As a double nickels (55 year old) menopausal woman, I have sometimes fallen prey to the memory blips and brain freezes that may characterize this stage of life. In the past, I had believed it was mythical. After all, I have had a steel trap memory for names and places, song lyrics, actors and lines from movies. A few years ago, those facts began to slip from my grasp. like marbles that I sought to retrieve, sometimes to little avail. Fear would occasionally creep in, since my livelihood is based on speaking and writing, recalling and recording events as they unfold. I half joke that most of the time I am channeling, in order to cover when people ask me to repeat what I just told them and say that I can’t.
When I heard that a local university was doing a study for menopausal women with memory problems, I was intrigued and wanted in. I met with a team of dedicated researchers/clinicians who were testing an investigational treatment and I was to be the final candidate after two years of the study. I had taken a series of cognitive tests over the last month or so and was dismayed that I didn’t do as well as I imagined I would with recalling a series of words and relating back as close to word for word, two stories that were shared. I knew that I was not likely to fare well with spatial relations type tests. Took a series of psycho-social tests and no surprise, I wasn’t experiencing depression and rarely have anxiety. My Type A, overachiever came out full force as I wanted to ‘do this right’, look good, sound articulate and make a positive impression. After all, as a therapist for more than 30 years, these women were my professional peers, in addition to being researchers in the study.
I was delighted that I did well with some of the numerical tests, since words and not numbers are my forte. I am a professional listener so I thought for sure I would soar through the word related tests. Felt myself tearing up a bit in frustration and wondered if I really was losing my marbles. The person administering the test was kind and patient with me; far more than I was with myself. Naturally, the more frustrated I felt, the less able I was to concentrate and the more mistakes I made.
The next step was an MRI in which I would be doing more cognitive tests while lying in the machine. Changing into fancy-schmancy couture hospital gowns, with matching tan footies, walking through a metal detector to be sure I wouldn’t upset the machinery, I thought I was ready to proceed. I’ve never been claustrophobic, so naturally I thought I would ace that part too. Big surprise as I was all tucked in, earplugs in to muffle the thudding sound, when all of a sudden, a noise went off that sent me into panic mode. I started hyperventilating and it felt like I was being suffocated. I asked to come out of the machine and collect myself. The tech asked if I needed a few minutes to see if I wanted to try again. I said I did and began coaching myself through it. I reminded myself that I was safe and that it would be done in an hour. No amount of encouraging self talk worked. I went back in and within moments, came back out again. I apologized to the tech who was reassuring that I wasn’t off my rocker, the woman who had walked me over to the building in single digit, arctic chilly wind temps, and to the researcher who had been working with me through this study over the last month or so. Once I got back to the car, I felt a huge sense of relief. I wondered what this was all about. I feel saddened that I won’t be able to participate in the study and surprised to discover this about myself. On the way home, I was on the phone with my friend Jenny Perry who only knows me via FB and a few phone conversations. She is not directly familiar with my history or patterns. After hearing my tale of woe, she said that she was picking up on my M.O. of perfectionism and having to do it right and not wanting to let anyone down. She nailed it! Added to that idea is one that says it’s not ok to change my mind. Silly, since it is one of the rules of Cuddle Party which I facilitate, about changing our minds, not only being acceptable, but encouraged. Holy moley, Batman! I am wondering if some of this is past life stuff, since the sensation was like being suffocated or buried alive): I’m also glad that I made a self compassionate choice. After all these years of being reminded of that by another dear friend Peggy Tileston, I finally got it! It really is ok to be kind to myself, as I encourage others to do. Perhaps this experience was really about learning that lesson and to know that I will remember what I need to. It is as if the memories of who I am and what I do are held safely in a locket and in order to recall that, all I need to do is open it look inside.
http://youtu.be/nSz16ngdsG0 I Will Remember You (one of my favorite songs about memory) – Sarah McLachlan
http://youtu.be/ihWYx-QJ95I Gentle With Myself- Karen Drucker