Monday, November 26, 2007

Enough with the Fashion & Frivolity: Deep Thoughts on Memory Gaps & Other Big Problems

As I noted on Friday- which was a lot of fun, eh? - and which many of you congratulated me on- thank you!- I passed my Level 3 Rider test. I successfully wrapped a horse's legs in stable bandages and shipping bandages, I completed the written test, and I rode the pattern. Actually I rode it one and a half times. I requested to the last half of the pattern over again because I messed up the pattern, and fortunately I caught it, and Susan allowed a re-do, but I am well aware that for Level 4, the last one required, she won't be my examiner. I might not get any second chances.

I have the winter to improve my weaknesses. I know what those shortcomings are, and I even know how to fix them...except for one.

I have holes in my brain where MEMORY is supposed to be!

This is nothing new. I'm well known for being absent minded, forgetful, and...something else.

But. It's gotten worse. It's getting worse. I'm not sure how long the decline has been going on, or when it intensified, or if I can blame the meds or the lack of. All I know is, it's not all that cute anymore. Not funny. Quite worrisome, actually.

A few years ago, when I was showing my horse regularly at the saddle club, my brainmelts were frustrating. The pattern for a reining, trail, showmanship or horsemanship class was posted the morning of the show. At one time, Champ and I did every class we were eligible for. We started off first thing in the morning with showmanship, a class in which we halter our perfectly groomed horses, and lead them through a pattern for the judge's inspection. The point is to exhibit our beautiful, perfectly groomed, well behaved horses, and above all, demonstrate how good we are at showing off a horse to his best potential.

Champ hated this class. Too much standing still and behaving. He'd flap his goofy lips as we waited for our turn. I ignored Mr Flappy Lips beside me and promptly forgot what I was supposed to do with him once we stopped two feet away from the Judge. By this time I had done all my mental prep. All my visualizing, all my calming techniques, all my special mantras. It all disappeared in the show ring.

I put my kids on him for the leadline classes. Then we did western pleasure, which is basically walk-jog-lope on the rail. Horsemanship, always messed up the pattern one way or another. Trail, the whole thing would fall apart halfway through, usually after successfully opening and closing the gate and crossing the bridge.

Finally we'd do the games, which we often did better in. There were no patterns to memorize and no standing around. I did manage to screw up the cloverleaf for the barrel race a few times, and I'm pretty sure I remember getting very lost in the pole bending and not being able to remember which direction to go. But, in games, there were no patterns to memorize.

I gave myself a break. Memorizing four of five patterns in one afternoon is tricky. I told myself not to worry about my Level 3. Just work on it. I studied it on paper. Susan photocopied it and put it in a ziploc bag so I could take it out to the ring with me and look at it as I walked it from horseback. I walked a horse through it. We jogged through it. I rehearsed it exactly as marked. I went home and closed my eyes and visualized riding it, perfectly. I imagined what my hands and legs would be doing to cue the horse through all the moves. I spent 6 months with this pattern.

I pulled out all my old psychology tools, blocking out the memory of my disastrous Level 1 test a year ago, when I stood in the snow facing the horse and couldn't remember, after thirty years of riding, which foot to put in the stirrup first. I chose to remember the good rides and the happy feelings and why in the heck I'm doing this anyways. I told myself that I was prepared. That I'm a decent horseman and I can not only handle this but I can do it well.



Wouldn't it be tempting to start berating myself? Typical Heidi. This happened at the saddle club. This happened at the Fair in September. Heidi always loses it when it counts.

I could go even further than that...

Heidi forgets every appointment she makes.

Heidi is always late.

Heidi forgets to sign her kids' stuff from school.

Heidi doesn't know what day it is.

Heidi can't remember what you told her five minutes ago.

Heidi loses things because she forgets where she put it.

Don't trust Heidi. She'll let you down.

See how I can berate myself? Years of practice. Ha. Looks like I can improve with practice. Ha.

But now I have to steer things in a different direction for a while. Stay with me- it'll all come together.

As on ongoing project, I've been slowly working my way through a book called Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, by David Burns, MD I've been at it for months, partly because I've also got other books going at the same time, but also because it's not an easy read. It's requires some thought in order to understand the concepts of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. It is absolutely worth it though, because by changing our thoughts we can change our outlook on life. Not make everything perfect, but bearable, and maybe even- gasp- enjoyable!

This book lives on my bedside table, where I can chew off a few paragraphs before bed, if I'm awake enough. I've always got another steady read going. The last book I finished reading was...are you ready for this????

NERVOUS SYSTEM Losing My Mind In Literature by Jan Lars Jensen...A memoir of a writer who mentally fell apart just before the publication of his novel. I mean, suicidal, delusional, paranoid, the whole thing. He knew that his novel would be the cause of a major world war which would surely end only when all human life on the planet was destroyed. I'm not sure what this says about me, but when he described how it would all go down, I actually could see where he was going with it. Kinda all made sense. While in the psych ward, he figured every unfamiliar person he met was a spy or an undercover assassin and that it was only a matter of time before they offed him. Anybody could be pretending to be "hospital staff" in order to keep an eye on him and subdue him if he made a wrong move. As my bestest friend Biddie says, "Paranoid's just good sense when everybody's out to get you."

Okay, so we've got:

-Heidi melting down on horseback, unable to remember what she studied, as well as forgetting what she did half an hour ago.

-a self help book on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

-a memoir of a writer who tried to stop the publication of his own novel from within the confines of the psychiatric hospital.

Now I'm going to put it all together for you.

Jensen, drugged up in the psych ward, couldn't read anymore. Words not only stopped making sense, but actually held no love for him anymore. Imagine his distress over this. When released from the ward, with his meds somewhat stabilized, he slowly began working his way through the Dr Burns book, "Feeling Good", the same book which is on my bedside table. Jan Lars Jensen got further than what I've gotten so far...either that or I read it and forgot...but he was talking about something called "CATASTROPHIZING." Yeah I know, I hadn't heard that word either, but apparently psychiatrists get to make up words. Cool.

If you're CATASTROPHIZING you are turning some event or problem into ARMA-FREAKIN-GEDDON. (My description.)

It's not just a novel; it's a catalyst for world destruction.

It's not just a memory lapse; it's my entire brain irreparably damaged.

It's not depression; it's an impenetrable black cloud from which I will never ever escape.

It's not just blowing a reining pattern; it's proof that I cannot get it together and will never succeed.

It's not simply a rejection letter from an overworked literary agent who needed to clear off her desk before Christmas; it's a sign that my book is crap and nobody wants to represent it.


never always never ever forever always never.



Somehow I ended up in the church basement yesterday talking with two of my friends and this came up. I don't remember how. See?

I'm a big believer in feeling the way you feel because, darnit, that's how you feel. I hate being talked out of it- it's MY mood and this is REAL TO ME. I think that to try to cheerlead somebody out of it is demeaning. Dont' get me wrong, I've done some cheerleading to other people, but for the most part, I think it's okay to recognize that this is how I feel.

If you're bereaved or in fear of becoming homeless or unable to stop crying, that's real. That's scary. Troubling. Legitimately awful. I would never belittle that.

But you know what? There comes a time when we have to stop CATASTROPHIZING. Our hearts are beating right now. I am still breathing. I haven't cried in over a week.

For real man, I passed that test. I passed. So freakin what if I didn't pass with a perfect score? Is it a CATASTROPHE????


I can't freakin remember why I started writing this or what I meant to say. I think I said it though. And I'll just leave it at that.


CindyDianne said...

I am so proud of you! I knew you would do it. So what if it wasn't perfect? You put your own Heidi spin on it, passed it and now you are on to bigger and better and more wonderful things! I am proud of you! Did I mention that I am so crazy proud of you?

(still waiting my test results)

coffeypot said...

I know what you mean about the brain farts. Sweet Tea and I were going upstairs to enjoy a little marital bliss. I laid her down and told her I would be right back. I needed to take a shower as I had been doing yucky things all day long.

So I took my shower, dried off and went down stairs, made a sandwich and set down in front of the TV while I ate it. Sweet Tea came to the top of the stairs and asked what I was doing. I commented something like, “... what the hell does it look like? I’m eating a sandwich and watching TV.”

It took three hours to get the bedroom door unlocked.

dilling said...

I can barely remember the beginning of that post and I just read it...
seriously, there are events, weeks, eras of my life that I don't remember...I am always late for birthdays, anniversaries, etc, even my own...and I have had a Catastrophe or three in my life that looking back, meh, not such a big deal.
My life changing book was called the Highly Sensitive Person...told me, yeah, I am a crier, I will be overwhelmed from time to time, shy is not a crime, my sense of justice and morality might have been great tools in another era where I wouldn't be serving coffee over a counter...

Astaryth said...

Hey, you passed!! That's the important part... And, patterns are hard.

Morgan (my Corgi) and I are learning Agility. She does great, usually doing what I tell her too, now if I could remember the pattern and tell her the -right- thing to do LOL! I start out pretty good at the beginning of the class. I walk the course, I run the course, all is well, but by the time we reach the end of the class and I am trying to remember the 6 or 7th order to run the obstacles in (same obstacles, the teacher just keeps changing the order)... well, let's just say I sometimes go the wrong way ;p

Anita said...

I'm very excited that you passed your test - way to go!
The memory thing is universal, I think...
I think I should read that Modd Therapy book... Would it help with the panic attacks I seem to have?? I have to fight the panic-urge continuously... Worried that FEMA is going to bust in here and declare my housekeeping unsuitable and kick us out... worried that every customer at the liquor store that I don't know is underage and the cops are going to come swarming in any minute... I literally watch for them if I haven't carded a customer even if the customer looks 60... I also worry about SRS trying to take my son away because I'm homeschooling... I literally have to fight these urges down on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis...

Olly said...

Don't be so darned hard on yourself. The scattered-swiss cheese mind is just the sign of a busy person! I personally live by two white-board calendars (one work, one personal), and an unending supply of sticky-notes. Hell, I even use the oven timer so I don't forget something I have to do twenty minutes later!!!

Just soak up the success of passing your test!!! It's all you need to remember for the moment!

Heidi the Hick said...

Anita, yes. It's a good book. Anxiety is f***ing serious. I mean, holy crap, YOU survived a freakin tornado, Yeah, I guess you'll have some anxiety problems! If you need help, please get it. Talk to a doctor if you need to.

All of those worries and fears are totally legit to you, and I know how it feels. Talk to yourself. Don't take deep breaths- that only builds up pressure in your chest- DEEP EXHALE. Slowly.

I tell you this after years of struggling with it and not getting it perfect yet...but we're gonna be okay. Okay???!!!!!

Astaryth, You know, I have to remind myself that I'm not the only one who finds it hard! Thanks!

Dilling...oh my gosh, could we talk. !!! I know. I should probably read that book too. The older I get the more I feel like every little tiny thing affects me, rubs me the wrong way, changes me. It's just the way I am! I don't want to fight it anymore!

Coffeypot- Brain Farts!!!!! hee hee hee! I hope you recovered from that incident!

Cindy, oh my gosh thank you. I just...thanks! I feel like I have such a long way to go yet but I must look at what I've accomplished so far! And i think you'll pass your test too. YOU're all smart and stuff!!!

Heidi the Hick said...

I have got to get outta here- haven't walked THE PUG yet and I have to eat and -ack!_ volunteer at the school. I wouldn't, and don't anymore, but it's Book Fair and I'll do almost anything for that librarian because she's awesome.

Later, lovies!

Biddie said...

I have so much to say..Well, I did a couple of minutes ago, anyway.
First, and foremost (and yes, I am saying it again) YOU HAVE NEVER LET ME DOWN.
Not once, not ever. We have been friends for ....23 years? That's a long time. You have never let me down, and you have been a fabulous Godmother to ALL 3 of my girls.
True story.
I do understand that feeling, though. All too well.
I get the memory gaps, too. Too bad I can't forget my 1st marriage, though. Never quite works the way that we want, does it?
So, have fun with your book fair. Talk later, and I can't wait to see you again. Whoo hoo!

Heidi the Hick said...

Olly- do you write on the back of your hand too? I use the oven timer all the time, not just for knowing when to get something out of the oven!

When I worked in an office a thousand years ago I had Post it notes on every vertical surface. It was ridiculous...

Biddie, you know, I just...yeah. Thank you. (I wish we could forget a few things too.)

...I survived the book fair! Although I did get accosted by my daughter who insisted that we buy the Pirates of the Caribbean poster for $5. And I am alarmed by how the boys in her Grade 8 class suddenly look like 16year olds. And the Kindergarten kids look like little babies. School is a shock. I'm glad I'm home.

Olly said...

The back of my hand, my arm and my palm. My husband refers to this as my palm pilate!

Angel said...

I can relate to this.

Last summer, I accidentally fed moldy hay and everybody was pissed off about it. I mentally punished myself until I was convinced that I was stupid, worthless and retarded. I was crying during an exam and my instructor took me aside to see what was wrong. He gave me reassurance and told me I was placing too much importance on one little thing. That's just one example out of many.

I also agree with allowing yourself to feel and express your emotions until you have worked through them. After a bad fall last year, I had bad anxiety problems. Chris Irwin's book Dancing with your Dark Horse helped see me through, along with support from my classmates and instructors.

You passed the exam! Good for you! You're having fun and accomplishing your goals and that's what counts. Keep on taking risks and living your dreams!

DJ Andi said...

So what was that about "I successfully wrapped a horse's legs in stable bandages and shipping bandages". Where are you shipping them? Just kidding. Kudos to you.

You must be having what I call Junior Senior moments. It comes and goes. BTW, do you drink a lot of diet drinks by chance? I think some of the artificial sweetners can do a number on you. I know if diet drinks get hot they turn into wood alcohol and that can mess with you.

Congrats on the test and good luck with the next phase.

Heidi the Hick said...

Dj Andi-wrapping them was the easy part...getting them into the mail box was difficult. snicker!

Interesting that you bring up diet drinks because I do wonder how much of an affect diet has on memory. I have had a history of food senstivities...but no, I don't do diet anything. Wood alcohol??? Wow, I've never even heard of that??!!!!

Thanks for your congrats and best wishes!

Angel, it's true, we really can turn an event into a huge problem. And it's hard to convince yourself that it's not a disaster! By the way, I've read both of Chris Irwin's books. They're great. I think he wins the Worse Fall of All Time Award. The incident with the cliff and the saddle horn in the ribs? I don't want that award.

I'm glad to hear that you made a recovery, especially emotionally, from your fall! Thanks for your good wishes. It really does feel like taking a risk- I feel like the last year has been a bunch of risks. I do hope/wish/ believe that it'll all be worth it.

rain said...

Dr. Burns saved my life - I exagerate not - literally saved it - about 20 years ago. I can't say enough about cog therapy. And it is in your control! so simple, it was a revelation. And congrats on your test! Congrats, congrats!

Lynn Sinclair said...

The most important question I ever ask myself is: How important is this in the big scheme of things? I find I can usually shrug things off because, let's face it, my little trials are nothing compared to those of others.

Be proud of your accomplishment, Heidi. You are one step closer to realizing a dream. How many people get that close?

captain corky said...

Congrats on passing level 3! Level 4 scares me and makes me want to climb back into bed. I know you'll be ready when the time comes. ;)

Heidi the Hick said...

Corky- haha! I did climb back into bed! I"ve got a few months until I have to face the next test. Lots of time to work on it...in the cold...!

Lynn, THAT is an excellent reality check!!! I'm going to use that. Yes, I'm one step closer to reaching that goal. Plus I keep telling myself that I only have a few more flaming hoops to jump through before I can get the certificate and start teaching and earn some income!!

Rain, that's good to hear, because when I first start readng those books my first thought was, "This is waaaay too simple and easy. I don't know if it'll work." Now I find myself with different thinking patterns and I really am starting to feel better about life in general-- I feel like I have some CONTROL over my own life!

Anita said...

You mention diet and memory... There are nutritional supplements on the market said to help with memory... My daughter bought me some, only they didn't work 'cause I always forgot to take them!! :)

her indoors said...

Heidi big big congratulations on passing your Level 3 Rider test.
we all suffer in some degree to memory loss, but i can understand how annoying this can be, afraid i have no ideas how to help just to let you know that you are not the only one!
now go and get Level 4 x

Bunny said...

CONGRATS on passing your riding test!!
And to chime in on the memory thing. . .I use my cell phone's Calendar feature to store my appointments/remind me of things, before that it was post-its but somehow I could forget to read them. . . :-)
Which reminds me to go search for that list I made of stuff to do after work. . . .

Heidi the Hick said...

Look at us- it's amazing any of us can remember our own names!

terry said...

excellent, excellent post, heidi. i think many of us catastrophize. i know i often do, though i'm working hard to try to stay away from all those absolutes.

oh, and congrats on passing your test!