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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Age and the Betrayal by the Mind

From University College London Brain Sciences

Copyright © 2016
By Ralph F. Couey

Throughout our lives we are burdened by a self-imposed delusion that we are somehow bullet-proof and immortal.  This is probably a reflection of the common insecurity that we all carry with us, whether latent or manifest.  But age has a way of shattering delusions, as we come to grips with how fragile a thing humans are.

It started a couple of years ago with memory problems.  When you're 61 years old, that's usually something to joke about.  But as time went on, things got worse, affecting the quality of my work.  My superiors, despite my difficulties, were massively patient.  Finally, out of an abundance of concern, I scheduled myself for a series of appointments with people whose specialty is the brain.

My first concern was the possibility of Alzheimer's, or early onset of senility.  I remembered my father's last two years of life when he was afflicted by both.  Bit by bit, he drifted away from us.  Towards the end, there were times when he couldn't recognize anyone.  I did not want to be that guy, especially this early.  I love my grandchildren, and the absolute last thing I wanted was to see the hurt on their faces when Grampa didn't know who they were.

I went to a neuropsychologist who put me through a battery of tests, lasting several hours.  I waited anxiously for the results which took about a week.  The results were both good and bad.

  Of Alzheimer's and dementia, there weren't any indications of the presence of either.  I was happy about that, but frustrated, since I still had no answers for the problems I was having.

So I kept reading the report.  There I found the bad news.  I have not one, but two learning disabilities.  A very pronounced ADHD, and something called "cognitive impairment."  The gap between the verbal and non-verbal scores was 15, which I'm told is significant.  This explains much.

I won't bore you with the details, but when I presented these findings to my work superiors, they understood immediately.  The problems associated with these conditions were exactly what they were seeing in my work.  In the months since, we have been working together to try to find the best way to make me more productive.  But after numerous counseling sessions, I realized that there was really only one option.  If I didn't want to be shown the door, I had to retire.

Understand that I knew that the end of my working life was approaching.  The plan was to retire at 66.  This was driven by the economics of my past.  For most of my life, I was huge.  I really didn't take retirement planning seriously because I was convinced I wouldn't live long enough to get to that point.  But s bout with heart trouble, and one near-death experience, convinced me to have lap band surgery.  After losing about 150 pounds, and starting a rigorous exercise regimen, my heart health improved dramatically, along with my hypertension and diabetes.  Suddenly, I realized two things:  I would in fact live long enough to retire, and that day was coming very soon.

I began dumping huge amounts of my paycheck into retirement accounts.  In doing the calculations, I felt assured that I would have enough for Cheryl and I to have a nice, comfortably, and well-funded golden era.

But having this come upon me, things changed drastically.

Based on my reading of my bosses unspoken sense of the matter, I knew I had to do this soon, before circumstances forced them into something far more punitive.  I initially decided on December 31st of this year, but extended that a week to complete the pay period.  The mechanics of federal retirement are complex and take time to reach finality, so I wanted to end with a full paycheck.

Northern Virginia is an insanely expensive place to live.  That, coupled with our decision two years ago to convert from a 30-year to a 15-year mortgage meant that we had to sell the house, and soon because there was no way that we would be able to make this kind of a mortgage payment.  So for the past few weeks, we've been scrambling, selling the furniture we don't want to take with us, and donating and dumping a lot of other things.  As is usually the case, thing haven't gone as planned.  We wanted to have the sign in the front yard by the second week of October.  But it hasn't been until this week that we were able to get painters and carpet cleaners in to do that necessary sprucing up.  The painting was particularly important, since our grandchildren in the 3 years they and their parents lived with us expressed their artistic talents liberally on the walls.  I never had a problem with this, since I liked having their signature on our lives.  But potential owners will likely see things differently.  Even acknowledging that requirement, it was still a little sad to see their wonderful creations covered up.

Next week, we'll start interviewing realtors.  There are several types.  The expensive ones, who will market the heck out of your property, guaranteeing the sale in a specific time frame, or they would buy the house.  Others charge a low commission, but I have some very real doubts about their ability or commitment to market the property.  And the clock is definitely against us.  The good news is that the townhomes in our neighborhood have always sold within six weeks.  The DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) region is it's own kind of bubble where the housing market sits.  Plus, every four years, there is always a large influx of people moving and needing homes because of a little thing called the presidential election.

We're keeping busy, and that business has kept me from thinking too much about my health.  My head is still awhirl at how quickly this was laid on, and it probably won't sink in completely until several months after I leave federal service.  There is still a ton of things to get done before we can leave.  Moving, for example, for the first time in 25 years is going to be on our dime, so we're going to have to do this as cheaply as possible.  We'll hire a crew to pack and load a rental truck, and then drive the truck to our middle daughter's home in Colorado, who has joyously invited us to live with them, and spoil their kids.  It's nice to be loved.

I have said before that change is the only consistent thing in life, and in order to survive, one has to be ready to roll with said changes.  But it was the utter finality of this situation that makes things different.

In the back of my mind, however, I still worry about how my brain will change over the next few years.  I would rather lose a limb than my mind, and I really would like to hang on to some semblance of normality.  I keep reading that there is a cure coming, some say quite soon, for these issues.  I can say honestly that I've never rooted harder for scientists.

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