I’ve always had a fear of dementia. It started on a visit to my great grandfather in the nursing home and I heard him mistake his daughter (my grandmother) for someone named Betty. Fifteen years later, the same thing started happening to my grandmother and I watched her un-become herself over a period of six or seven years. Forgetting to turn off the stove led to forgetting to go to the bathroom and then forgetting the face of her daughter.
Horrified, I wondered why my relatives “lost their minds.” Was I destined to do the same?
Now, I have a theory.
Fast-forward to 2017, sometimes I deny what I’m seeing and feeling. I hear you doing it too.
I could be reading too much into this.
It’s probably just my imagination. I have a tendency to overreact.
He says _____, so I need to believe him.
We pretend things are fine when they’re not. Sometimes the truth of my own feelings frightens me more than the shared pretense that all is normal. I keep a straight face to avoid conflict. I may even hide exuberance.
But suppression is costly. Denying emotion compromises our cognitive ability. When we stifle our thoughts and feelings, our mental processes turn against us – like the auto-immune system in overdrive. Denied emotion distracts us and prevents clear observation. It gobbles up energy needed for mental and physical processing. More here on denied anger in particular.
If we make a lifelong habit of denying what we feel, we end up in old age staring at The Price is Right, locked in fragments of our past, unable to learn anything new. I can’t prove this, but a review of my deceased relatives (especially the Christian fundamentalist ones) shows a strong correlation.
If I want to stay as lucid as possible as I age, I’d better say stuff out loud, show it on my face, let the tears fall, admit I’m uncomfortable, walk away from stifling conversations. I better swing at a punching bag and yell obscenities. And I better sing and dance and flaunt my joy as well.
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