Monthly Archives: July 2014

Still Alice

I recently finished a book about a woman who’s diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and her struggle to hang on to whatever she can of herself throughout the process, hence the title Still Alice. The novel by Lisa Genova portrays Alice Howland, a 50 year-old renowned psychology professor at Harvard University who begins to notice strange occurrences in her daily routine – not recalling words mid-thought, forgetting class times and what that day’s lecture topic should be in a series and becoming disoriented a few blocks from home and not knowing how to get back home.

Still Alice book coverAlice has always been a superior mentalist, making scientific breakthroughs and setting admirable precedents in her field. She knows this behavior is anything but normal, and after wading through a lot of denial, she final seeks help. Many tests and sleepless nights later, she discovers that she has Alzheimer’s and that her whole world is about to change drastically.

She worries about her family. How will they cope with this illness? Will her husband have to sacrifice his life-long work and passion to support her? Will she eventually not recognize her daughters and son? Was this gene abnormality passed on to her children? Will anyone have the patience?

She worries about her career. How can she possibly teach cognitive psychology and linguistics without being able to tap into those well-earned mental resources anymore? How long until her students and superiors notice? What will she be if not Alice The Brilliant Professor?

She worries about societal stigma. Why is this prognosis so difficult to bring herself to explain? Will she be able to keep up in everyday conversations and activities? Will people shy away from her with a polite nod and grin as to not offend? Will she simply be ignored because that’s easier?

Alice finds that all her worst fears are true. She grapples to preserve her memories – her mother’s Christmas bread pudding recipe, her youngest daughter’s first name – and her reasoning skills – what day is it, what is that thing called. But dementia cannot be reversed and can hardly be halted.  When her brain ceases to function naturally, when her mental synapses stop firing, the cells die, and it’s like fumbling in a maze to find ideas, knowing that the information is there yet not being able to reach it. That is the mild condition, until she loses control of motor abilities like walking or chewing.

You know this story is about a woman with a severely degenerative disease. You know you’re going to be saddened and confused as it progresses, as you see her desperate in an attempt to preserve even the little things that make Alice Alice.

I couldn’t have gotten a full breadth of Alzheimer’s from a fiction novel, but it made me thoughtfully consider the minutia that I take for granted and understand possibly the most about the mind and how it affects a soul that I ever discerned.

In a lecture to an Alzheimer’s related audience, Alice says, “There’s no peace in being unsure of everything all the time.” I dog-eared this page and took a moment. Of course, her’s has to be one of the worst fates to overcome an individual, and this puts a lot in perspective for the reader. The most triumphant ending is that Alice does find a way to accept her new reality and steer with love, letting raw emotions prevail in times of trial. And that’s a powerful message.

Blue Flames

My boyfriend and I were on a getaway and staying at a small bed-and-breakfast. We had just come back from a vigorous swim. As we’re in the common area outside our room, we cross paths with a teenage girl. He and the girl start speaking. I believe he said something to her first. It looked like a compliment. They chat for a few seconds, and then the girl steps closer to us. I hear this one – “I like your necklace too.” She holds the necklace up for him to see closer, a little silver and glass lantern style case holds blue crystals, a tiny door opens on the setting.  “It’s the blue flames. My family’s Irish.”

He seems to understand what this means. His gaze goes from the necklace to her face. She’s smiling sweetly and knowingly. His look shows understanding and attraction, a wow moment. She leans in further basically beginning to whisper to him. He’s sort of propped against a hall table, and her knee drifts over to touch his thigh. They are both slyly grinning now. Their faces are close.

Too much. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. Not thinking about anything except removing ourselves from the situation, I shove him back towards our room and inside. The pretty 18 year-old with short blonde curls and voluptuous body fit neatly into a revealing white ruffle-trimmed tank and faded jeans shrugs and walks away, all too confident.

I’m furious, and a part of me wants to do the whole passive-aggressive thing where I storm around giving the silent treatment. But I can’t be silent. I’m on fire, like those fucking blue flames. I begin the fuss. What the hell was that? What were you thinking? Oh, my god, you were about to do her right there on the hall table!

He doesn’t get it. He’s just nonchalant. What? No. We were only talking. You were standing right there. I start packing. Throwing things this way and that, trying to find my stuff. I say, “We are leaving.” He’s not happy. He doesn’t get why I’m not happy.

So I’m overreacting. He tries to hug me. I pull away. He tries to make jokes. I say, “I can’t do this with you right now.” Bag half zipped and clothes falling out, I walk out the door.

This was the dream I had last night.

It was very vivid. I yelled and cried in it. I woke up sad and scared. I sat out on the front porch, chill in the air, soft rain falling down, to contemplate what it meant. We all have fears, and I believe those are evident in the subconscious. Against wills of every therapist out there, I attempt to decipher my nightmare…

I’ve had a few pitiful courtships with guys who cheated on me. The worst kind too. The ones with full-on intimate “I love you” permanent girls on the side. The ones that make you think you are crazy for not trusting them. The ones who, after a string of these dead-end relationships, make you wonder if you are the problem, if you are not good enough. I fear infidelity.

I’ve had a lot of other relationships sour in my life due to lack of trust. Some of the people who should be there the most simply aren’t. They’re not equipped to be. Or they don’t try. I’ve come to have little to no expectations so I avoid disappointment. I fear a broken heart.

I know the rules of this world – out with the old and in with the new. Lovers, jobs, materials are all victims, being bested by something of a new generation. I recently had a birthday. The thoughts swirl especially when you read a study that shows women apparently reach their peak of beauty at age 25. I fear aging.

But it’s not like me to be dire, without a shred of hope. The positives in this dream were travel, adventure and exercise – running themes in my life. That maybe the girl looked like me, a younger Aarika that hangs on to carefree fun. That my boyfriend has never given me any instance to question him whatsoever. That my active imagination has and will get me far. And that the blue flame crystals were probably a result of watching a major amount of Breaking Bad lately.  :)

Less Tormenting To-Dos

I am constantly making to-do lists. If not physical, they are always in my head. And mostly I have to create a physical list just to get some reprieve from the mental reminders. It’s on the list, Aarika. Now you can stop obsessing. You won’t forget because it’s now written down.

Fast Company to do listsWork – eNewsletter, print ads, digital ads, photo shoot, website maintenance, press release, SEO report, client call, media buys, invoices, insurance

Personal – Plan gatherings with family and friends, grocery store, gym, pay bills, send mail, read, study for new venture, organize iPhoto library

Cleaning – Sweep, mop, dust, dishes, laundry, bathrooms, make beds, touch up paint

Outdoors – Mow, weed-eat, hoe garden, water, trim shrubs and trees, pressure wash and waterproof back deck

This is my life of lists. I think all the time, analyzing, worrying. I have wakeful, vivid dreams every night. Sometimes I wish I could turn my brain off. But then I realize that this strong sense of aspiration and time management is what makes me the productive person I am.

I was all too relieved to read a recent Fast Company article, as provided to me by a LinkedIn Pulse email, titled “5 Unexpected Ways to Get More Done.” (You know I jumped on that one eagerly. See notes above about my tendencies.) The feature proposed ways to work smarter, not harder. And this made me feel better about my lists, knowing that I’m getting a lot right, per this author.

Here’s a synopsis…

5 Unexpected Ways to Get More Done

1. Limit your to-do list

  • List fewer items that you can actually get done
  • Choose 3 Most Important Tasks as priorities
  • Plan the night before
  • Focus on the present day

2. Measure your results, not your time

  • Keep in mind that more hours does not equal more done
  • Recognize what you accomplished, not what you didn’t get done
  • Create small steps to cross off list (parts of a whole task)

3. Build “getting ready to work” routines

  • Avoid procrastination because of uncertainty, being overwhelmed
  • Use a routine to tell your brain and body it’s time to work (coffee, email, music, lighting)

4. Track what you’re wasting time on

  • Know where your time suck is before trying to solve the problem (picking outfit, browsing web, social media)
  • Make alterations in activities (cut, limit, prepare in advance)

5. Build habits to help you stop working

  • Quit while you’re ahead, clear starting place for next day
  • Set firm cut-off time,
  • Plan something after work, a must-do or fun outing
  • Enstate a wind-down routine (journaling, time tracking, cleaning desk)