The new dawn


On 4 January last year I posted this on Facebook:

That horrific moment in the long Alzheimer’s journey when you sit opposite your mum and realise that you’re no longer her daughter, but some random stranger come to visit 🙁 

And it’s taken from that day to this to write this blog.

For the first few months, I literally couldn’t put into words what it felt like.

For the next few months, I struggled to go and see mum with the knowledge that it seemed as if I was no one more special to her than the tea-lady.

Then a few months after that two special things happened that changed my perspective and allowed me to move forward.

Rewind to that fateful day, though, and I was visiting mum after being overseas for a few weeks over Christmas.

It’s funny now that it took me more than 15 minutes to realise that she seemed to have no idea who I was.

We were chatting, or the semblance of chatting that it had become, about inane bits and pieces.

I was happy to see her, and she seemed happy to see me.

Then my mother said to me: “I haven’t seen Nicola for a while.”

I am Nicola, which I said to her, as I tried to comprehend that the day I had been dreading had come to pass much sooner than I was prepared for.

Mum looked at me long and hard and said nothing.

I couldn’t let it go so I repeated, “It’s me mum. I’m Nicola, remember?”

But no matter how many times I tried to convince her of the truth, that I was indeed her daughter, there was silence and she just stared at me or off into that distance that only people with dementia can see.

My car was packed for a surfing trip and I vaguely remember leaving her seemingly nonplussed with what had just occurred and deciding to still drive to the coast.

Along the way, I rang my sister and cried long and hard as I navigated the open road towards the waves that I hoped would heal me.

By the time I arrived, it was too late to surf, so I sat in my hotel room and tried to keep busy.

I opened my laptop and keyed in my password, but it appeared it was wrong.

So, I tried again and again and again, but that password of many years standing had been deleted from brain.

The same with passwords for this blog and my online banking accounts.

Like some kind of wild woman, I tried to force myself to remember them and was scribbling ridiculous combinations of passwords on my notepad, until my youngest brother – who was abreast of what was going down… my sanity – told me to pull up stumps and go for a walk.

It’s raining I text him. Take an umbrella, he replied.

And, so I did.

I walked around that seaside second home of mine for an hour or more and then was overcome with an unusual tiredness because it was only 7pm.

So, I went to bed and dreamed of passwords that weren’t correct when I tried again the next morning.

I grabbed my board and went out in the water.

My surfing skills were crap, but the meditation of the waves made me feel slightly saner.

I got out confident that my passwords had been reinstated inside my brain – they weren’t.

After a few more vain attempts, I decided that it wasn’t worth giving me a stroke, so I gave up.

My fingers were rested on the keyboard in that final act of submission and that was the moment when they moved – I’m sure of their own volition – and I was soon staring at the wallpaper of my laptop.

Not long after I was logged into this blog and my bank accounts simultaneously, too.

Fast forward several months, and as I battled with this new era of my mother no longer recognising me, a random encounter gave me a new perspective.

I was telling the story to a friend of my neighbours who was house-sitting.

I had never met him before and have never seen him since.

He listened as I recounted the worst day of my life and he simply said: “It’s like your brain had to reset to the new version of your relationship with your mum.”

He was right. It was the new dawn. One that I’d long known would arrive, whether I was ready or not.

A few months later, I was visiting mum and had quite a bad hangover from a very long business lunch the day before.

My sister, the first person I called on that darkest of days, was visiting from overseas and was due to meet me there but hadn’t arrived yet.

Mum was lying in her bed as she does most of the time these days.

Her bed looked very comfortable to someone like me whose head felt like all the liquid had been sucked out of it and my brain was banging drily against my skull.

So, without a second thought, I lay down next to my mother and automatically swung my arm over her, too.

Immediately, she maternally started stroking my forearm – just like she used to do when I was a kid in her arms and needed my mother to comfort me when I was distressed.

And then I knew.

The new dawn was not about my mother not remembering who I was, because she does.

I know it.

She simply can’t say my name anymore.

And I’m finally alright with that.

The A to Z of anxiety

A is for Anxiety you bloody unhelpful bastard.

B is for By the way, did you turn off the iron?

C is for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy because it works – kind of.

D is for Did you turn off the gas you think as you board that plane for a two-week overseas holiday.

E is for Eyes wide open in the middle of the night because you think you heard someone trying to break in but in reality it was just a possum on the roof.

F is for Fuck your brain is exhausted thinking about what can go wrong but never what might go right.

G is for Go to sleep you weirdo, you probably won’t die during the night.

H is for Help – ask for it.

I is for It – dealing with “it” is a lifelong challenge.

J is for Jesus, you wish, you wish, you wish you didn’t jump at non-existent shadows.

K is for Keeping it together – most of the time.

L is for Love is a person who accepts that you have to check all the power points at least twice before leaving the house.

M is for Madam, are you sure you shut the front door?

N is for No thank you, you’re not over-reacting, they really could have been run over by a steamroller on their way to your house when they’re really just running five minutes late.

O is for Over-thinking full stop.

P is for Panic attacks that masquerade as heart attacks and so you learn at 33 you have anxiety.

Q is for Quite certain that you shut the garage door are you?

R is for Ready to jump to the worst conclusions at any given moment.

S is for Slowly learned how to stop doing most of the above and below.

T is for Time for a cider and perhaps another one (or two) to get some pissed semblance of peace.

U is for Understanding and accepting that this is who you are – anxiety warts and all.

V is for Very grateful to have it mostly under control… most of the time.

W is for Worrying about everything – regardless of the chances of it ever happening.

X is for Xanax, which thankfully you’ve never had to take thanks to CBT, running, weights, surfing – and anything else that gets the endorphins pumping in a good way.

Y is for You only live once and so if this is your lot, well, so be it.

Z is for Zzz’s when the din of the day – and the humming inside your head – finally quietens and you fall asleep… unless those bloody possums are on the roof again and you think it’s a cat burglar.


The great tampon hunt

On Thursday I became a business owner and I ran out of tampons.

You’re probably wondering how those two things are connected, but I’m guessing that anyone who has set up a business knows the answer.

You see, for the past two years I’ve worked as a freelance writer but – as the reduction in the number of these blogs proves – demand was far exceeding supply.

I only have one set hands and one mostly pretty good brain.

Now that’s a good problem to have but, like anyone else who’s been a freelancer, if I was sick, I couldn’t work, and if I couldn’t work, I didn’t get paid.

Plus, it is a pretty lonely gig. I had an open door policy to my study, but no one ever walked through it but my housemate or my lover.

So I spent many months cajoling one of my mates – who’s also an awesome journo and writer – to quit his job and set up shop with me.

I finally wore him down and a few months ago we started quietly to hatch a plan.

But something weird has happened to the hours in every day.

I’ve learned very quickly that start ups are more like: Chat to my business partner; do some work; have a meeting with the lawyer; chat to my business partner; do some work; have a meeting with the accountant; chat to my business partner; do some work; speak to the web designer; chat to my business partner; sign some tax documents; do some work; go to sleep. Do it all again tomorrow.

You see over the past two years I’d forgotten about meetings – not with clients – but the types of meetings with people like lawyers and accountants that seem to last forever and not achieve much but chew up the hours you could be working, you know, on stuff that makes you money.

Oh, of course, that’s because they charge hourly.

But back to the tampons…

You see as a peri menopausal woman, my need for tampons waxes and wanes with, well, the moon.

Some months I don’t need any. Other times, I need ones the size of sheep.

Yesterday was one of those days when I was neck-deep in some type of administrative hell when I realised that it was also one of those days when I needed one.

The thing is, I haven’t really done any shopping all week – and even if I had, tampons would probably not have been on my non-existent list.

Who needs food when you’re launching a business?

So, I looked in the bathroom cupboard to find it was bare. Then I tried my new handbag and the result was the same.

Then I tried my handbag before my new handbag –  because you don’t ever really throw away the old ones do you – and also it was a tampon-free zone.

I remembered about the handbag I had before the old one so I hunted through that like a wild peri menopausal woman. Nada.

I tried my toilet bag, then my three different-sized suitcases, which only held remnants of holidays that now seemed like a very long time ago.

Now never did I once consider walking the five minutes to the shop on the corner because, of course, there was too much work to do.

Then, like some brand-new business owner gift from the universe I found one solitary tampon in a long forgotten bag under my bed.

Then I noticed that in the lounge hung washing that had been there for three days and that the salad in the fridge was actually six days old.

My phone was also alight with text messages and voicemails from various friends that I had forgotten to reply to – some for the best part of a week.

In one of our 29 phone calls to each other every day, I told my business partner about my tampon fiasco this morning – as you do.

He replied that while he’d never had to hunt for tampons for himself, he did forget to wake up his wife and children this morning because he was too busy working.

So, while we start making plans to expand our business six months earlier than we anticipated, I guess the moral of this story is that if you’re starting a business make sure you buy tampons and an alarm clock.

And maybe a six-pack or two to celebrate at the end of your first week. That’s essential.