Things Are Getting Worse, Not Better — What to Do? What to Do?

November 17, 2009 at 5:23 am | Posted in Cognitive Problems, Wellness, Work Life | 2 Comments

Over the last several days, I have been wrestling with a difficult issue: in three crucial ways, I am getting worse, not better.

Most people around me deny it, but I know damn well that my cognitive problems are getting more serious. I’ve gone from mild difficulties with word recall to forgetting that entire conversations ever occurred. This has led to several incidents at work ranging from embarrassing to near-catastrophic, and I am afraid — and I think this fear is realistic — that eventually I may not be able to work.

I’m also becoming more withdrawn socially, and this affects me in a couple of ways. First of all, during my depressed phases, I find it nearly impossible to carry out commitments I’ve made. For instance, if I sign up for a class, as I did at church, I know damn well that depression will prevent me from finishing it.

At the same time, because of my bouts of severe depression, I find it hard to maintain the social supports that I need. When I am truly down I simply withdraw. I can’t talk to people that I don’t know well or enter unfamiliar social situations. I don’t have a good social network now, and despite my best efforts, I don’t seem to be able to keep it together long enough to expand it.

All of this leads to a larger existential question which I will certainly not answer today, but which I’d like to pose to you, the readership: I think it’s fair to say that my adult life up until now has not been a happy one. I’ve been crushingly depressed, in and out of hospitals, and unable to maintain the sort of stable relationships that preserve sanity. Given that things are getting worse and not better, what kind of quality of life can I expect as I grow older? It’s unlikely that I will enjoy a fruitful retirement that includes a loving spouse, friends and hobbies, and travel. In fact, I’m facing the very real possibility that I may not be able to work to retirement age. If my life was unhappy at the height of my intellectual and social powers, what is it likely to be in the future? Tied to this is the question of what I have to offer potential friends or a hypothetical spouse.

As I said in my last post, both of those questions may be the wrong ones to ask if, as I suspect, the answer could lead to further depression. I don’t want to torture myself with unanswerable questions or insoluble problems. So I’d like to set the larger issues aside and start with a relatively concrete piece: my cognitive lapses.

First, what am I doing already to cope? Well, at work and at home I keep detailed lists of things to do, and this does help to prevent any given task from falling through the cracks. I’m also extremely organized. I do not count on memory to help me to locate files, for example — I just file them properly. These two strategies are not enough, however, since I tend to forget either that I’ve had a conversation regarding a particular issue — say, that I’ve asked the preparer about the status of a data deliverable — or I can’t remember what was said a day later.

So what else could I be doing? I could document every conversation that I have, or conduct all important conversations via email. However, the first is a little too obsessive even for me, and email is often not the most effective way to either get information out of people or get them to take action. So I’m not quite sure what to do.

When I don’t know what to do, I look for resources that will tell me. So:

1. If my shrink can’t help, maybe there’s a local therapist or psychiatrist who specializes in dealing with early memory loss. I can ask my therapist for a referral, and I can Google local resources.

2. I can also call the Employee Assistance Program at work, which is amazingly efficient when it comes to finding everything from cat-sitters to house cleaners. Granted, this is more serious than finding a good accountant. Nonetheless, it might be worth a try.

3. I also wonder if there are books that address these problems. I’ve never seen anything in a book on bipolar disorder, though the research shows that cognitive problems are inherent in the illness. People do have memory loss for other reasons, however: chemotherapy, normal aging, and the various forms of dementia being obvious examples. So it might be worth my while to search Amazon for books on coping with memory loss.

One thing is for sure: I can’t continue to pretend this isn’t happening. It’s a threat to my livelihood, and thus to the core of my identity; I need to confront it, and to try everything in my power to reverse or compensate for my cognitive deficits.

So here’s the plan: I will hit Google, the EAP hotline, and Amazon, and report on what I find. I will also continue to write about these three intertwined issues, as frightening as they are.

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2 Comments »

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  1. I too have been increasingly annoyed with myself for not remembering whether I had done things like take my medications or given one of my cats medication. I have begun in recent months to keep dedicated post-it notes for such tasks, placed where appropriate: did I take my asthma medication? Yup, marked that down. Changed the filter recently in the cats’ water fountain? Yes, did that x days ago. Did I take two Tylenol a couple of hours ago? Yes, I did because I use one of those “old-folks” pill containers, there are now only two sets of two capsules left, AND I wrote down 4:15 pm Tyl (3) on the calendar in my bedroom, meaning that I took the set in compartment 3. No room for error there, and one doesn’t want to make a mistake with stuff that can damage the liver in case of overdose.

    I think it’s “spot on” to keep these lists — they relieve much anxiety and confusion that in turn can fuel depression. Memory is nice, but it’s overrated, and the older I get, the more likely I am to think mine is playing tricks on me. I want “documented proof” of certain things I’ve done, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s no down side to my newly acquired “list-making behavior.”

  2. I’m sorry to read that you’re feeling so bad. You’re right to not let you mind go down the track. That’s one of the easiest things to do when we’re depressed, and it can only end badly when we’re in the pit.

    I’ve admired your writing for some time. You always point out what you’re trying to do to feel better, no matter how poorly you feel. That’s an accomplishment you can be proud of. You consistently and honestly write about topics that matter to us bipolar sufferers.

    The blog post of yours that’s helped me the most is: https://revoltandresignation.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/steps-to-take-to-avert-a-serious-depressive-episode/.

    Thanks for continuing to write.


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