The Terror is Real
“The Edge…There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.” — Hunter Thompson
It’s just not that black and white. I know the brits use the term mad interchangeably for crazy, odd, strange nuts, insane, kooky, silly, wacky, cuckoo, psycho, screwy, bonkers, daft, demented, deranged, mental….. Far more points/degrees of madness than the few labels shown. It’s a spectrum.
I was told that my paternal grandmother was in and out of insane asylums for manic depression and the treatment used was shock therapy. I wasn’t told that until I was old enough to understand yet interestingly as a child I spent most of my early life wanting to “fit in” aka be “normal”. Others seemed more confident and happier than I, so I figured if I did what they did, I to would be happy. Faulty hypotheses.
I wouldn’t say that I sacrificed my true self to fit in but in truth my true self just wanted to be accepted and I thought that was the only way was to act like others. Slowly, in my late 20’s, I dipped my toe into doing things that were not the norm. And voila, I found joy. I started slow with dating a 50 year old man when I was 28. It grew to becoming a Polarity Therapist, Shaman, Burlesque Artist… The more I pushed my edge, the more joy I found and experienced some profound moments and insights. Also even though my choices were considered less the “norm”, I was being authentic to myself and wasn’t concerned with fitting in. And the less l cared about fitting in and stood in my truth, whether my family or friends understood my choices, which they never would have chosen for themselves, they were amazingly supportive.
To give you a perspective as normal is relative. If you asked me in my 20’s what my life would be:
And if 20 Year old me met me, this is what she would say:
If I could embed a sound right now it would be the screech of a speeding car coming to a stop to avoid a crash. I was writing this as part of a prompt for a writing circle. Today’s topic was madness and I was ready to give you an example of the time I felt I really did cross the edge and was concerned at least for an evening with ripples into the following days that I thought I had lost my mind as a result of an ayahuasca journey. It wasn’t the first journey but it was the most profound.
Yesterday as I was working on a different topic, I received a call from my 85 year old mother. Without even saying hello, she said to me in a state of panic, “What is my password?” At first I was just annoyed as she interrupted my creative process and didn’t even provide any platitudes. Also annoyed because her password for almost everything is very specific to my older sister. I am the techie daughter so that is why I get the call. I also know my sister is her first born; however, in my youth I also knew that she was the pride and joy. She was the favorite! Key word was and I’m past it now. I know that has shifted, yet it stings. I tell her what I think it is and the call is over. Aside from the sting, the other thing that scares me is my mother’s mental health. Physically she is like someone 20 years younger. Her memory was never great as she can’t remember a name to save her life. Yet now it’s more than just names. It’s forgetfulness with a dose of heightened anxiety. My two sisters and I worry about it her mental health especially since her older sister died as a result of alzheimers. It’s a long and disheartening time for loved ones, For the inflicted it’s a long journey starting with forgetfulness and then leading to the loss of memories, personality and public decorum leading to the body slowly forgetting how to function.
There are many forms of severe dementia, which literally means out of one’s mind. Isn’t that what madness aka insanity is a loss of one’s mind. To me, I believe that madness doesn’t also include loss of one’s memory which dementia does. And I also believe that there is a higher chance of a mad person regaining their senses. Not so likely when you have Alzheimers.
My sisters and I have encouraged her to get tested as a baseline. She agrees but we never quite get to making an appointment. She admits she’s afraid. We ask isn’t better to know so you can be proactive before the dementia takes over. To her it means that she is losing control and that is a death sentence . She has even said to me that if she ever gets like her sister, I must help her end her life. I replied, “Why me? .You can do it yourself.” She said, “I may wait too long and forget.” The terror is real. But we let the moment pass without delving deep aka picking at an emotional incision that is very tender and raw.
During the times of COVID where she, like everyone else, is more isolated, we’ve been more concerned as my mother has a need to be busy. Busy keeps her mind engaged and we are concerned that her lack of “doing” will exacerbate her mental decline. So during this time, I in particular, have made sure to recommend things for her to watch or read, that will stimulate her mental processes. I’ve even recommended doing puzzles or other hobbies. Those recommendations are not received gracefully and instead I get a rebuttal of why they are not suited for her.
On the morning of January 6th, I was watching the previous night’s Late Show with Stephen Colbert’s on my DVR. One of his guests was Sanjay Gupta, neurosurgeon, CNN correspondent and author of the newly released book, “Keep Sharp, Build a Better Brain at Any Age.” He says that dementia isn’t inevitable and there are ways to prevent it and because of the brain’s neuroplasticity can heal and grow. Of course a lightbulb goes off above my head and thought this would be good for mom. I made a mental note to discuss it with her the next time we spoke. I didn’t want to assume and buy it, as I know it is a sensitive subject and I feel like I’m walking a tightrope when the topic nears.
Later that day she calls me to tell me that my cousin and her niece, Doreen, had sent her the book. Doreen had been dealing with similar issues with her mother, my aunt through marriage, not blood. She wanted support for the challenges with her mother and to improve herself. Being the thoughtful person she is, she decided to gift my mother as well. Apparently she had back ordered it, so Doreen called my mother as soon as she received it, to make sure my mother got hers which was good because they left out the gift card. My mother assumed it was from me before Doreen called her. She was excited as she was a fan of Sanjay’s. I told her that I was just about to talk to her about it to see if she was interested. So it felt like the stars were aligning.
She read it and loved it. She stressed how there was some really deep insight but didn’t get specific. She loved it so much she bought one for me which she shared. It wasn’t actually a surprise because the other day she called me during a business meeting. I always pick up when she calls, because, you know 85 year old mother want to be sure she’s safe. As soon as I realized it wasn’t a health emergency, I tell her I’m on a conference call. She asks me if I had bought the book for myself. I hadn’t. She said, “Good, I’m in a book store now and will get one for you.” I had to return to my meeting, so I just said, “O.K. thanks”.
Yesterday she decided to come into the city and she was visiting my older sister and niece. She said she was bringing the book so she can leave it at my sisters apartment for me to get it I decided to join them for dinner and a movie, all COVID safe in my sister’s home. At some point she gave me the book and I put it in my bag. I can tell she was very proud of sharing this. But I could tell it wasn’t just pride, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. “I said, I’ll put it on the top of my reading list” and let her know my thoughts. We continued with the evening and as I was leaving she walked to the door with me. As I pressed the elevator button to go down she excitely said, “I can’t wait to get your impressions of the book. There are really insightful moments and I want to get your opinion.” So as much as I wasn’t my mother’s favorite as a child over time, over time she has grown to appreciate my spiritual and holistic insights and generosity. And as much as I no longer need her approval, when I get it, the little girl starved for recognition and praise shows up to sop it up like a sponge. What I also realized was that my mother’s inner child, the one who learned to not let anyone see her vulnerabilities but clearly needed help, was standing in front of me. It was a subtly profound moment and then she closed the door and I could hear her bolt the lock. Clearly me on the outside and her inside.
I was immediately brought back to a memory of when she and I went to see Dear Evan Hanson on Broadway. If you never saw it, I don’t think I’m letting anything out of the bag by saying nobody leaves without at least a tear in their eye. I practically ugly cried. I looked at my mother and she had a blank face. Afterwards she guffawed at how great the play was. I knew my mother was also quicker to rage than tears but I was shocked that she did not emote. So I asked her, “How did you not cry?!?!?” She replied, “years of practice.” Those three words were like the parting of the red sea revealing my mother’s emotional history.
Today I pray that the quick shift from inner child wanting my perspective to bolting the lock wasn’t foreshadowing of our future discussions about the book or worse what will be happening to her mind.