I thought it was about time that I cleared the air and had a good conversation with the blight of my life - Alzheimer's. The squatter that I cannot evict.
So here's the result...
I'll never know when you first arrived. It was certainly years before I was diagnosed. You quietly inserted yourself in my brain and began your slow, insidious process of destruction long before the effects started to become apparent to me in any significant way.
I remember that I began to feel as if my performance at work was not up to my usual standard. It was becoming difficult to manage workload and priorities and to make decisions. Then, one day while at work a wave of overpowering emotion swept over me and I broke down and began to cry. Perhaps I should have seen that you'd started work on me, but I'd never known anyone with the early signs of dementia so I had nothing to suspect. That's the way you like to work though, isn't it? Slowly and stealthily.
I went straight to see a doctor, who diagnosed me with depression and anxiety, dosed me up with antidepressants and gave me a sick-note and a series of appointments with a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist (CBT). For the next two years I was mostly off work. I was given cognitive memory tests by my G.P. and Occupational Health Doctor, but always scored highly, and after they had ticked the “memory box”, they never pursued the possibility of dementia – You had them fooled.
I never felt depressed, but I still knew in my heart that something inside me had changed; I just didn't recognise that it was YOU Alzheimer's.
I knew that I could not retain or recall information in the way I once did, and that I sometimes had difficulty speaking. I stuttered and was often unable to finish sentences, but still I didn't catch on that you were slowly getting on with the job of building-up the tangles of proteins that are choking my synapses.
It's what you do. Your specialism. And there is no cure.
Eventually, by sheer luck, I was introduced to a new Occupational Health Doctor who immediately recognised that you, Alzheimer's were hiding inside me and that any depression or anxiety I might have was merely a natural result of my self-knowledge that I was somehow unwell.
The Doctor asked my probing questions about my communication problems and how I mitigated them in order to function day to day (we each have our own tricks I guess. I've learned to rehearse what I want to say inside my head a few instants before I vocalise it – a bit like reading ahead I suppose, but it works for me most of the time so far). She asked my about my emotions and my dreams and asked me if I ever forgot things (funny how no-one had asked me that before), and got me to describe how I often forget what I went into a room for, or what I'm supposed to do next when I'm halfway between one place and another.
Without hesitation, she diagnosed that YOU Alzheimer's were the root of the problem, and I am forever grateful to her. She had you nailed from the word go, and she didn't rest until she had secured me an MRI scan and an appointment with a Neurologist.
When the Neurologist showed me my brain scan, I could see that you had made a space for yourself around my hippocampus; a void caused by shrinkage of my brain tissue – very cosy. And a good place to squat while you go about your relentless business of wiping my brain.
I don't blame you – you don't know any better. And now that I've come to know and understand you I can recognise the changes that are happening much more easily and work out more effective coping mechanisms
You'll beat me eventually, but I'll fight you every step of the way and I'm not frightened of you.
You don't define me Alzheimer's, you're just something I have to live with.
I know what you're up to...
And I DEFY YOU!