What are we thinking about?

So I had this friend, very unstable and after 13 years of being her emotional punching bag, I realised that the friendship wasn’t healthy and cut her out of my life. But I sometimes wonder about the things that happened to her, that made her like she is.
She was molested by her stepfather at age 3, and her mother is a total psycho. Looking back at her bursts of anger and self destructive behaviour, I see a lot of my own mother in her and I can’t help psycho-analysing her a bit – my verdict is this: Borderline Personality Disorder.
People with this disorder struggle with immense feelings of rejection and will do whatever it takes to be in control. This includes manipulation and sometimes violent outbursts, both verbally and physically. Somehow I can’t help but feel sorry for her, I myself having struggled with feelings of inadequacy and rejection for so many years.
So how come one person, like myself, can work towards a goal and try to figure out things and face the demons, but someone else, like this girl, can’t? If I look at our childhoods, there aren’t many differences, but somehow I ended up being a softie, while she turned into a raging lunatic when she didn’t get her own way. I ended up letting people walk all over me (I still struggle to stick up for myself and I hate conflict), while she bulldozed her way over everyone in her path.
I have had a steady job for years, own a car and property, while she has bounced from job to job like a bloody ping-pong ball.
What is the difference between us? In essence, I have no right to judge her. I still struggle almost weekly with depression and I realise that deep inside I still have anger issues, only I don’t take them out on others like she did.
After a lot of thinking about it, I have come to the conclusion that it is all in our attitudes and definitely in the way we think about things. I have decided to move forward and not be a victim, while she constantly lives in the past. I am not, in any way better than her, but I have learnt from her mistakes and choose to not make the same mistakes in my own life. Someone once said to me, “it can make you better or bitter. It’s your choice”. But how do you change your automatic thinking?
My therapist is trying to teach me to think differently, by implementing the three Cs into my thought life:
• Check – Check what you are thinking. Is it uplifting or does it break you down.
• Challenge – Challenge the negative thoughts. Be objective. If your best friend was standing in front of you, what would she say?
• Change – Replace the negative thoughts with positive, more realistic thoughts.
I have to admit that it is difficult to break the habit of years and years of negative thought patterns. I get tired. I forget to do the C thing sometimes and to be honest, sometimes I just don’t want to because it’s easier to go with what I know. It is also very very tiring to constantly watch what I am thinking all the time. However, I am trying and I can see my thought life slowly changing for the better.


Positivity Challenge

I am by nature a pessimist and cynic. The glass is half empty … or completely empty, depending on whether I have been struck down by PMS. A dear friend of mine said something to me this week about trying to concentrate on more positive things and so it began… our challenge to be positive. I have decided to stay away from all newspapers and focus on good things that are uplifting. Just for this week, mind you. Don’t want to lose my vibe completely. Since that conversation, I have been sending my friend Youtube links to “restore our faith in humanity” and I have to admit that once or twice the video clips had me in tears.
There is so much negativity. The world seems to be filled with pointlessness, hopelessness and just plain evil. But then there are stories you hear, or events you witness, or clips you watch that touch you, that remind you that there IS still good out there. There ARE still people who care. Amidst everything, there is hope. Granted, the horrors seem to outweigh the good, but the good is there.
As I am writing this, I have a picture in my head of a photograph I once saw. It was a flower that had pushed its way up and through a concrete pavement and was blooming. In a place where there should not have been any life, there was. There was hope.
Sometimes I get really bad days, days where I just want to give up on everything. I want to curl myself up into a ball and die. I had one of those a while back. As I sat on the side of the bath in my towel, crying about everything and nothing and I told myself, “tomorrow will be better”… I didn’t believe it at all. I knew I was fooling myself and so I went to bed and cried myself to sleep. Then tomorrow came and surprisingly I did feel better. I was back to my normal self. I am by no means saying this works all the time, but every now and then it does. Living with depression, I have come to realise that when I have off days / weeks that eventually the feeling of utter crapness eventually stops and I bounce back, albeit very slowly sometimes.
I think it is the same with life in general. We are so bombarded by negativity that we start accepting that that is just how the world is with no exceptions. But there are exceptions. People can surprise us. Sometimes it is just someone smiling at you on the street, or someone helping me change a flat tyre. But they are there. Good people still exist. We just need to be on the look-out for them.
And so it is day 3 of my challenge and so far, so good. Let’s see what happens. I may just become an optimist… or not!

Alzheimer’s – Gran’s story

I often hear people joke about having Alzheimer’s when they forget something. “Must be the Alzheimer’s”… “Alzheimer’s lite” etc. I have even on occasion made such jokes, but lately I have been thinking about it.
When last did you hear someone joke about Cancer… Can you imagine someone saying, “oh, it must be the Cancer”? I don’t think so. I am not trying to say that we should be joking about Cancer. In fact what I am trying to say is exactly the opposite. But what about Alzheimer’s or dementia?
In South Africa, we joke about everything. It wasn’t 10 minutes after the Oscar Pistorius story broke that I received my first joke via sms. Joking is how we cope with all the crap that we are faced with on a daily basis and I am the first to admit to making inappropriate jokes. In fact, I am known for my inappropriate remarks and jokes. However, I am starting to realise that sometimes we need to be more sensitive.
Maybe I am super-sensitive about Alzheimer’s because I watched my gran, who was incidentally my bestie who raised me, slow diminish and become a shell, a remnant of the strong and fiercely independent woman I had known all my life. I watched as it ate at her memories, slowing squeezing the life out of her, stealing memories and moments.
We first noticed it when she started asking the same questions over and over again. At first we thought she was just a bit sick and it was just old age, but it didn’t stop there. My gran loved to walk. She would walk 5 kms into town and then all the way back loaded with shopping bags. It never phased her. It was the way she relaxed, the way she recharged. But one day it changed. She had been gone quite a long time, and we were just getting worried when in she walked, looking very upset. It turns out that halfway home, she couldn’t remember how to get home. She had had to ask a stranger (a black guy) where our street was and how to get there. Keep in mind that it was early 90’s so talking to strange black men on the street was not something that was done by respectable old white ladies.
Then she started to forget how to cook and then she started forgetting how to do up her buttons and to bath or brush her hair. And through all this, she was repeating herself a million times in a conversation, asking questions over and over and over. She started to forget who people were but managed to fake it by being quiet and polite and only speaking when spoken to. She had 3 kids, but when asked, she would say she had 4, and that I was her favourite. Needless to say that didn’t always go down so well with my mother!
Because my gran was a quiet introverted and polite person, people did not often notice that anything was wrong. But I did and it killed me. Sometimes it would work in my favour though. I could tell my mom that gran said I could do something and she would believe me because gran couldn’t remember. But one day my gran had a lucid day and when I pulled that stunt, she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I didn’t say that! Why are you lying?” I never did that again and I still feel guilty about it.
My gran was very protective of me, and once I asked her if she was scared of dying and she said she was, because she didn’t want to leave me alone with my abusive mother. I was always her main concern, right up to the end.
I once asked her if she wanted to pray with me and what we should pray for. She started crying. “Pray that I can remember, that I don’t have to be so scared all the time. Pray that I can remember who I am!” was her answer. And so we prayed together a lot after that. And when I was alone I begged God to please help her, to heal her, to please not take away more of her.
One morning, after I had left school and moved out of the house, my mom phoned me to say that something was wrong with my gran. When I got to the house my gran was talking to people that were not there. She was blabbering constantly. If you knew my gran you would understand how strange that was. She hardly ever spoke. And so we took her to the doctor at the local state hospital. While my mom stood in line to draw her file, I sat with my gran while she asked me if I could see that little girl with the butterflies and I just sat and wept. When my gran noticed that I was crying, she got upset and started crying too. I told her I was okay, that it was just period pains. I tried to explain to her that what she was seeing wasn’t real and that it would all be okay. In my head I was screaming at God to please just intervene, to please give me back my gran.
When we finally saw the doctor, we discovered that my gran had a very bad bladder infection and that the pain probably had pushed her over the edge. Within 2 weeks of that incident, my gran got weaker and weaker. I would go each day to see her. I would feed her and bathe her and change her nappies. My mom wasn’t a very good caregiver so I took on the responsibility.
At first my gran was still chatty and strangely enough, she remembered me and who I was, while forgetting my mom, calling her “that irritating woman”, another thing she would never have said before.
I will never remember that Thursday morning. It was pouring with rain and when I answered my phone, my mom said, “Don’t get a fright but Granny is gone”. My immediate reaction was why didn’t I go to visit her the night before” I had felt in my heart that I needed to get to her but I was tired and didn’t feel like the 5 km walk in the dark. Immediate guilt flooded through me.
And so since I didn’t own a car back then, a friend dropped me off at the house. My mom was waiting for the undertaker. My gran’s bedroom door was open, and I glanced in at her lying there. Her head was turned slackly to one side and her jaw was lolling on her chest. I closed the door and never saw her again. I never went to view the body before the cremation. I wanted to remember her as she was in real life.
It poured with rain all day. I remember sitting at the funeral home, looking out the window at the rain, waiting for the thunder. But there was no thunder. There was just the relentless rain falling in sheets as I stared blankly out of the window and tried to control my emotions. In the end my mom was in too much of a state and I ended up organising everything, right down to the purplish roses and hymns. I think the worst part was when they took their stamp and stamped the word deceased over her ID photograph. That made it final. She wasn’t coming back. I was alone. The only comfort I had was that finally, she didn’t have to live in fear anymore. She was free!

Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not Cancer. But they kill too. They kill dignity, relationships, lives, families and hope. Suffering is suffering, whether it is physical or emotional.
There are millions of people out there who have similar stories. And so the next time someone jokes about dementia, take a moment and think of the millions of unacknowledged “human “barely being[s]” that are struggling to retain some form of dignity as they slowly lose the long and difficult battle to one of the most evil diseases I have ever met face to face.

Advice to my younger self

I wish i could sit my younger self down, cappuccino in hand and have a serious talk about. Here are some tips I would give me:
Stop being so hard on yourself, it’s not the end of the world if you make a mistake. It’s human. The important thing is to learn from it? Nobody is perfect, we all have flaws, we all fail. Stop trying to live up to unrealistic expectations set for you by either yourself or others.
Forgive easily. People fail us and hurt us, sometimes without even meaning to. It isn’t worth it to walk around with years of anger and pain towards people who probably wouldn’t even give you a second thought. Don’t allow grudges to fester.
Having said this, learn when to walk away and when to stay. It’s one thing to forgive but it’s another thing to be a doormat. Learn when to invest and when to cut your losses and move on.
Be kind. To yourself and to others. Cultivate compassion. If someone is unkind, approach them in the opposite spirit. Blow them away with kindness. Nine out of ten times it will knock the wind out of their sails, and whatever walls they have built around them, will probably crumble in the long run.
You will also find that sometimes in life, it’s the people you least expect that are there for you when you find yourself in need of help.
Don’t let your emotions rule your life. Never make important decisions when you are emotional. How you feel and what you think isn’t always the truth. Wait until you can be more objective and then tackle the obstacle.
Be grateful for what you have. Remember that there are other people who are worse off. At the same time, grant yourself some time to really feel your emotions, negative or positive. Your feelings are also important and need to be felt.
Collect memories, not things. Make good memories with people you care about in places you love.
Choose your friends wisely. Not everyone is worth your time and energy. Find people who build you up and not break you down.
Love generously but guard your heart. Always maintain a healthy balance in all spheres of your life, be it religion, relationships or anything else.
Be a giver. Where you see a need, if possible meet it. Give generously. Having said this, give wisely.
Budget and work well with your money. Save for the future and don’t spend all your money on the now!
Don’t rely on other people to fulfill your dreams or all your needs. Work hard to make your dreams come true. Forge your own destiny. Create it with passion. Never ever give up!
Get a degree. It will open doors that would otherwise stay closed.
You are strong enough to cope with whatever life throws at you, so much stronger than you think. So learn to be happy alone. Alone doesn’t automatically equal lonely. There is no knight in shining armour. Rescue yourself!
Think before you act. Sometimes it’s a good thing to act impulsively although the operative word is SOMETIMES.
LAUGH – as much as you can. Laugh loud, hard, long and often! Don’t waste your time on negativity
Lastly – be who you were created to be. Be authentic, be real, and be genuine. Be the best you you can be! JUST BE YOU!!