An icebreaker exercise used with middle schoolers to get them talking and appreciating their blessings is the old question, “If you had to lose one of your senses, which one would you choose to do without?”  Thankfully, most of our teens never had to really make that decision.

But our older generation is facing a similar situation, without the element of choice thrown in.  All those of a certain age would concede that, to one extent or another, we are losing our minds.

The ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease are well-documented and tragic.  One of the saddest stories about Ronald Reagan in his diseased years came from a former aide and friend who visited him in his office at home.  The former President did not know his friend, and was reading a picture book about horses.  Upside down.  Unfortunately, the conditions behind that story are being played out in homes and facilities across our country.

When my father was suffering with cancer in 2008, he went through some episodes that left him convinced that Jimmy Carter was President.  Every time he woke up, he wanted to know where he was, what had happened, and what the doctor had said;  every time he fell asleep, he lost his memory.  Eventually, he regained his strength and memory and had a few more good months before his body shut down and the Lord took him Home.

But what’s the excuse for a middle-aged man like me who doesn’t have Alzheimer’s or cancer?  Why does mental illness strike and rob of us our most precious sense–our sense of mind?  Why am I suddenly so distractable?  Is there such a thing as late-onset ADD?  And why can’t my memory hold onto things like it used to?

When I was principal of a small Christian school in PA, I knew every parent’s name, kids, address, and account balance.  Now, when I go into my most recent place of employment, I can’t call my co-workers by name unless they have their name tags on.  The distant past is like a tapestry–the pictures and story are there, but are sometimes hard to make out or to see how one part of the picture relates to the rest.  The recent past is like the back of a poorly-made tapestry–threads and knots, an unruly mass of color and texture, but without apparent meaning.  (A recent article I read–somewhere–talked about how depression changes the brain and makes it harder for memory linkages to form or be renewed; it also talked about actual brain shrinkage, if I remember right.)  UPDATE:  I found the article.

But perhaps as bad as losing my memory is the frustration that comes with the realization that I am not what I once was.  I have been looking for a file containing vital documents necessary for a job search.  I know where the file was in August of 2010; I know where it was in January of 2011.  Today, I have no idea where I might have put it for safekeeping; and in the past week I have spent at least 8 hours looking for it.  I have scanned every document in the filing cabinet at least 4 times; I have searched every box in my study, closet, and garage more times than that.  I have looked on every bookcase, shelf, and cabinet we own.  All the documents can be replaced; but that’s beside the point:  I have spent two full days in utter despair and helplessness over my failure to remember and locate the file. 

I spent several years without my sense of smell; my eyesight and hearing are not what they once were; the food goes by too fast to relish the taste; and the sense of feeling is too intense in my joints and not intense enough in other places.  But none of these changes  or deteriorations can compare to the heartbreak of losing my mind.

I am not looking for pity, but I would value your prayers.  And if I have helped anyone to better understand the ravages of mental illness or senility, then my time spent has been worth while.

 

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