"What do you plan to do with your one, wild, precious life?" -Mary Oliver

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rage Against The Advancing Darkness

Have you ever been in the throes of writing to find yourself writing something you didn’t know you knew? Have you ever wondered about the dreamstate you slip into, which allows you to inhabit other lives? How does this work?

For me, and I think for many of you as well, the writing process can be therapeutic, write or die, but it has also now been found to be beneficial to people afflicted with the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

The Alzheimer’s Association is working with writers to connect people in the early stages of the disease to writing groups. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s but they have found that with early diagnosis you can still construct a life in front of the advancing darkness. It is essential to begin while the patient is in the early stages of the disease, but many people are in denial. Hence, precious time is lost. In recent polls it has been discovered that people are more afraid of contacting Alzheimer’s than heart disease or cancer. Working with writers groups, the Alzheimer’s Association is helping people afflicted with this tragic disease to seize the opportunity to say what they want to say while still cognizant, before their knowledge of what went before is lost forever.

So let us open our minds to this possibility: that a person can write something down they didn’t know they knew. Writing is a form of memory, and we use a different part of our brain when we write. Thus it has been discovered that an Alzheimer’s patient can write something down they have actually forgotten. In fact, the next day they've forgotten that they wrote it. But there it is, proof on the page, visible and tangible.

I find this to be such an interesting concept, that there is a special area of the brain that clicks into overdrive when we write. Can it be that this ties into the “vivid and continuous dream” that John Gardner (my favorite writer on writing) talked about? Writing is nothing if not a mysterious process.

Verbal exchange is invisible and intangible, while writing lasts. When these patients write something down in their writing group, they are entrusting their memory to someone else. If you can give something away you don’t lose it.

Alzheimer’s patients lose so much of their identity as they start to lose simple things like the ability to drive a car and plan their day. If we can help them preserve some of their memories for themselves and their loved ones, then this is a noble endeavor. There is no nobler profession than writing.

29 comments:

Gabriela Abalo said...

Hi Ivone,

thank you for stopping by my blog.
I'm glad I found yours, I really enjoyed reading your latest post.

"Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind." ~Catherine Drinker

I agree with you, writing is a therapeutic process.

loveNlight
Gabi

She Writes said...

I love writers. There is something about how their brains work that intrigues me. And I have to write. It is therapy for sure, but when I am down, it is especially hard to push through.

I liked this title of this post and fear the disease it represents!

Matthew said...

This was a really thought provoking piece. Thanks for writing it....

foldingfields said...

Wow, yeah. Very interesting. Not taking the topic lightly, but I often completely forget things I've written and am so grateful to find them. As another writer put it, "it's like finding a treasure in the attic."

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

"construct a life" That's an interesting phrase. It is what we do as writers. Thanks for an intersting post.

Wine and Words said...

This is the mystery for me... how I can write something down they didn’t know I knew, how I can my fingers speak truth my voice cannot utter, how I will go back and read something I wrote with little recollection of the process, only the driving force behind the need to write that day. It never ceases to amaze. And I think this is wonderful, the work being done with these patients!

Liza said...

Having just returned from a Monday volunteer commitment with our community's senior center, serving breakfast to many who are in the early stages of this terrible disease, your post is invaluable.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Gabriela,
Thank you very much. And thank you for joining my blog. It is a vote of confidence I hope I can live up to. And a wonderful quote by Drinker. So thank you for that too!

Suzanne Casamento said...

Alzheimer's is a terrifying disease. And I agree, writing is a wonderful way to preserve precious memories. Thanks for the insightful post.

Jemi Fraser said...

Alzheimers is such a devastating disease. Scares me senseless. I love that dream state writing - so bizarre when your subconscious takes over like that. :)

Yvonne Osborne said...

Amy,
I agree. Writers are a pretty special group of people. And fun to be around. Thanks!

Matthew,
Thank you so much. I'm so glad you liked it.

Sarah,
I like that... a treasure in the attic. Course some of my old writing needs to stay hidden!

Tricia,
Yes, I think so too. Thanks so much!

Yvonne Osborne said...

W&W,
Thanks. It is an amazing thing I'm constantly in awe of. Thanks for your keen perceptions.

Liza,
Thank you so much. That is a wonderful thing you're doing.

Suzanne,
Yes, it is. And the saddest. Thank you.

Jemi,
Hi! Yes....bizarre. That's the word I was looking for. Thanks!

Elana Johnson said...

Wow, I'm fascinated by this. It makes me love writing even more, I think.

Also, is that why I can tell you the exact page in my MS where something happens?

Does our memory get better as we write? I wonder...

Yvonne Osborne said...

Elana,
That's an interesting question. I think writing does exercise our memory. Sorta like doing crossword puzzles but better. Thanks for weighing in on the subject.

Kass said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog. I couldn't agree with you more about writing. I just turned 62 and I feel more alive now than ever, I think mostly because I have challenged myself to write poetry. Exercise helps pump blood to the brain too. Great post.

Tag said...

Interesting post. We take in so much information that doesn't get processed by the conscious mind but stays buried somewhere in memory. I also look back into my past and wish that more family members had taken time to write down their impressions of the day. What is our present is tomorrow's history.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Kass,
Thanks so much! I appreciate your input and agree with you about poetry. Good for you!! When I started writing my first novel (ten years ago now!) I was on fire, in every sense of the word. I hardly slept at all, yet never felt tired. Writing to writers is like gasoline to the match.

Tag,
Hi. Thanks so much for commenting here. I loved your last post, by the way. Did I tell you that? Yes, I wish I had more of my grandmother's writing. She was a poet waaaay before her time. I try to keep a faithful journal because this internet stuff....who knows if it will endure?

SAMUEL PARK said...

Wow--this is fascinating. But I think it's true--doing high level intellectual work can fend off the symptoms for a while, I hear. Interesting to think of it as a coping mechanism--to write in order to know who you are. The philosophical implications are fascinating. Thanks for the post--great to think about it.

Cynthia Reese said...

I had a friend who suffered a severe stroke, and for months he struggled wtih language and memory. It frustrated him to no end. I can only imagine how hard it would be to KNOW that your brain and your memory is slipping away from you, and to KNOW that it is not coming back. Thought provoking post!

Jonas said...

It's an uncomfortable truth, but Truth nonetheless, that I began my blog some five years ago in consideration of the fact that my family has been absolutely ravaged by Alzheimers (both sides). I wanted to leave a few crumbs for myself to ponder...to the extent I could...assuming I'll still care.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Samuel,
Thank you so much. It's always a pleasure to see what you think.

Cynthia,
It would be devastating. And I think the early stages must be the worse because you know what's happening. Thanks for sharing. And thanks for joining my blog. It's always a rush to know you've connected with someone on a personal level.

Jonas,
That hardly seems fair,to be hit by this dreadful disease on both sides of your family. But if that is what has brought out the writer in you, than it isn't all bad. But, yes, your last words resonate with me.

Lola Sharp said...

What a wonderful, thought provoking post on writing!

Well done.

Talli Roland said...

Great post, Yvonne. You're right - writing can be so therapeutic. I often find myself describing things I didn't even think I remembered, or ideas that somehow work themselves into my MS.

Enchanted Oak said...

My mother has Alzheimer's. I worked with her in the earlier years to write down things she had treasured through her lifetime. Now that the memory ability has vanished, I make a point of capturing some of the poetic things she says in her dementia. You'll find some of them on my blog, under the labels Alzheimer's and dementia.

Simon C. Larter said...

Solzhenitsyn said that writers create a society's cultural memory. It is among the noblest of professions. So to hear that writing can preserve an individual memory, even when it was thought lost, is simply confirmation of this on a personal scale. Writing is memory, hope, fear, catharsis, love, joy, pain, and every emotion known to human beings. What power in words!

I lost a grandfather to Alzheimer's. It took years. Anything that staves off the dark is a thing of beauty.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Talli,
Yes, I've experienced the same thing....those odd things that weave themselves into our manuscripts. Thanks!!

Lola,
Thank you for the kind words.

Enchanted,
And I'm sure you're so thankful that you did that. I dreamed last night that my mom was mixing her food in with her salad. Isn't that odd? I mean she is aging but she doesn't have A. I don't think...

Simon,
Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I like this: "writers create a society's cultural memory". I'm sorry about your Grandpa. Aging sucks. Everything about it. Yet still, my dad enjoys his bourbon and sitting in his chair and telling us all what to do....

Thanks for adding wisdom to my post.

Prayer Girl said...

Yvonne,
Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. I love meeting new bloggers.

My grandmother had what they called back then 'hardening of the arteries'. I call it Alzheimer's. My mother had diagnosed Alzheimer's. Doesn't look real good for me, but I try to live each day to the fullest and maybe it will skip me. Hope it skips my daughter too. We are powerless over this.

Again, welcome to my blog.
PG

Yvonne Osborne said...

Prayer Girl,
Thanks for commenting here. I guess we shouldn't worry about genetics. What good does it do to worry? Again....thanks.

kanishk said...

I agree with you, writing is a therapeutic process.
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