I’m back! Firstly, I’m sorry it’s been so long. I have not written here since April. Somehow, I feel a little guilty about that. As I have tried to distance myself from the bastard disease, it has become apparent that proximity is not the issue. What has happened to me is that as I have been able to distance myself from my own experience, I have become more attuned to the experience of others. I thought I could leave it behind, but I find I can’t after all.
I was done, but I was done with feeling what it had done to me, but not with doing something about it. It seems funny now that I have had a hiatus from being so deeply involved, it looks different, feels different.
There is so much happening in the world of FTD. Sadly one of those things is that the Facebook group for which I am an administrator –“Frontotemporal Dementias Information and Support”, has grown from 400 members in April of 2014 to almost 2,000 today. The group is comprised of a wide variety of people –caregivers, spouses, adult children, writers, parents, friends, professionals and not least, those afflicted with the bastard disease. Every day, more new members are added. I don’t know if it’s that more cases of FTD are being recognized, or there really are more cases. My thought is the former. This is a good thing in that if more cases are being identified, it means that more professionals are becoming knowledgeable and familiar with the devastating effects of the disease on patients and their families. More cities are forming support groups to help somehow explain and assist with the progression of this devastating illness. I can now look into what’s happening, rather than being entrenched in it. I have a new perspective and I hope that will enable me to ease the way of others who are just beginning to try and navigate the storm.
If you have not read my work here before, some of my earlier articles may help you if FTD has reared its ugly head into your life. I’m not bragging on my writing, just want to help in any way I can to ease your way through the quagmire of confusion in which you will undoubtably find yourself as you travel the path. Some of my earlier work was written in the months following my husband’s death in 2012. I was shocked and unhappy, even though I had known for five years what the ultimate ending was for our life together. The FTD years were a culmination of the forty we had spent together. We married fairly young, and like many of the men and women I met along the FTD way and since my husband died, we spent all of our time during the first three years after diagnosis when he was still highly functioning, in a state of disbelief.
Disbelief is a very common experience at the start. Shock, sadness, anger, denial -all very common, especially in those closest to the diagnosis –spouses, children, parents.
Once acceptance arrives, most people start thinking about the practical things –what will happen? What will I see? How long can he/she stay at home/drive/care for themselves? For many people, just the not knowing what to do is overwhelming. Eventually, you muddle through somehow, since there are just so many things that cannot be planned or anticipated. That’s where support groups –both physical and online can be a boon. Just sounding off to someone who understands and is going through the same kinds of things as you can be so comforting. Even if, like me, you are not really a “self-help group” kind of person and have never done anything like that before.
There are so many variables. Every patient is different, every experience different, because every person is different. But there are some similarities. The earlier characteristics and personality that you know and love so well often change. Dramatically. People who were once gentle and calm become raging beasts with seemingly no thought for anyone else. Apathy and indifference are classic traits of FTD in the early stages but often there have been symptoms for years before anyone really notices that maybe something is not quite right.
Everyone in the Facebook group can tell you their story about driving, food issues (either too much or too little), incontinence, sleeping, screaming, aggression, apathy, crying, and a myriad of other things. Some people have all of these, some people have one or two. There are people in the group from every continent in the world. The variation in experiences is the one consistent thing, as oxymoronic as that sounds. What I can tell you from my own experience is that FTD is predictably unpredictable.
Medical professionals are often baffled, ignorant, condescending or arrogant about FTD. I know that because I am one. Until FTD touched my life, even as a nurse, dementia patients were largely an anathema to me. During and since FTD, I have a whole new perspective and respect for those of us who are touched (which is much too gentle a word for the bastard disease) by the group of dementias known as Frontotemporal Degeneration.
Our family and friends were touched by it too. People came into and went out of our lives. People stepped up, people stepped down. While all that was happening, our family soldiered on. Meeting every crisis head-on, battling every demon that crossed our path. It was overwhelming and infuriating. There seemed to be no-one who really understood. I think now that things are a little better. That there are people all over the world who get it. Awareness is blossoming and people whose lives are and have been affected by FTD are joining together and doing things. The media is finally waking up to us and many people are writing and communicating about the affect the FTD has had on their life and the lives of their families and friends. The governments of the world (even though they often lump us in with Alzheimer’s) are finally waking up to what has been described as a “tsunami” of mental degeneration in one form or another. There is action beginning, if only in a small way. It’s better than what was happening eight years ago when mine and my husband’s journey began. There were four people in the support group I first attended. Now, that group has swollen its ranks to around 100, which is both disturbing and comforting at the same time.
Dichotomies seem to be the order of the day. On the one hand, no-one wants to be in “the club”, but on the other, it is necessary to commune with people who get it. Previously civil, calm gentle people turn into raging bulls. Raging bulls often turn into pleasant, tranquil people. It’s a mystery. What happens to all the FTD patients I have even know is that there is a strange kind of “Benjamin Button” effect that takes you and your loved one on a journey back through time, culminating in their infant-like dependence on a very exhausted you. FTD will most definitely take a toll on you and the relationships you have with other people, including your loved one. You will experience emotions that you have never felt before. You will do things you never thought possible.
“You can be as mad as a mad dog at the way things went. You could swear, curse the fates, but when it comes to the end, you have to let go.”
–Benjamin Button, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
And there it is. You will do things you never thought possible. Just like I am now. Carrying on a life without the one person who was the center of my life for thirty-eight years. I am not a different person, but I am irrevocably changed as I have said before. As you battle FTD, as fearsome as an opponent it is, you will discover qualities that are in you that you have never seen before. They were there all the time, you just didn’t know.
Now that I am writing again from a different perspective, I hope to bring you the power that comes from knowledge. Knowledge and acceptance are two powerful things for your arsenal. Acceptance is not merely giving in to the inevitable, it is seeing that “It is what it is” and forging ahead anyway. Acceptance is a tool that you can use to guide you through the many upsetting, infuriating, frustrating and sad things you will have to do every day. It is not just taking everything at face value and thinking it’s ok. It is questioning everything and realizing that there are some things you just cannot change. It’s not to say that new things shouldn’t be tried, or tips learned to help you deal with the everyday. The enormity of what you are doing is not always apparent while you are doing it.
You are weighed down with love. Love, and emotions like guilt, resentment, anger, sadness. They are heavy loads to carry. especially when you know that there is only one outcome to all your hard work and dedication. That’s when you realize that love is the thing that saw you through. Love is the life jacket that kept you afloat. People an be lifejackets too. You will find them. They will find you. They will present themselves, you just need to keep an eye out for them. They pop up in the strangest of places.
So, it’s good to be back in the FTD world. (What a weird thing to say!) Perhaps that’s what my purpose is –to use what I learned to ease the way of someone else. Sounds a bit airy-fairy, I know, but we’ll see how it goes. I lost the dearest thing to my heart, but the loss built something too. Resilience, battle scars, call it what you will. My husband would like that. He always said I was tougher than him. Maybe he was right.
Benjamin, we’re meant to lose the people we love. How else would we know they’re important t us?
–Mrs Maple, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Or perhaps I am just using the “Benjamin Button” analogies to look at pictures of Brad Pitt? Hmmmm…………………