Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Living with Alzheimers


This post has been rolling around in my head for quite some time; It seems odd on the one hand to post it in amongst entries on makeup and other light-hearted subjects, however, it seems equally odd that I haven't posted about some of the important and life-changing events that go on in my life behind the scenes.  It's hard to write about the things that are so personal - it makes you vulnerable:

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
Brené Brown


So I guess, I'm hoping that this blog post, will in some small way, try to shed a little light for me, for others, on the darkness that can come with a diagnosis of Alzheimers. 
The last few years have been extremely difficult.  There, it’s said and out there now.   Three years ago, in the space of several months, my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and my mum with alzheimers and in the wake of these events my dad had a breakdown which ended in two 7 month hospital stays.  It hasn’t been easy for any of us.  Alzheimers sort of crept up on my family…for several years before mum’s diagnosis we noticed things that weren’t right.  Yes, she forgot things, but it was more than that; she found it hard to manage her spacial awareness, her night vision was totally skewed, she had mood swings and huge anger surges that couldn’t be explained away.  As a family we worked extremely hard to get professionals to take our concerns seriously – numerous ‘off the record’ conversations with her Dr and over and over we were told she was ‘fine’.  We were given all sorts of excuses – she was depressed, she was too busy so wasn’t concentrating and therefore wasn’t making and storing memories correctly; it was her diabetes .. and so on. 

This scenario continued for over five years.  It was only when we became so distressed about her declining working memory that they agreed to test her.  I remember the call that literally changed our family dynamic forever.  I was sitting at the kitchen table and I wasn’t even particularly worried, convinced that yet again, we would be told that it was something else or fobbed off with another excuse.  First of all Dad came on and all he said was that mum wanted to talk to me.  Mum was straightforward and direct ‘I’ve got Alzheimers Sair.  Now I know why everything is falling through the holes in my brain’.  We cried - a lot; we tried to reassure each other as a family, but the reality is, with this disease there is no ‘getting better’. Ever.  Just a decline and a loss of the person you know, a loss of their own sense of identity and a loss of their roles in their own and others’ lives.  My mum faced her diagnosis head on.  Initially she refused to let it dominate her world and her favourite phrase was ‘use it or lose it’.  She managed to live on her own with some support when Dad had his first hospital stay – but it wasn’t ideal and we worried daily about whether she was ok – was she lonely? Was she scared when she woke in the night and momentarily didn’t know where she was?  We blundered through the next few months, making adjustments, both practical and emotional.  Alarms on the doors that went off if she tried to leave the house after 9pm (difficult when she’s a smoker and likes a last cigarette before bed!); meals that were delivered and put in the freezer as she gradually lost the ability to remember the sequence to make even the most simple of things; neighbours and wider family kept an eye on her and we split our time between being with her and visiting my dad in hospital.  Living in London meant that I spent many weekends on the East Coast train line winging my way between London and the North East.  When Dad came home things went back to a sort of ‘normal’ and desperate to believe that things would be on an even keel for now, we tried to go back to our daily lives.  But Alzheimers is sneaky like that.  It lulls you into a false sense of security, as you register, that things have stayed the same; that there doesn’t seem to have been a deterioration for months, that the latest memory test score was better than the previous one.. and then… bam it’s back with a vengeance, laughing up at you with the innocent phrase ‘who are you? Do I know you?’  or ‘There’s been a gentleman here all afternoon talking to me, he’s very nice but I don’t know who he is’.  It was her husband of 53 years.  This disease is savage and relentless in its pursuit of obliteration of all that makes us human.  So, how, when faced with such devastation of the human personality, how do we even begin to find a path through the pain and start to find the positives?
The one person throughout it all who has managed to do this?  My mum.  She has refused to let it dominate her every conversation; she's learned to laugh about the memory lapses and the 'made up ' words as she now struggles to remember the real words for objects and situations.  She yearns to be back in her home, pottering in her kitchen, having a wander in the garden and free to leave the house whenever she pleases.  More recently, this yearning has transposed into frustration and sometimes anger that is heart breaking to witness. Heart breaking. We want to make it better.  We can't.  But still she struggles on - trying to live her life in the best way that she can.

Are there any upsides?  I struggle to find them, I really do; but pushed to do so, I'd say that it's made us all, family and friends, so aware that life can change on the flip of a coin.  It's made us love and appreciate each other and overlook the small niggles.  The thing that I love the most?  My mum may need the attention you give to a small child, but she now revels in experiences like a small child.  Watching her eat an ice-cream, or walk in the garden, greet her grandchildren or feel the sun on her face.  It's sheer joy.  She may have become a child, but the childlike abandon for pleasure has come with it and we could all do with learning from that.  She is a living, walking example of 'living in the moment' - it's all she has.  She can't remember the past (not even seconds before) and the future is uncertain, so the present moment has to be revelled in, savoured and rolled around like a truffle on the tongue.

So, how is it now?  She struggles to walk as her vision is drastically impaired (the neurons aren't transmitting the right messages anymore), she often can't find the right words to describe things, she 'sun-downs' (severe confusion in the evenings) every night and is often extremely distressed when she wakes in the mornings.  Dad is there throughout.  He's not well himself, with a diagnosis of Parkinsons with Lewy Body Dementia, but nothing, nothing will move him from her side; not her anger nor her confusion.  As he recently said to me 'if she's not here by my side, I don't feel right'.  That truly is 'for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health'. 

All my life my parents have been a guiding light; there for me through life's ups and downs and completely and utterly supportive of all that I have done.  They continue to be my role model, even through their own traumas.  For now it has to be enough for me to ring up in the evening and to hear my mum's voice on the phone asking me how my day has been.  I've learned to take a leaf from her book and to live in the moment, laugh along with her and share her pleasure, because the moment is all we have.

So, vulnerability?   as Paulo Coelho says,

"The strongest love is the love that can demonstrate its fragility.”  We may be vulnerable, we may be fragile, but our love is strong and it's ours to keep. 
 
Forever.



 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Wabi Sabi: How to find Beauty in Imperfection





Every time I walk up to my front door I notice a trail of black rubber skid-like marks on the white paint at the bottom of the door.  It used to annoy me intensely - black on white and scrub as I have, it just won't budge.  I started to think about why those marks are there, and I remembered that they were made by my son's front bicycle tyre, that he used to prop and push open the door when he returned home.  This same son is now many, many miles away in Sydney and how I yearn to hear his key in the door, and yes, I would even welcome yet more tyre marks on my front door, if he were only to return home.  So now I look at that front door in a slightly different way; instead of seeing dirty marks that just won't wash away, I see a million stories of our lives; I see my son's happy face as he pushes his bike home and I feel intense gratitude for the love that we have for each other as a family.  I have learned to love the imperfections and see the beauty in the back story.  Enter Wabi Sabi - the Japanese term for imperfection.  Wabi Sabi is a Zen Buddhist philosophy, rooted in the sacred tea ritual (have you ever  taken part in this amazing tea ritual?  It's an experience not to be missed - try it here) where the tea masters took great pride in their handmade glazed bowls - complete with irregular shaping, cracks and other imperfections.  It was the imperfection that made them illogically beautiful. These bowls are prized, precisely because of their imperfections.

Leonard Koren, author of "Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers," has coined his own definition : "Wabi sabi is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete, the antithesis of our classical Western notion of beauty as something perfect, enduring, and monumental."



What does Wabi Sabi look like in the everyday then?  It might be your favourite chipped mug, the frayed denim jeans with a rogue hole at the knee; it could be the wonky carrot in the vegetable tray, an unedited blog post or the worn and loved toy from childhood; it might be the weathered and peeling shutter or the bare rough face of a wall.  Wabi Sabi is not to be found in the pursuit of perfect botoxed skin,  nor in the relentless acquisition of perfect designer clothes, the pristine kitchen or perfectly symmetrical knot garden.  Wabi Sabi is to be found in the smallest imperfections, that we routinely ignore or abandon.  Wabi Sabi is understanding that something is beautiful, precisely because it is imperfect.

So let's relinquish perfection and our relentless pursuit of it.  What could be more liberating than seeing beauty in the everyday imperfections all around us; not only seeing it, but celebrating it's aesthetic in our daily lives.  As Koren says 'Get rid of all that is unnecessary. Wabi-sabi means treading lightly on the planet and knowing how to appreciate whatever is encountered, no matter how trifling, whenever it is encountered. [...] In other words, wabi-sabi tells us to stop our preoccupation with success--wealth, status, power, and luxury--and enjoy the unencumbered life. Obviously, leading the simple wabi-sabi life requires some effort and will and also some tough decisions. Wabi-sabi acknowledges that just as it is important to know when to make choices, it is also important to know when not to make choices: to let things be. Even at the most austere level of material existence, we still live in a world of things. Wabi-sabi is exactly about the delicate balance between the pleasure we get from things and the pleasure we get from freedom of things.”  

Next next time I'm tempted to bemoan the fact that I don't have the perfect smile, or that one eyebrow seems higher than the other, or that my home doesn't feature in a glossy magazine, that the front path tile is chipped, I'm going to stop and remind myself to accept my world as it is, embrace it and celebrate it.  Imperfections and all.





Friday, April 14, 2017

Cosy Corners to Nourish the Soul


{Garden retreat - reading and meditating}
I'm a 'nester'.  It doesn't matter where I am, home or away, I nest.  I create little havens, whether it be my office at work, a holiday let, a hotel room or my own home and garden, I make it my own.  Sometimes it's as simple as a favourite book and candle, other times it's a whole makeover and furniture shift.  So, when life gets just a little too busy, when there are many demands being made on my time, when my energy is being depleted rapidly, it comes as no surprise that I head for the nearest cosy space to recharge and nourish myself.  We all need a place to call our own, be it a favourite corner or the luxury of a separate room; we all need a place to find refuge and let out that 'ahhhh' moment, when we can let it all go. I have several spaces in my home that are my refuge in times of need - a coffee space at the end of the garden that gets the morning sun; a more private sitting space (above) to lounge and read, meditate and chill, and, pure luxury, a writing room that also has a day bed, my beloved vinyl records, childhood books, favourite pictures and all my writing notebooks - a place for inspiration, creativity and REST.

{morning coffee spot - catches the first rays of sun}



The Spring Term has just finished for me and as per usual, I find that I am burnt out and exhausted.  The cold that began the week before the end of term is lingering and I feel like a shadow loitering with no intent. So, time to retreat to my cosy spaces, to read, take long baths, take afternoon naps in the pale Spring sunshine and spend way too many hours indulging my pinterest passion.  In the process of this I came across some of the following - inspiration for your own special space....








I love the way that most of these spaces have a book  nearby - for me, relaxing and recharging ALWAYS involves a book.

How do you recharge?  Do you have a space you retreat to?  I'd love to hear your ideas.




Saturday, February 04, 2017

Everyday Makeup


I've recently started following vlogger/blogger posts by Tanya Burr - she's a British makeup artist and blogger and is refreshingly normal - ie she's happy to post wearing her gungey leggings and makeup free face, but her tutorials are easy to follow and she even does a fantastic tutorial using everyday drugstore brands, rather than the very expensive brands, so the looks she creates are affordable.
I have to confess that I LOVE makeup.  Full disclosure.  For me, going into SpaceNK is the equivalent of the sweetie shop for kids.  I totally love the browsing, discovering different brands, and I always seem to come away with something, even if it's just samples from the sales girls.  If you need more incentive then they also have a loyalty card called Ndulge so you rack up points that convert to hard cash too.

Although I do love makeup, I don't spend hours putting it on.  I haven't got the time or the patience so it takes me about ten minutes tops in the mornings before work.  I do have some staples that I keep coming back to but I like to experiment too. So, here are the brands/products that are working for me currently: (Apologies for the awful photos - left it too late in the day to photograph - and the products are all in use, hence the 'used' look of most of them!)

a
Top right - Kevin Aucoin foundation; Top left - Laura Mercier Addiction highlighter
Bottom left - Caudalie Beauty Elixir; Bottom right - Space NK eyelash curlers

FoundationThe Etherealist Skin Illuminator by Kevin Aucoin in Light.  Its a liquid foundation that is light reflecting and not too heavy on the skin

Brows - anyone who knows me knows that my eyebrows are white blonde.  When I do get them coloured I just feel like I look weird but this little palette by Tanya Burr does the trick for me, with four different powder shades so I can mix it up and get the right kind of look.

I am addicted to Laura Mercier products - she really does create the flawless face - and I have three palettes of hers, including the gorgeous highlighter above in Addiction which gives the most heavenly but subtle glow to the cheek bones.  Also in the Laura Mercier brand, I use their Caviar Sticks eyeshadows - I got the cutest ever little pack before Christmas with four of their bestselling colours, but my favourite is definitely Rosegold.  It just slides on and stays put all day - I use it as an eyeliner mostly, rather than an eyeshadow.

Rosegold Laura Mercier Caviar Stick



Top: Tanya Burr eyebrow kit Bottom: Laura Mercier Glam to Go Palette

I've been using the Laura Mercier palette for the last few weeks as it has absolutely everything I need in one place - eyeshadow, blusher and lip gloss.  The blushers in this palette come in a peach and a pink shade, both of which are beautifully natural, although the pigment is quite strong so you don't need a heavy hand when applying.


I finish off with a slick of mascara.  I've been trying out this Chantecaille one, but I always go back to my Lancome Doll Eyes which I love.  As I wear contacts I also always have a bottle of soothing drops with me throughout the day.  I don't use a fixing spray as such, however, I do often spritz my face after I've done it, with Caudalie Beauty Elixir, which I'm completely addicted to.  If you've never tried it - go get.  Space NK do it in a smaller bottle so try it out first - with tones of Rosemary, Orange Flower and Rose, its like blitzing your face with botanicals and gives a real lift.

The last thing I do before I gallop out of the door is apply a slick of gloss or subtle lipstick.  I've been wearing a whole variety of nude lipsticks but recently bought this natural pink one from Tanya Burr cosmetics - it's quite pale, so will probably be better in the summer months when I have a bit of colour - and that's it - I'm good to go!

Lipstick in 'Birthday Cake' - Tanya Burr Cosmetics
Oh - quick aside about the makeup brushes in the top picture... They're Real Techniques brushes for foundation and concealer as well as one gorgeous Artis Elite Mirror brush in Oval 6. The Oval 6 will happily double up as a foundation/concealer brush, or even an eyeshadow.   I totally adore the Artis brushes, they are the softest brush I've ever come across and the bristles are densely packed so the product doesn't disappear into the brush!  I also had the Oval 10 but the handle snapped!!!  If you look closely you can see that the middle section of the brush is very finely tapered and I think the weight of the 10 wasn't supported by the design sadly.  I did get my money back, but I love the brand regardless. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Turning Loss Around




We’ve all been there … from losing something that may be small and insignificant to others, but has great meaning for us – to losing a great love, or the death of a close friend or relative.  Loss comes to us all, in different guises, and the response differs  from person to person…some hide it away behind a wall of false laughter and forced banter, while others mourn openly, talking and crying with the associated mess that this particular kind of grief bestows.  I fall somewhere in between.  It depends on the loss.  Over the last few years I’ve had to bend and stretch to accommodate a wide range of loss – a marriage, a friendship, the loss of hopes and dreams, children leaving to start their own lives, both near and far; the loss of our family home where I grew up, both parents living with dementia  and no longer able to play their long-held roles in my life as well as the death of much-loved relatives.  Listed like this, it seems a lot and I’ve not emerged unscathed.  Grief is like the ebb and flow of the ocean, sometimes the waters are calm and tranquil, sometimes they rage and roar and often there is no warning that the tide is turning.  The smallest things can unleash the wild woman within; the faint smell of your child as you pass their empty bedroom, a random memory jogged by an innocent comment, the incomprehension on your parent’s face when you visit – taken unawares the grief is often overwhelming. 


But still, days go by, life goes on and somehow we survive the changes, the challenges, and by embracing them we become stronger,  learning more about our own resilience and coping mechanisms.  They say that nature abhors a vacuum, and loss creates the biggest of voids – but like nature, the spaces left in our lives slowly fill up - sometimes with new relationships, different friendships, new hobbies. As people move on, as situations change, as our children grow and use their wings to fly, (just as we dreamed they would, never believing that by giving them permission to seize their joy, that our joy would be fractionally dimmed by the sheer loss of their company.  Who knew this? ) we learn to accommodate the gaps, to live with them, to tolerate and maybe eventually to embrace them. 
'Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings.' Elisabeth Kubler-Ross


Somehow,  the stripping back to the bare bones of loss can reveal its true heart ...  love and loss are inextricably linked and without great love there will never be the pain of huge loss.  So despite the grip of losses talons, there is a way to transmute the grief into something bearable.  To remember that love was at the heart of all loss can be a great comfort - I never believed in the adage 'better to have loved and lost than never loved at all' but somewhere in that trite little phrase, there is a great truth: significant loss is preceded by extraordinary love.  For that, there can only be gratitude. 


 'I still miss those I loved who are no longer with me but I find I am grateful for having loved them. The gratitude has finally conquered the loss.' – Rita Mae Brown.