No, not about zombies, sorry. Though, if current statistics apply, one in four zombies may suffer from a mental illness, and may want to seek help.
It occurred to me that today is a sort of interesting and complicated day emotionally, travel-wise.
My boyfriend is flying back home today, where he went for the weekend to see a brilliant man. A man who used to be as loquacious as I am (believe it or not) and would talk to everyone he met. Talk and really listen to what they had to say. He enjoyed my sense of humor, which made us cohorts as soon as we met for the first time. He was witty, quick, and curious about everything. And if we were someplace and what he was curious about was local, he would ask until he found someone local and ask them about it. It was an endearing and sometimes embarrassing trait, but when he wanted to know something, he didn’t mess around. He always wore two pair of glasses, three if he had his sunglasses on as well, and inevitably lost the pair he stuck on the top of his head.
What does this have to do with brains? Summer before last we took a vacation together in Victoria, B.C., in July 2012. In was unseasonably cool. The weather always does strange things when we visit. This was only the second vacation in my life where we’d gone somewhere either in another state or out of the country, so this was a big deal. For me. My three traveling companions had been all over the place (well, many more places). He (I’ll just say S., it’s easier, and L. is his wife) had been having a little trouble with his memory, L said, so we were keeping an eye on him a little.
There were only a couple of times he got turned around or a little flustered. Even then, at one of those points, his sense of humor and remembering the situation makes me giggle. We were at the Royal BC Museum, and the loudspeaker came on and called my boyfriend to the information desk. S. had gotten separated from the rest of us, and instead of getting flustered, went to the information desk. He told them that he seemed to have misplaced his son. They asked how old his son was. S. replied, “41.” Apparently he had a nice conversation with them until my boyfriend got there, and no big deal was made of it, but S. did tell the story as a funny thing.
We returned home, me hopelessly in love with British Columbia, and not just because it was the first place in Canada I’d been–I’m not that kind of girl. Ah-hem.
By September of 2012 S. had been diagnosed with a type of dementia I had never heard of. I know people don’t like to use the word “dementia.” But it wasn’t Alzheimer’s, and I’m not going to put the two in the same category. It was a rapidly degenerative kind, the cruelest part for him, I think, when he knew what was happening when he was forgetting things and the anger and frustration that came with that. I know to a small extent what that feels like, but nothing like he must have experienced. L is a sweet, loving, caring person, one of the nicest people I have ever met, and her husband was falling apart in front of her. I can’t imagine that. I can’t imagine the strength she’s had to have, to live with a man you still love who lives in his own world. The family decided it was finally time to move him into a home specifically met to meet his needs.
As my boyfriend flies home today, I don’t know how the visit went. There were only short visits with his father. I just know that he’s quiet, keeps to himself, and doesn’t talk to anyone very much. He can’t walk without help, and they’re getting him a wheelchair. It’s only a matter of time. Less than two years since that vacation in Victoria.
At the same time, my best friend is on a train to where he’s having an interview at the Clinic he is trying to get admitted to for his difficult to treat diagnosis. Not a physical illness, a mental one. A 7 hour trip for an interview tomorrow. This clinic has the kind of treatment he needs, and I’m not sure if the interview determines that (along with all of his paperwork) or not. It shouldn’t. He needs the therapy they offer, in that environment. He’s a brilliant man as well; I would say he’s a genius but he’d probably refute me. He’s an artist–he can do anything he touches. Theater directing, set design, costume design, drawing, sculpture, animation–he did that for a longer while, restore signs on buildings, make puppets… painting is what he thinks he’s like to do, he’s an excellent photographer. He is amazing with words. We understand each other, don’t have to explain things. This is a diagnosis that, with a good treatment regimen, the symptoms can go into remission for years. That amazes me, and I want this so much for him. More than I want anything for me to get sorted out mentally. I’m okay, I get along, except for the not having a job thing. I have episodes every now and then. Usually when my meds are off. His diagnosis is very resistant to medications. He needs hope that this really will get better someday.
But compare the two. One brilliant man fading, who has touched so many lives. Another who has so far refused to fade, also a brilliant man, who needs to start this therapy and stick with it. And to continue on doing whatever wonderful thing he decides to do next, which will come to him in time–you can’t rush ideas.
There are things other people can do, things that can help. Stop making mental illness a stigma. If you can, give money for research on issues like these. Yes, the brain is relatively small, but exploring it is like unlocking the secrets in the ocean, or the universe. New things are discovered every day. New paths can be formed in time to perform functions thought lost. Nerves are amazing things, and the brain tells all of them what to do. Recognize there are invisible disabilities that are just as difficult for a person to live with as other disabilities. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
And most importantly, love. If there’s someone in your family with a mental illness, learn about it. It doesn’t change who they are. They are a person with ( ), not the other way around. Love them the way they are, because that is the way they are. They are not their mental illness. Love them and don’t hold them at arm’s length. Know that sometimes they have very low self-esteems, and don’t believe when you give them a compliment, but don’t stop. Tell them specifically what you like. Sometimes they are perfectionists. Tell them whatever they are doing looks great. Sometimes that’s a part of the diagnosis. Talk to them about what they’d like you to do in specific situations. Every person is different. My advice here, the specifics, other people could think is really stupid. That’s okay. It won’t stop me from loving people the way they are, or trying to learn how to help. This is a weird paragraph, I don’t want to end on this.
So instead, my almost getting eaten by a bear in Victoria. Not really. And for those who know the sign “DO NOT TOUCH THE BEAR” is there…well, sometimes I’m just a rebel, what can I say?
I was just barely, barely holding his paw. While watching for security guards. Bearly holding his paw?
If S’s family, as this was a spur of the moment thing, thinking about both people traveling and why, would rather this not be up, I understand, and I’ll take it down.