I’m afraid of losing my mind.
Not in the popular sense, the tossed off turn of phrase. “A clean desk is a sign of a sick mind.” “Of all the things I miss, it’s my mind I miss the most.”
This is a fear that sometimes keeps me awake at night and the kind that can inspire nightmares. That prompts panic attacks over forgotten words and misplaced keys. That makes me ache with worry when I realize I don’t like something as much now as I once did. I don’t do as many “brainy” things as I used to – analyze symbolism in novels, say, or practice trigonometry – and trying to keep up with a discussion of current events or technological trends or a movie’s thematic elements leaves me feeling like I’ve somehow missed out on the critical details everyone else found obvious. Was I merely not paying attention or are there gaps between the folds of my brain?
Two years ago this month, my father’s body finally gave out. He’d developed a form of dementia in the early 1990s, when he was in his mid-forties. It changed his personality, rewrote his likes and interests, stole his words, ate his memories, paralyzed him and ultimately destroyed the part of his brain that told him to breathe. For a while, the doctors would take annual scans of his brain; every year the black spaces where there should have been something grew larger.
My father never met Caitlyn. He wasn’t at our wedding. I’m not sure he was ever really clear that Ian wasn’t Aaron, my sister’s husband. And while he was present at my college graduation, he inspired concerned comments from my professors (“What’s wrong with Christina’s father?” is not what you want to hear whispered at the graduation breakfast for your department.).
After he died, we had an autopsy done on his brain and spinal column. The results lined up with medical opinions from before his death – that his form of dementia didn’t bear any of the markers of being genetic. There is very little reason for me to fear that I will develop the same dementia or that I have passed it to Caitlyn and will have to watch her unravel the way I watched my father fall apart.
But logic and reason don’t seem to be the loudest voices in the room. And sometimes I am so afraid, I can stand in the kitchen and watch my hands shake.