Sunday, 13 April 2014

On memories and validation

I've been trying to understand why dementia patients want to go home. Home being the place of their childhood, where their parents are still alive. There may be a neurological reason, perhaps related to the way we store memories, but all I've found are psychological explanations, mostly given by women whose mothers are dementia sufferers. They say it's a search for a place of safety, a way to find refuge in a world that has become to various degrees unfamiliar, hence scary or unsettling. The more I was reading these articles and blogs, the more I saw certain patterns emerge. I could not find any men talking about their father with dementia. Well, I am sure there are some, but it's the daughter-mother bond that seems to be more affected. Also it seemed to me more and more that this sense of living in an alien world, from which we have to find reassurance and safety in the familiar, is something that we all experience. Dementia just seems to magnify it. Very early on in life we stop looking at the future and start to look back for comfort, old songs, old toys. We fall in love with vintage, flick through black and white photographs, we tread memory lane more and more often. But why? My childhood, for instance, was not at all a stress-free zone. I had pressure at home and from society to be something I was not. What made it a safe place, in my opinion, is that I had no say. That's right, because I was not the decision maker, I could not do wrong. Now it's different, now I have choices. Constantly. And choices are stressful, because if you make the wrong one, it's your fault. Nobody else's. You could have had a good life, but you messed it up. Your fault. Forever. So, what do we do? We look for reassurance. We post a little something on facebook and wait for the thrill of the 'likes'. And we shape our lives accordingly, to get that buzz again and again. Like children, running to their parents for approval. But guess what? You know it already. It doesn't work. Online validation is like a crystal flute of champagne, with all those glistening bubbles rushing to their evaporation. Just like memories, the memories that keep us grounded in a safe place. I wonder. If we tried now, while our memories are reasonably intact and so are our mental tools in general. If we tried now, while we can, to have a different vision, to look for validation inside ourselves, to learn to create a portable safe place that comes with us wherever we are, if we cultivated belief and a sense of belonging to the world, and not just to a tiny vulnerable community. I am not talking about a form of religion, just belief in our resilience, strength, adaptability. Belief in what we do, joy for what we do, belief in our ability to find something good in everything. If we did all that now, would dementia still strip it away? There is no answer to this question, I guess. Yet, search for reassurance and validation from the outside can actually stop us from growing, learning, making mistakes, learning, becoming stronger, learning, liking ourselves and what we do, and, yes, did I forget to mention? Learning.

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