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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Life Hack 13: A Little Emotion Goes a Long Way

There are heavy, emotional things. My older sister has a form of early onset dementia, a frontal temporal lobe dementia that began by affecting her ability to come up with nouns (semantic dementia), and progressed to where ability to understand and produce language is severely compromised. Although this is not Alzheimers, what she has is the equivalent of stage 6, (if that were what she has but it is not).  She is 59 years old and being taken care of by her husband and by my mother, who is 81 and in almost perfect health. The last time I saw my sister, last month, is probably going to be the last time that I see her and that she has some ability to recognize who I am.  So most of the tears I shed in the next few years are going to be about that.  There are also moments of joy in her life, small pleasures and joys and satisfactions, and I cannot imagine anyone being cared for any better. Her caregivers do not spend their days weeping, although there are tough things that they must do.

I've decided to read Dementia Blog, a book by the poet Susan Schultz whom I've met a few times in person. I'd like to see what she does with this subject matter.  I already don't like that she wants to make a political point about this (it was published in the Bush administration). But that probably is a judgment more about me that her. She sees dementia as a loss of the self. I"m sure it is that, but I don't feel that Debbie is someone different than herself.  She is still herself, but with a loss of certain brain functions and the life functions that go with them. She cannot read or write any more (for a few years) and now has given up the keyboard (she was accomplished organist with an advanced degree in church music). In lucid moment, she pointed to her organ and said that she could not play it anymore, and that she knew she had a disease of the brain.  She sometimes doesn't know which end of the spoon to hold.

Anyway, when I say that a little emotion goes a long way, I don't mean that one should be less emotional. Emotion is a kind of bodily signal that you should pay heed to, and even a small amount is telling you something significant. A lot of emotion is sending you a bigger signal about something, and a small flash of anger or disappointment, or a momentary flash of joy, is important information for your brain to pay attention to something.

You don't have to either exaggerate or minimize your emotions, because the big emotions are going to be big no matter what. The emotion is mostly about you, and it's not for others to "validate," even if that might be a nice thing for them to do. Validation is more about parking tickets, to me.


Leslie said...

It is terrible about your sister.

It is interesting to me how much interest there is in policing emotions, though. I am constantly told I have too much or too little emotion, or the wrong emotion. Right and wrong emotions, how you should feel, have to do with politics. You should care more if a bomb goes off anywhere in the US than if it goes off in a Mexican or Canadian city near you, for instance.

Jonathan said...

Yes, the attempt to police emotions is exhausting, isn't it? It must be some kind of category mistake.

Leslie said...

You are supposed to have the emotions that prove, according to a certain culture, that you have the right morals. When there was a school shooting near me, we were supposed to feel traumatized in a certain way, because only that would signify that you correctly thought it was a bad thing. To feel OK but be horrified at an intellectual level was "numb" which meant "denial."

Jonathan said...

That's the Facebook mentality. You have to respond in lockstep with everyone else. Nobody is saying that a school shooting is a good thing, but what you are pointing to is a kind of piety in decrying it in exactly the right way and to the right degree. That's why I've been off the Facebook lately to some degree. It seems kind of like you need to get drawn into certain memes or responses at the same time as other people, some of whom you barely know. And oh the drama of unfriending someone who has different views!