Tomorrow never knows

I don’t understand reality. It seems so fractured to me. And overwhelmingly subjective. My own thoughts and impressions undergo so much constant change and review that little, if anything, seems certain. Feelings, which form the basis of thought and opinion, are fleeting and operate under huge pressures forcing them to evolve and alter. They are subjected to a multitude of stresses that cause them to harden or be crushed. They warm and they cool. They pander to self-interest in all it’s many shifting guises. Feelings which are dependant on the chemical balances and shivering imbalances of my body. Dependant on the reactions and interactions with other people. People with their own individual takes on reality that they bring with them. We all experience reality in different ways. With different interpretations. Some have their impressions altered further. Alcoholics who have poisoned their brains, people re-wired by drugs, people with a billion different types of emotional trauma and awareness, people whose thoughts are a raging mental blizzard. Schizophrenia, bi-polar, depression. Minute shifts and changes in the body’s metabolism and our experiences can alter the world around us unbelievably. There are times when I experience a sort of emotional intoxication. I find myself floating without control on a river of my own sensations. High or low. I come to and find it impossible to be sure of anything. Suddenly marooned. Did yesterday really happen? Did I really say that? Why did I say that? How could I say that? The echo of my own thought returns to me with an unfamiliar voice. Time itself is like a series of falling dominoes; each one knocking down the next. Spent. Gone. Apparently. Reality, and by extension sanity, seems little more than an agreement conform and an ability to control ourselves. A consensus. And reality only exists through the power to remember what we did five minutes ago.


And then there’s dementia. Where we walk off the map altogether and stumble into an endless, broad white space. There are more than a hundred diagnosable types of brain disorder that result in a loss of mental function. Each is usually progressive and eventually leads to severe, debilitating symptoms. Gradually worsening memory loss, uncharacteristic mood swings, the reduced ability to communicate. A truly alternative reality lurks within us all. Nearly half a million people in the UK are afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. A further quarter of a million with other degenerative brain disorders. Dementia sees reality reduced to a broken lens. Where you find yourself looking at the world through a prism. Dementia means the individual loses that consensus of reality with the rest of the world. Instead reality becomes wholly personal and totally subjective. Locked inside a dark labyrinth, your own confusing ideas and obsessive thoughts become the only basis for reality. Mental myopia. The field of vision shrinking and becoming increasingly opaque. Alzheimer’s is a broken time machine: where you find yourself locked inside 1984; certain – with a hardcore, unshakeable belief that will terrify all those around you – that you’ve got a can of Quatro in your school bag and that you’ve got to finish off your History homework or else you’ll be in big trouble. Alzheimer’s is a liar that whispers in your ear and tells you that the people you’ve loved all your life are strangers to you.


In the next fifteen years it is anticipated that the combined figure of people suffering with different types of dementia will top a million. A million people trapped inside a nightmare. By the middle of the century it’s predicted that number may double again. Dementia blights lives and destroys families. We find ourselves bereaved of those who are still alive. We become prisoners in our own minds. Yet dementia is almost seen as a natural progression. You get old, you become forgetful. You get old, your mind gives way. You get old, you retreat into the shell of your own body. Dementia isn’t generally afforded the same understanding and sympathy as cancer and other more overtly life-threatening illnesses. Instead dementia is quietly accepted as part of the aging process along with arthritis, an addiction to Werther’s Originals and bad eyesight. People aren’t seen to die because they’re forgetful or because they don’t recognize their own family any more. So what’s the problem? Those suffering from dementia are mothballed with prescription drugs and soup. They are already lost to us, the individual we knew has gone and is replaced by a stranger, we can do nothing to save them. Have some Amitriptyline and a bowl of Cockerleekie. Now wander off back to 1976 when everyone you loved was still alive.  Is that right? Are we seeing things clearly? Are we doing enough?


Reality is subjective. Just like pain. We all see through a glass darkly. We look at each other across an ocean.


Adapted from Notebook, Edinburgh/Dundee Friday 17th July 2009


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