludes you, and with whom you have very little in common in terms of interests or beliefs.  For an introvert like me situations like this are really uncomfortable, and even extroverted Don struggled to make conversation with my foot-ball loving, politically right-leaning, evangelical Christian stepfamily.  Making the decision to bow out has lifted a  weight off my shoulders, and Don was so very grateful that I know it was the right decision for us.

Even better, the pool at our gym reopened three days early, so I will be able to get back to my lap swimming routine this afternoon.  I badly need the stress-alleviating feel of water on my skin and the meditative state induced by counting laps.

A quiet week at work this week will be followed by extended long weekends for both Christmas and New Years.  I’m looking forward to sleeping until after the sun comes up, taking care of a lot of year-end tasks, and spending time reflecting on 2017 and planning for 2018.

I’m also being mindful of this quote from Art Buchwald that I saw on the Execupundit blog recently –

“I don’t know if this is the best of times or the worst of times, but I assure you it’s the only time you’ve got.”

So true – and so wasteful to spend the only time I’ve got being the Grinch.

Wishing everyone peace and joy in the coming weeks, whether you celebrate these particular holidays or not.

Christmas, swimming, Uncategorized

Feeling like the Grinch

According to the holiday songs that are playing everywhere this is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year” but right now it sure doesn’t  feel that way.

The warm temperatures and smoky air aren’t helping me get in the holiday spirit – a wildfire haze in 80 degree temperatures just isn’t the same as the scent of smoke drifting from chimneys on a chilly evening – and neither are the lingering colds Don and I are battling….but it is more than that.

I have an overwhelming to do list and too many holiday events with too little downtime for an introvert like me.  Add in an upcoming three day visit from my father and stepmother (and an obligatory holiday event with my stepmother’s family) that will be uncomfortable for a variety of reasons having to do with my father’s longstanding antisocial personality tendencies and the obligation  to socialize with step-relatives that we see only once a year and with whom we have  fundamental political and religious differences, and the result is a season that is more about stress and exhaustion than enjoyment.

I’m also realizing how much my regular lap swimming contributes to my emotional and mental well-being.  The pool at the gym is closed for maintenance and I have had to rely on other forms of exercise for the past few days.  I’ve been using the elliptical machine and exercise bike, but the noisy environment and proximity to other people mean that while my body is getting physical exercise, my mind is not getting the benefit of the solitude of swimming or the meditative effect of counting out the laps, which serves as a kind of mantra.

The result is that I am sleeping even worse than I usually do, am more critical and short-tempered with Don, and holiday tasks like writing our annual card that usually bring me joy have just felt like a chore.  I fell like the Grinch!

The pool reopens next week, and I can’t wait!  In the meantime I am trying to wrap up all of my holiday tasks so I can rest and relax in the remaining week before Christmas.