Thanks to FTD – (un)Happy Birthday! Cheers! (with just a little dash of sarcasm)

eeyore birthday

Birthdays don’t have the same meaning once FTD takes a hold. For you or your loved one. Somehow the apathy, lack of insight and total indifference to anything once joyous overwhelm all concerned. Despite best efforts, it is difficult to enjoy those high days and holidays (more to come on that topic in the next couple of weeks).

Anyway, tomorrow is my birthday. My birthday three years ago was a significant turning point in our lives. Not least my husband’s. It was the last day he spent at our home. At three o’clock that afternoon, after waiting around the house all day making phone calls, faxing papers and hiding my anguish, I took him to an inpatient psychiatric unit where I left him, never to return.

So, as hard as I might try, it is difficult for me to “celebrate” the day of my birth anymore. The day comes tinged with sadness and a sense of disbelief that it was three years ago. A feeling of shock that I actually went through with it and took him. Despair (still), that I had to do it for the sake of all our safety, not least his. You may come to (or already have) a similar point in your FTD journey.

It is such a personal, individual moment, just like a birthday really. It belongs to you and you alone. Your feelings as you take those steps to changing your lives forever will be unique to you. Painful, baffling, fearsome, but unique. For me, that turning point shaped the next three years and still does to a certain extent.  If you have been together for a long time, as many of us have, or your FTD’er is your parent, making the decision to move them out of your home is devastating. Then, once the decision is made, you have to actually do it. That’s the kicker. Physically taking them and knowing they are not coming back. They are blissfully unaware of course. Well, if you have played your cards right and not told them. Please don’t tell them. Don’t discuss it with them. Don’t ask them. They are no longer your partner in these kind of decisions. You have become a parental figure and must make these agonizing choices for them now.

They won’t like it of course. Anything that changes their routine, their comfort zone, will not be popular.  That’s why you are not going to run it by them for approval. It’s like choosing your child’s elementary school. You don’t really consider their preferences when they are five after all. It’s the same for your FTD’er. Not capable of making informed decisions or good choices.

You may find it hard to find a “good” place. Of course “good” is an entirely subjective term. A psychiatric inpatient unit is only a temporary measure. After that you will need to find a more permanent residence.  One of the most difficult things is not having the person who previously shared these decisions with you at your side. Hopefully, you have a family member or good friend who will help you. Someone who can remain objective and is not swayed by the emotion of actually doing what you’re doing. Rushing around town to look at suggested places is, at the very least, stressful.

You don’t really know what you’re looking for or at. mazeYou don’t really want to do it, so you still hang on to the faintest hope that even now, there may be, just may be, the possibility that it will all be ok and you can take them home after all. Depending on where you live and how much financially you have to contribute, there are other stressors too. Finding $6-8,000 a month is no mean feat. And believe me, not everyone has your best interests at heart. Don’t assume that because they claim to be healthcare facilities that they actually care about you or your FTD’er. It’s big business, residential care.  Choose carefully and don’t give in or give up. Don’t believe everything you are told and don’t settle. Make it very clear from the outset that you know what’s what (even if you don’t, you will find out). Speak authoritatively and make it clear that you are the one in charge of your FTD’er’s care and they are merely working for you. Which they are. And for $6-8,000 a month, they’d damn well better be good.

So, now you’ve actually got them to their new digs – now what? What does that mean for you? Thanksgiving 2011 was a quiet affair in our household. We spent the day at home, each of us internalizing what had happened and thinking about how things were going down at the psych unit. I called of course, but my husband was still raging and unable to understand what was happening. He was quite dangerous at that point, throwing furniture and trying to escape at every opportunity. After a few days of medications, we were able to visit and talk to him on the phone. But he never understood that he would never come home again. So, for the person with FTD, the transition from home to residential care means change, uncertainty, fear and insecurity. All the same things it means to you. Your life has taken on new meaning. New horizons.  A different life.  Regardless of your relationship before, moving your FTD’er into care is unsettling for everyone. But it has to be done sometimes for safety, for peace of mind.

So, my birthday brings mixed emotions. My husband’s birthday is ten days after mine. This year he would have turned sixty. The fact that many of our friends are celebrating this milestone too over this past year and into next brings feeling of envy and sadness. The parties, the cruises, the trips and other celebrations all serve to remind me that we will never experience those things together again. I am happy for them of course and don’t begrudge them any of it.  I just miss my darling at this time of the year more than any other. From October to January, we had our anniversary, both our birthdays, and his favorite time of year – Christmas and New Year. So, I approach this upcoming holiday season with more than a little heaviness in my heart. It’s my favorite time of the year too, at least it used to be. I still like it but it no longer holds the same excitement.

So, Happy Birthday to both of us. I’m sure that wherever he is, he is raising a glass of something in a toast.

love champagne

TGIF! – Not in the world of FTD…….

So, Friday has rolled around again. The weeks go by so quickly, it’s hard to keep up sometimes. When you’re floundering around in the quagmire of FTD, one day flows into the next, with little difference between Tuesday and the weekend. So, just like the Dowager Countess from “Downton Abbey” you don’t even really know what a weekend is anymore. Of course, her excuse was that she had never worked her whole life, so there was no reason for a division between the days of the week. For you, living with someone who doesn’t even know what day of the week it is, will make you feel that it is irrelevant too.

Time is often irrelevant in our FTD world. It is meaningless to our FTD’ers, and our own timekeeping is reduced to when the next meal/diaper change/toileting rendezvous is to take place. Even though I continued to work outside the home when I was caring for my husband, once I was back in the safe confines of our house, my world was completely different. It was important to him to maintain his world so that he felt he had control. As the disease progressed, his control and obsessive behaviors became a lifeline for him. He clung to familiar routines and patterns because they brought him comfort. But although he would “tidy” the house, most things were not in the right place. I didn’t mind. The state of my house was never quite as important to me as the state of my husband’s mind.

Since I work in a hospital, I am well-accustomed to orderly chaos. We refer to our work as “predictably unpredictable”. All the things we love about it – the wide variety of people we meet, the multiple skills we are required to use on a daily basis, the “no-two-days-are-the-same” part are also all the things we dislike about our work. It’s an amazing dichotomy of a love-hate relationship. Of course, it’s all about control. Nurses are no different to anyone else in that regard. But our world is changing fast, and as healthcare consumers (pretty much everyone) are becoming more knowledgeable, so we must change our approach to caring for them. No longer can we say “just take this pill/do this/go here” anymore, because people ask “Why?”. I think it’s a good thing, but it’s hard for some nurses who have been around a long time. Nurse Ratchett

People should be more inquiring. People –you –should want to know everything you can about things that affect you. When it comes to FTD, you probably know more than most of the clinicians you meet. So, when it comes to trying to make sense of what has now become your new “work week”, and the trials that it brings, it is necessary to define exactly what now divides up your time.

If you still work, you may have to find a daycare center for your loved one to attend, or someone to come into your home. If you are able to stay at home, you will need to have a plan as to how you will maintain some kind of order among what will at times be chaos.  A schedule to organize and help your FTD’er to maintain some kind of control for him/herself. Holding on to dignity and a little control will go a long way to helping them to feel respected and valued. Even when they may not be able to talk well any longer, holding on to the last vestiges of something they understand and feel comfortable with will help you too. As the FTD progresses, this will become more and more important to both of you.

You can still have that Friday feeling. You may need to tailor the events of your week a little, but you can make new rituals to share –having special coffee or foods only on Saturday and Sunday, for example. A walk in the park, or going to church as long as your loved one’s behavior will permit. Just find something special that you both enjoy. When it comes to food of course, it is likely that you are going through a phase where your loved one will only eat one kind of food. And that’s ok. Give them their M&M’s or their ice cream, or whatever it is. But make sure that whatever it is they’re having, you’re having your special “Saturday treat”.

Le weekend, as the French say, has long been revered by the working classes as a special occasion. Not having to go to work for two whole days is a treat indeed. But when you care for someone at home, the pleasure of that break is denied you. When you live with someone for whom days of the week no longer has meaning, it takes a special effort to stop the days from running into one another.

To Do  Imagine having nothing to do. Nothing! I’ll bet you can barely remember what that’s like. Before FTD, lazy Sundays reading the papers in bed, strolling aimlessly, calling in at the pub. All seems like a long-forgotten dream now. Your FTD days are full. Your FTD weekends are full too. Try to make them at least a little bit full of something for you. If you can make them full of nothing by having your loved one visit someone else, even better. Spending time alone in my own house is a pleasure that  I longed for many times when in the throes of FTD. Just being alone in my own house. Heaven.

Anyone who has never had that feeling cannot even imagine the yearning to just be in your own space. Alone. It can be draining. The 24-hour vigilance. The 24/7/365 “attendance”. The constantly being on call at every hour of the day and night. We need help. Don’t ever turn it down, even if you’re feeling ok today. Because tomorrow you might be in your yearning mood again. Grab every offer with both hands and run. And don’t look back, at least for a few hours anyway. Your loved one will survive. Even if they’re upset, it won’t last long. They’ll get over it and quickly. And if the person who offered is enlightened by their experience, they may offer again. (Or not!)

Even though you know it won’t last forever, you are only human. You need to time to yourself now. I know from personal experience that there will come a time when you will be by yourself, sometimes more than you would like, even yearning for those chaotic FTD days. It’s a double-edged sword.

The Dance

frontcover

I am very happy to announce that the story of our journey through frontotemporal degeneration is now published and is now available from the Amazon bookstore.

Writing and publishing it has certainly been a journey in and of itself. I used my journals from the time when my husband was first diagnosed and set the story into a context which describes our early life together. I had wonderful memories upon which to draw. Our letters, mementos and musical memories all contributed to the overall picture. I hope that this serves to illustrate how much our life together was changed by the bastard disease.

Of course, during the writing of the book, I had to go over and over the story many times. The living of it was painful and the writing of it was equally so. I cried almost as much writing it as I did living it. Even now, two years after my husband died, I still want to share with him the sense of accomplishment I feel at having got it all down on paper. But of course, it isn’t all of it. Each time I read it, I think of little things that happened in between the experiences in the book. About things he did and said, things I did and said. But the book isn’t really about me. It is about how this disease causes brain degeneration and ultimately, life degeneration. Our lives were broken down, one brain cell at a time.

Even though my life was irrevocably changed by our experience, my husband’s was changed and ended by it. So it isn’t about me. It’s about our love. It’s about the life we shared. It’s about what it did to him and vicariously, to me. Most of all, it’s about us. Who we were, and who we became.

I speak with other people who are caregivers for loved ones with FTD all the time. I see how their lives are changed too. Daily, weekly, monthly. But the big change is forever. We are forever changed by our experience and what FTD brings to us and takes away from us.

There are many cliches about losing someone you love. So yes, there is a hole in my heart. Yes, a piece of me is missing, never to return. And yes, I will never “get over it” (and yes, I know that’s not grammatically correct, but you take my point). “Getting over” your whole life is probably impossible. I’m not even going to try. I have been through it, around it, got stuck in what was left of it and have somehow reached a place where I can handle it.

FTD made the holes in my life and my heart. The scar tissue that has grown over the holes is a fine, permeable barrier that sometimes lets sadness in and out. The FTD is gone now. It left my life but it touched me in such a way that I cannot let it go completely. I even wrote an article called “Enough”. I have not published it because I am not yet sure that it is completely over for me. Touching the lives of people who are still battling with the bastard disease remains important. Maintaining contact for what is happening to those people who are in the throes of FTD, or just beginning their journey seems like the right thing to do for now. How long that desire will last, I don’t know. I just know that right now, it still feels a little like a thread of a connection to what happened to us.

And I still need it. I’m not quite ready to say “Enough”.

I hope that you enjoy the book. It was written from the heart, as is all my work. I felt the need to get the story out there, not because we’re important, or because I am vainly seeking attention. But because when it happened to us, so little was known about FTD. So few people were being diagnosed, and so many were and are still struggling every day. I receive comments from some that my blog sometimes lifts their spirits and that is all I need – to know that maybe it was not all in vain.

That maybe our battle was just a skirmish that will contribute to winning the huge war on all kinds of dementia. I have to hope that it is possible. I have to hope that every little thing we went through was for something. I don’t know what it is yet and I may never know.

I hope your FTD days are as peaceful and calm as possible. That you are able to find a way to handle the terrible days with love and humor.

Shakespeare Love

FTD – No Need To Explain!

I could really write this post in three words –

STOP.  EXPLAINING.  YOURSELF.

But let me elaborate.

By the time your loved one reaches the middle stages of FTD, they are, generally speaking, often beyond comprehension of most of what you are saying. That’s not to say they don’t understand the individual words.But their understanding of what they mean all joined together and in context is very skewed.

Blackadder-Confused-Look

Their grasp on the social niceties for example, is almost non-existent. So asking them to speak quietly, or stop staring will fall on deaf ears most of the time. You see, it’s not that they don’t know what you said, it’s just that they don’t understand why it’s important. They think that they have as much control over their behavior as they always did. And therein lies the problem. They have the ability to make you think that too.

As I have discussed before, we tend to give our loved ones the respect and consideration that we have for the last twenty, thirty or forty years.  It’s a natural thing to do. It’s the same if the FTD’er is your parent. Any relationship based on love and respect falls back on these things during times of stress. You have an invisible understanding that you just don’t do or say certain things. FTD takes that away.  The FTD brain has so many holes caused by the degeneration that appropriate and seemly behavior become a thing of the past. But not to them. Not to your loved one. They behave just as their FTD Taskmaster tells them to. It’s like having that little devil sitting on your shoulder. “Go on, do it!”. But now there is no angel on the other shoulder – their conscience, telling them not to. Everything is fair game. Even to the point of hurting, physically, mentally, emotionally. grotesqueringmaster

The bastard disease is the Ringmaster in the circus that has become your life.

So, if you accept that your FTD’er is no longer capable of deciding what’s best, you must come to the conclusion that you know what is. Yes, I know it’s not the position you want to be in. Deciding someone’s fate is overwhelming. But one of you has to make decisions and that someone has to be you. Here’s the thing. Once you accept that, you must also accept that your decision is final. No do-overs, no “well maybe’s”, no “we’ll see”. You can say those to your children. Your children can tell when you are undecided. But when it comes to decisions for you and your loved one’s safety, you cannot compromise and dither. The ultimate end to this is that you must not stop to explain. Explaining leaves room for choices. You know that your loved one can’t choose. They think they can, but when they do, it’s often a poor choice. Why else do we have advance directives? Because at the time the person makes those decisions, they are have a clear mind and are making rational decisions.

Explanations leave you vulnerable to “No” .

Explanations offer a chance for the person with FTD to make a poor choice.

Explanations answer the “What?” with “Because” and the because will probably be unacceptable.

Because they don’t understand the “Why” or the “How”.

Because FTD has addled their brain and their thoughts can’t get through the tangled mess.

You explain because it makes sense to you.

Because you have done it for years. Because it’s respectful to give the “Why”.

Because you love them.

Yes No

Explanation can cause more confusion and provide fuel for outbursts of defiance. You’re explaining because it makes sense to you. I have said many times before – “Don’t ask -tell” and this tags on to explanation. Don’t ask a question, don’t give an explanation other than “we are going in the car”, or “Sit down. Put on your shoes”. Anything more complicated will illicit either a blank stare or “No”. If they do ask “Why?”, keep it simple. Say “We have to go somewhere”, or “We are going out”. Try to keep these conversations short, keep them busy but don’t hurry them or they will get flustered. Let them put their shoes on/take a shower/walk to the car at their own speed. Your frustration will rub off believe me. Just make sure you allow enough time for slow movement and bite your tongue.

Explaining comes naturally to us. We are accustomed to people needing to know why we want them to do something or what we are talking about. Your loved one with FTD no longer has the capacity to rationalize these things. For them, it’s about the here and now. You may have heard the term “WIFM?” – “What’s In it For Me?”. This is the perfect acronym for your FTD’er. They are not being selfish. Their sense of self is diminishing fast. Selfishness relies on a purposeful action that will benefit only one. FTD brings out instincts in a person that are usually controlled by social mores and respect for others. Filters and inhibitions are eventually so eroded in the FTD brain that thinking of anything other than mere existence is impossible. There comes a point when even that is gone and risky behaviors result. The concern for self-preservation deserts your loved one and it will be up to you to protect them. It’s a jaw-droppingly scary position to hold – Protector of the Vulnerable. But you can do it. You will make all the right decisions. Trust your love and your instinct.

Just don’t explain why.

There is another aspect to the explanations also. In a perfect world, your family would respect and understand why you do the things you do. Sadly, people in your family may not appreciate your now-seemingly bombastic approach to caring for your loved one. If they are not around FTD much, your behavior may seem akin to that of Attila the Hun. Their denial may lead them to the conclusion that you’re a know-it-all control freak, with Hitler-like tendencies. I have to say here that my own experience was not like this at all. My family and friends were nothing but supportive and helpful and for that I am eternally grateful.

Well, to hell with those people if they refuse to accept your explanation, demonstration, literature and.or pleading. They are human yes, but they should respect your decisions. They are not entitled to an opinion unless they are there 24/7, see what goes on in an FTD house and contribute to the s**tstorm that your day can be.This goes for those curious people at the grocery store too. I hear time and again about families who just flatly refuse to accept that it’s as bad as it is. But they don’t ever want to come over to your house and experience it either. I know of many people whose already effed-up lives are further disrupted by constant denial or even obstructive behavior such as encouraging ‘normal’ activities in an person with FTD who cannot possibly understand the why or how.

Don’t explain anything to them once you have come to the conclusion that they are ignoring your advice and wishes. Stop validating your actions with people who are ignoring the inevitable. It’s not worth the energy. They will either come around or they won’t. But you have enough on your plate.

Stop explaining.

When you’re down and confused…….

Love the one you’re with 🙂