Multitasking

Where once my tasks were multiple, and I fielded them with ease and—some might agree—skill, I’ve now boiled down to single tracks, from which I veer unconsciously, losing track, having to go back to the start and repeat myself. Or, to keep myself rolling towards the initial goal, I produce sentences like that last one, and this, like a puppy, giddy with love and the constrained freedom of the beloved, running all over a hillside or a beach, circling the main path on which her focus walks, creating virtuous, virtual circles, like a Venn diagram of love.

Trying to catch a thought, embedding it, tasting and savouring enough to identify a thread and write about it, write it down, is difficult with a Teflon mind. Everything slides away.

I have been ploughing through my tax return, labelling thousands of lines on a spreadsheet as this kind of work, that kind of work, travel, personal, cash. An odd way to look at a life. It’s not even about the numbers, more deciding what’s in and what’s out, for each category… pulling apart experiences that were whole, mincing them into finer, less identifiable and less arguable pieces. It doesn’t help form any mental continuity, other than getting through it and reaching the end.

This morning, I slept long and deep. Now, I am cleaning… a single idea like a beacon hovering in front of me, a simple set of criteria—learned from my grandmother, mother, TV shows and endless repetition—making sense and coherence of the chaos, dust and laundry. I think it is helping.

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Daily blips

There are about hundred things to remember in my job, things that have to be done in sequence, from start to finish, during the trajectory of the day. Picking stuff up, taking it to a specific place, using a specific route, with a specific key and bar code scanner… travelling the same route several times, with specific variations, arriving at the same checkpoints at the same time every day. And every day, I forget something. A different thing every day.

If the forgotten thing was consistent, it could be that I had a block about that thing – timing, keys, routes, sign-off sheets, whatever. Different every day suggests the glitch, is in me. A lacuna in my mind.

I don’t want to make more of this than necessary. Everyone forgets. But does everyone who once remembered many hundreds of detailed activities, in order, forget routine, obvious and necessary things, randomly?

Mum is forgetting

My mother has finally said – out loud – that something is wrong. On the phone today she told me she got confused, and knew that her forgetting wasn’t the ordinary kind. I have known it for nearly a year, pricked into considering it when she told the doctor my father had dementia and made him go to the hospital for tests.

Their doctor also tested Dad with comprehension and spelling questions. He’s dyslexic, undiagnosed in his youth, had to develop strategies for any kind of spellings. When asked to spell “would” backwards, he put an “r” in every time. R comes before D in words like those, he said. The doctor worked it out, and came back with clear results from all the tests – nothing’s wrong, you’re fine, and your memory is pretty good for a man in his 80s. Mum was disappointed. If the problem wasn’t with him, it might then be hers.

When they’d described the problems they’d had – things that had been forgotten, appointments missed, names confused – it was obvious to me that the common denominator was Mum. She had been unusually fractious when anything went wrong. Her normal need for complete control was challenged by her forgetfulness and confusion, making her angry and bewildered. How frustrating: to be in charge all your life, then lose it. No-one really knew what was happening, and those – like my Dad – who usually went along with Mum’s queening carried on as if she was still in control… which made her feel more anxious, I think.

She knows that not being in charge isn’t how she wants to live. At this stage of life, having never adapted to anyone else’s leadership or wishes, she is realising that the life she’s known will end. She doesn’t want a different kind of life. On the phone today she said she hadn’t long to live. I don’t think she means that she’ll die, more that the person she is, is disappearing, and will – sooner or later – stop.

She’s fairly healthy, though unfit, so her body may survive the loss of its familiar spirit. I wonder how long a physical human animal can go on being without knowing who it is?

Switching on

My first time locking up the office and I forgot to set the answering machine. I had a checklist in my head, and skipped that part – the pressing of a single button. It came to me in the pool (swimming backstroke, length seven) like a light being switched on. Absolute clarity, no dithering ‘did I forget?’. I knew I hadn’t done what I was supposed to.

It would be just my luck that someone needed to leave a message before the morning. In the next couple of lengths I thought about my two options.

  1. Leave it and take the consequences: further confirmation to colleagues of my absent mindedness. It’s possible that the boss has already checked – phoning in from home – and called in after hours to sort it out.
  2. Go in and press that button. It’s on the way home from the pool, and it’s unlikely that anyone would see me skulking around the building, even after nine o’clock.

I decided to go in and switch it on – it’s only one button, no need to put on the lights, won’t take a moment. I could see the journey in my mind, exactly where I’d park, how I’d light my path indoors with my mobile, the switch on the office phone.

Then, listening to a radio investigation into Alzheimer’s before bed, I realise I’m home and didn’t go anywhere near the office. The plan fell out of my head completely. Then it came back with – again – absolute clarity, hooked out the the mental abyss by association.

The man on the radio is talking about neural networks, dysfunctional neurons… genetic predisposition of amyloidal plaque leading to cognitive deficits, families losing someone beloved and never getting them back.

I am losing myself, losing the parts of me I want to keep, that make me me.

Senior moments

I’m pretty sure I forgot things at other times in my life. Like when we’d been told to “get thing things you need for the beach” and I had to swim in my pants and vest, ignored by the other children. Or when I forgot my homework three days running. Or forgot to go to work, having woken next to golden skin of the boy I’d dreamed about, but had never believed would even notice me.

But now, after a certain age, all my forgettings seem forebodings [there’s another word, saying something more about this feeling, that I can’t reach – is this a senior moment or simply what happens all the time, only made visible in the lens of trying to write?]. I follow the google trail and find:

Dread (noun)
A sudden take-off and flight of a flock of gulls or other birds:
‘flocks of wood sandpiper, often excitable, noisy, and given to dreads’

Is that it? It’s new to me, ‘dread’ in this sense. I like it, but it’s not the word hiding behind the furniture of my thinking – I’ll stay on the look-out for that.

But someone, years, even centuries, ago understood something about how it feels to have one’s certainty take flight.

It can feel, the thing I can’t remember, when I venture nearer, somehow temporarily dismantled and chaotic. I reach for it – and, in an instant, all its constituent parts  take flight, assembled loosely, murmuring beyond grasp (“a hum, muttering, rushing,” probably from a PIE reduplicative base *mor-mor, of imitative origin cf. Sanskritmurmurah “crackling fire”). It fees dreadful, a huge and fluttering loss that circles and fades, its impact diminishing. Which is soothing.

At least it ends in consolation and the optimism of Beckett: I can’t go on, I’ll go on…

Fog

This morning, early, as I was driving back towards the west, low cloud rolled in. All was clear on the east side but as I drove towards the sun breaking over the eastern hills, behind me, silently flowing along the land, filling ditches and hollows, a bank of fog had swallowed the land.

I knew none of it, my mind full of spring and bulb shoots in the roadside verges, and the smell of the earth coming to life, risking defeat in later wintry weather but nonetheless itching to get going. I was thinking of how few times we see these changes; how many fewer when you’re new to a place and have – if you’re very lucky – ten years, possibly twenty, left to feel the earth turning towards summer.

With the sun behind me on the way back, trailing long shadows from the south-east, the hill line looked different. The landscape had changed, geology re-written. It was difficult to see what was wrong in the warming morning air rising from the heather, but when we stopped for a traffic light – there are none in these islands, so meeting one always means roadworks, always a wait – I could see the shape of the hills changing as cloud cream poured over the hills and drooled across fields sloping towards the sea.

Encroaching, obscuring, enveloping. The profile, colours and texture of the land disguised and erased. I had forgotten what shape it should be, but I knew it was wrong. Along the ridge line cloud rose thickly and spilled soft, making a new outline. The cloud was coming for us, threatening enclosure, obliteration.

Reading reviews of “Still Alice” – a film that won’t come here for months, if it ever does – I realise that the tinge of disorientation I felt, at knowing and not knowing quite what the place I live should look like, echoes dementia symptoms. I travel in a place I know, down roads with which I am familiar, and they look subtly different, unrecognised and strange. I feel lost.

They say about the weather here that if you don’t like it, you only have to wait ten minutes for an entirely different weather to arrive. I hope my mind has a similar capacity for renewal, and that when the daffodils come up and fill the roadsides with brilliant gold, consolidating the grass after the muddy floods of winter storm water, my thinking will again come clear and bright.

Where are my keys?

Forgetting can improve health and fitness. True. Every time I have to go back to where I was minutes, hours, days before, to do the thing I’d forgotten, I get a little bit more physical exercise, and – and this is very important – I exercise my mental faculties and memories and, presumably, improve my memorising capacities. It’s what I want to believe, so let it be true.

In this category today were the following:

Arriving at the car and realising I’d forgotten the car keys, so returning to the house, find the key, unlocking the door and – immediately (yes, I knew exactly where I’d left them) – laying my hands on them. Then re-locking the door and going back to the car.

Another thing with the keys at work.

The same thing with the equipment necessary to do my job, remembering to go back and get it just as I was driving out the gate to travel ten miles up country. A couple of times, I’ve arrived in the northern depot without any of the equipment and had to go back to the start. It can feel as though every day is a potential snakes and ladders game, but with the potential of sliding off the board onto the floor, even before I start.

Then I forgot to put coconut milk in the Thai soup. The smell of my own breath alerted to me to something being wrong but it took a while to work it out.

Also, spelling errors. [Spekk, speek, speeling, spelling.] [altered, alerted.] [is, it, if.]

Again I wonder if a) some of this is normal ageing, b) I’m tired, c) it’s only memory, or d) something worse.