IF you ask me what my biggest challenge is in aging, I have to say—forgetting. It seems silly and inconsequential until you experience the chaos it brings to your otherwise ordered life.
I can’t remember when it began but one day, I started to forget where I put my keys, my phone, my handbag and before I knew it, everything else and often, something that was just in my hand, seconds before I declare it lost.
Worse, sometimes, after minutes of futile searching, I find it’s been staring right at me all the time. How could I have looked but not seen? And I had looked so many times. So often, I feel stupid and then, scared. Am I losing my mind?
I love my body but I love my mind more. When I look at my body, I feel my age. But when I forget something, I feel the ravages of age. I am terrified at the thought of permanent memory loss.
I cannot conceive a life without memory, cognition and emotion. This is why I often tell my family that should I ever be relegated to an unthinking state, unable to live a life of meaning, they should pull the plug.
When you walk into a room and can’t remember what brought you there in the first place. When you look for your glasses and you find they’re sitting on top of your head. When you want to write a note and you can’t bring to mind the name of the person you want to write the note to at two in the morning and there’s no one to ask.
It’s extremely frustrating.
When you can’t recall the name of an acquaintance, the name of a movie, the title of a book, the name of an actor, a particular word—you end up not just frustrated but scared about what lies ahead.
I once asked my obsessive-compulsive brother why he has to have a file of everything in his life on his computer and he said, “Well, it’s for one day when I get Alzheimer’s.” I laughed. Today, I think about what he said and wonder if I should do the same in case one day, I start forgetting everything—for good.
I have nightmares about forgetting—enrolling in school then forgetting to go to class the entire term, buying an airline ticket then forgetting to take the flight, booking hotel accommodations in two different hotels on the same date.
None of these have actually happened while I’m wide awake. And given enough time, I am still able to recall names of people, places and events, even reasons why I walked into a particular room in the first place.
If you ask me what my biggest fear is in aging—it’s not the inevitable wrinkling and sagging of my skin, it’s the irreversible shrinking of my brain.
I’m afraid of forgetting how to read, how to write, how to think, how to laugh, how to love, how to live. I’m afraid of forgetting what joy, fire and passion feels like. I’m afraid of forgetting that I love the ocean, adventures, autumn and you.