We have a week in October every year when two presenters come in to our 5th and 6th grades from a group called Project KNOW. It's a week where the 5th and 6th graders begin to learn about their bodies, the physical differences between boys and girls, puberty, learning to make healthy choices, self-esteem, etc. It doesn't really matter what it is for the purpose of my issue, but that's what it was. On Tuesday, one of the presenters checked with me to make sure that I would be at school that evening for the Parent and Child meeting of Project Know. I guess it is simply school policy to make sure there is a school representative there when an outside group uses the school to meet? I don't know, but I did volunteer to come back to school for it, since one of the other teachers lives out of town about 15 miles, and the other one who lives in town like I do has small children at home. I double checked the time with him, assured him I would be there by 6:45, and then went about my day. I never once gave that meeting another thought. Not once. So by the time 3:00 rolled around, I went home, cooked dinner, did whatever it was I did on Tuesday night that did NOT include going back to school for a Project Know Parent-Child meeting.
Had I remembered it Wednesday, I might have been able to write it off as just a silly lapse of memory. But I not only went through my entire day Wednesday, including sitting in on part of the presenter's session with the 6th graders without having it click, but it took me until a full four periods into the day on Thursday before it dawned on me that I had TOTALLY forgotten the meeting Tuesday night. I think maybe one of my 5th graders said something - something very small - that triggered it, and all of a sudden, I realized I had not given it a single thought since we had talked about it Tuesday morning, 48 hours previous. It was like it had never even been discussed. I got that terrible hot and cold and sick to my stomach all-at-once feeling, thinking I had forgotten to go the night before, went to one of the other classrooms immediately to confess, only to have the OTHER presenter coldly tell me that it was "actually Tuesday night," and then turn away from me to go back to her lesson.
I went back across the hall to my empty classroom, shut the door, sat down and had a mini-meltdown at my computer. See, I tend to be very forgetful on a typical basis. My kids tell me things ALL. THE. TIME. that I simply don't register. They will tell me, or ask me, to go someplace "on Saturday night," and then Saturday night rolls around, and I don't have any idea where they are planning to go. Typically, they sigh and say "But Mom, remember? I TOLD you..." and then, oh yeah, it clicks. Sometimes. But sometimes, it doesn't. But that happens ALL the time, not just sometimes when I'm busy. I also NEVER remember a book after I've read it, a movie after I've watched it, and half the things the kids say that all start with "remember the time when..." and half the time or more, I shake my head and think, or say, "No, I DON"T remember that." Its been really frustrating to me for years, feeling like my brain is made of swiss cheese. I have told my kids at school, ever since I started teaching elementary instead of high school more than ten years ago, "ask me or tell me something over and over. I won't be mad at you. I just won't remember unless you do." Like, if they ask me for an eraser, if I don't, or can't get it right that second, I won't remember 30 seconds later. If a student asks me to go to the bathroom, two minutes later when I go to do attendance, I have to ask, "Where is so and so?" and the rest of the class will say, "You said he could go to the bathroom, remember?" and then it dawns on me that oh yeah,. I did.
But Tuesday night's obligation? NO recollection of it. And the overwhelming feeling of shame that I had forgotten, had let down some adult whom I knew not at all but who was counting on me, as well as the parents and kids that did show up (probably not a lot, truth be told), and my two administrators who were also expecting that I would be there was quickly overtaken by a wave of chillingly cold fear. Fear absolutely and positively GRIPPED me - I must have Alzheimers. This is it. This is the beginning of it. All the years of general forgetfulness, of a sieve-like brain for facts and recall, and now, this one, identifying moment - it's clear it is probably the beginning of Alzheimers. Is it early onset? Do I, at my age, qualify anymore as early-onset?
Since I was sitting in front of the computer, sobbing away, big heaving scary sobs, I quickly reached over and typed in "Alzheimers symptoms" and came with a check list of ten things. And it seemed to me that day that most of the ten really and truly DID fit. I know lots of people are forgetful SOMETIMES, but I sincerely do not know ANYONE who is as forgetful in general as I am. For years I have forgotten appointments, like dental visits and hair cuts. I just feel like I can't remember ANYTHING, and it is so very scary.
My mom had Alzheimers. My aunt - my mom's sister, and at least one of my uncles, her brother, also did. There was a pivotal Christmas when we all realized it, realized something was very wrong with my mom, and that something turned out to BE Alzheimers. I thought, on Thursday morning in front of my computer last week, that forgetting that evening event at school was MY pivotal moment - that from that point on, people would use that to mark the beginning, the noticeable beginning, of my decline. Of course, that meant I spent the rest of the day wondering about the rest of my life. I'm not quite 50 yet... far too long to lose my memory, given that my physical health will have me living probably another 40 years. I can't bear the thought of being in a nursing home not knowing anyone for the next 40 years. My kids are too young to "lose" their mother. Will I be able to finish my next 6 years of teaching, or will I have to retire early? Do I have things I need to take care of now, before it's too late to think about taking care of them? Should I change my life if it is going to come to this, or should I stay with the security, such as it is, of life as I've known it for so long?
Maybe none of this makes any sense to anyone else, especially if you don't have any history of this devastating illness in your family, but I can honestly tell you... I'd rather fight a cancer diagnosis than one of Alzheimers. Maybe if you have a history of cancer in your family, you are hypervigilant about every little mole on your body, or are religious about getting your yearly mammograms in a way that I am not, because I have no history of that. Oh yeah, I get my mammograms sort of regularly, though when I went this summer, I think they told me it had been four years since my last one. But I went in knowing there would be nothing wrong, and came out with that just that exact assurance. It's hard to worry about cancer. It's just not in my genes. I do know it doesn't mean it CAN"T happen to me, but when I have an overriding family history of heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and Alzheimers, why would I worry about cancer? Especially when my cholesterol level is through the roof despite taking medicine for it for years, and watching what I eat. It DOES seem like heart disease is far more likely. And while I do worry, a little, about a heart attack, knowing they CAN kill, I don't worry as much as I do about Alzheimers, because there are things I CAN do to help prevent or at least reduce the likelihood of heart disease. There is NOTHING I can do to ward off Alzheimers, and nothing I can take to cure it when it does come. I guess my unspoken prayer has kind of been, "Dear God, please don't let me get Alzeheimers any sooner than I have to, and I really would like to be old already when I do get it, if I have to get it."
Nearly 49 is NOT what I call old, and no, I'm not at all ready.
So, do I have it? Am I showing signs? Is it early-onset? Did forgetting about Tuesday night's meeting until Thursday mean that I likely am hitting close to the pivotal moment when everyone will look back and say "it started then - we noticed it when she forgot that meeting at school"? Thursday, I would have told you yes, I believed that, was afraid of that, sobbed my little heart out about that in between classes most of the day (and applied an ice pack to my eyes before my kids came back to the room to cover up the damage that crying does. A meltdown at school is NOT a good idea, and one I avoid at all costs, whenever possible).
Letting four days pass, I can now say, "probably not." I don't KNOW why I forgot it. I DID go buy a monthly/weekly/daily planner over the weekend, and am now trying to write down every single thing that I need to attend or remember. I was given a post it note on Friday that said "Grapes and 2 large pumpkins" - my reminder of what I needed to bring in to school today. We bought the grapes on Friday night, and I sent my son to buy the pumpkins yesterday afternoon, so I did NOT forget those things. Does that mean anything? I don't know. Can I got back to teaching and not cry in between periods? Yep. Can I forgive myself for the stupid mistakes I made typing up Friday's vocabulary quizzes? Friday, no. Friday I was convinced it was one more sign. Today? Yes. Today I realize that I typically make errors when I type quizzes and papers up for my kids, because I am usually trying to do it in a hurry, at the last minute, and have 27 other things on my mind. I'm also under a lot more pressure at school this year because of a forced "team-teaching" situation in two of my four major classes. And there is a lot more pressure in my life in general right now. Not that my life is worse, or even as bad as, many many others. I just know that stress DOES affect me. I also know that I have pretty severe ADD, and always have. Maybe instead of worrying about Alzheimers, which is probably a stretch at this point, maybe I should go back to the doctor and try a different ADD medicine. It did help before, but the side effects were god-awful. But before I face a permanent sort of melt down, maybe I should give that a try again and see if it helps noticeably.
It's Monday. Despite the fact that it's Halloween, not ANY elementary teacher's favorite day to be in school, it was definitely a better day than last Thursday. I remembered my two big pumpkins and my bag of grapes. I didn't make any mistakes on their vocabulary list I typed up over the weekend, and I remembered to buy candy to hand out for trick or treating tonight.My thoughts and anxieties have settled a bit, sifted down through to the bottom of the lake of fear for now.
The fear, however, does remain. It's a cold hard ball, and one that can,and will, rise again, bubble to the surface, way too quickly, given the opportunity I'm afraid. The trick is going to be figuring out how to LIVE with this fear, rather than being crippled by it.