The Wright Way

The Wright Way

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Dementia Diary #3

The Appeal Letter

A letter came for my Dad from the church for their annual 'Gift Day' appeal. Over the years this was always something my mother had dealt with - so when this year's letter arrived I explained to my Dad what it was, all the background etc, and checked with him that he would like to make "the usual contribution."
As he was happy to do so I got him to sign a cheque and "did all the necessaries" by way of preparation. However - the Gift Day was not for at least two weeks, so I attached the gift envelope to the appeal letter and left it in a prominent position so that when the time came it would serve as an aide memoire to go and hand it in.

The Tidy Mind

One of Dad's daily activities is to work on his stamp collection, and this is something he gets completely absorbed in. It provides him with many links with earlier times in his life and allows him to be fully engaged and totally in the moment. He also has a very tidy mentality, and at the end of every day before going to bed he always puts away all things he has been working on and anything else that his eye may come to rest on.
This does occasionally present some "awkward" moments, in that he tidies certain things into places that he cannot locate in short term memory.

He regularly cannot remember where 3 sets of nail clippers and a nail file are kept - and even though they are always kept in the same place he'll always tell me he's been looking for them and can't find them anywhere! I always take him to the place they are kept and show him, and he's always agreeably surprised at their being "found" once more. That is, until the next time he needs them!

And so it was with the Gift Day envelope. For 14 consecutive days it was on view in the place I had put it to remind me when the time came - and when the time was gone. My Dad had put it in "a safe place", and now I had to search, knowing that he wouldn't have the vaguest idea either where he'd put it or indeed what on earth it was I was talking about.

Getting Warm

I did a 'cosmetic' search in all the obvious places he may have put it - but to no avail. Do you remember the game "Hunt The Thimble"? Well this was hunt the envelope except I wouldn't know if I was getting warm or not as there was no one who could tell me - or so I assumed.

Casually, I asked my Dad if he remembered doing the cheque for the appeal, or seeing the letter and envelope attached. We both looked to see if it had fallen down behind the cabinet which I'd left it on top of - no joy.

And then he started looking through a particular pile of documents. At this point something told me to take notice - and so I held the first few things on the top of that particular pile as he looked further down.
And as I slowly opened a notebook on top of the things I was holding - there was the letter and gift envelope, neatly folded.

I told him it had been found and that all was well, and he was really pleased that the 'lost' item could now be handed in to the appeal.

Unconscious Signs

It would seem that in the midst of his dementia, he unconsciously recalled a large bit of information about where he had tidied the letter and envelope to. He could have actually looked in a whole variety of places - but there was a trigger that made him look in this particular place. Then it was down to MY unconscious to act upon my noticing this information - a kind of "getting warmer" message if you like - and look deeper in the right places.

There's a large amount of dialogue going on at the unconscious level for us all; and the more sensory acuity we have, added to the acknowledgement of trusting our unconscious, means that often those channels of communication that might seem (on the surface) to be 'clogged' or even closed, are actually still functioning fairly well.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Quality of Pleasure and your Hurt Threshold

In terms of the excesses or compulsions in our lives - those instances when we can't say "No" to temptation - those instances when we are already into the next drink, the next mouthful, the next light-up, when we haven't even mentally closed the door on the previous one - there seems to be a common thread.

These are all things we like doing.

And with things we like doing, we become really vulnerable to NOT JUST doing or consuming them for what I'd call Route 1 pleasure (pleasure for pleasure's sake), but also for Route 2 or secondary pleasure. This is reward for something good we've done, some achievement that carries elements of celebration. So this is "having a good time because" rather than just "having a good time". Finally there's Route 3 or tertiary pleasure. This is the TOXIC one - the comfort, the solace, redressing the imbalance of something unpleasant, something awful that's happened to us, that makes us feel so down so that we have to add to our own depleted "feeling good" inner resources with something external - something that we know we LIKE, or something we know will grant us release from those "down" feelings.

The excesses and compulsions generally seem to be yielded to incrementally, and these increments are small, in themselves. There's a huge difference between a holiday and a bar of chocolate or a bottle of wine - both in terms of pleasure and unit cost - and the incremental influence also relates to cost. But for those who can afford to take a holiday every month (say) then the quality of pleasure in those monthly holidays is very diluted - rather in the same way the second bottle of wine, or third bar of chocolate is diluted in quality of pleasure terms. The graph of quality of pleasure plotted against level of indulgence will be certain to take a nose dive!

Plotting the Graph reveals the Hurt Threshold

In this particular graph there is a built-in amount of even greater pleasure on the first few repeat actions, whereas by the fourth/fifth instance the pleasure is now less than the first time, and drops rapidly with each repeat thereafter. The quality of pleasure once the downward slide starts is falling away towards the "Hurt Threshold" - HURTLING - some might say!

And what of the "Hurt Threshold"? It could be anywhere after #4 depending on the nature of the pleasure being indulged, and certainly once into negative the effects can be very toxic indeed.

As already said, though, with the smaller excesses and compulsions - they are small enough for us to accept the incremental yielding with the excuse "This'll be the last," or "I'll just have the one," or "One more won't hurt." Or, as in the film "The Meaning of Life" when Mr Creosote is tempted by a waffer-thin mint!

The thing is, at this stage we never take stock of the situation - the excuses and our justifications are almost fused together. It's as if we are stupefied in a kind of trance and the "devil" on our shoulder is running the whole show. The somewhat "distant" internal dialogue might develop along these lines, "The STOCKTAKE isn't for a while yet, and I'm in control - aren't I?" - which begs the question: What part of us specifically might the "I" be talking to here?

When the STOCKTAKE comes - as it inevitably does - there is always that same part of us that's incredulous as to how all these compulsions and excesses have added up over a period of time. The TV series Secret Eaters shows only too well the amazement on peoples' faces when they see the results of their covert consumptions.
"I never knew it would be this bad!"
"Well Sir/Madam - we've done a stock count of all the 'just the ones' or 'one more won't hurts' and you're way over your hurt threshold. And that's why it hurts, funnily enough!"

For Route 3 tertiary pleasure, the above graph hardly exists - because there is barely any true pleasure involved in our action. It is all really for anaesthetic purposes - for comfort - for masking a whole raft of other "hurt". And in terms of all that tertiary pleasure, what happens is we trade the hurt of all the 'feel-bad' times, for a new hurt related to excesses and compulsions. The new hurt now contains guilt - and has all that stress and other 'feel-bad' stuff gone away?

Is life really better for having this new kind of hurt?

The 21st Society's take on responsibility

Modern society's perception of the dangers to personal control are somewhat warped.

For instance, with tobacco use the dangers are clear and proven - so we assume people have a low level of self-responsibility and we take away people's "rights in the public domain" by banning smoking in premises. We also plaster the product packaging with impact phrases like "Smoking Kills", and we make public smokers stand around outside in all weathers.

However, with alcohol, the same self-responsibility is deemed to be much higher, and so those same "public rights" are permitted. People are invited to be "Drink Aware" while, with the exception of driving, people are deemed to be more responsible and aware. The drinkers are in the same category as the gamblers - "We gamble responsibly!" they keep reminding us. After all, there's no such thing as passive drinking or gambling is there?

Finally with food excesses, society leaves people to their own devices. Eating food doesn't pollute the air, or turn people dangerous or unpredictable, or gamble away the housekeeping on a legless horse with no name - so we have no right, rhyme or reason to restrict what they do. There's no emotive language or warnings on cans of fizzy drinks and processed foods. The sugar, fat or salt content is hidden away in the small print. The request to "go large" or "supersize me" is never responded to by the person serving saying, "Really? Come on - don't you think you've had enough already?"

Re-calibrating our Quality of Pleasure

Being out of touch with our Quality of Pleasure in terms of food and drink for instance, impacts hugely upon our lives.
If we ignore the warnings, as well as our lack of self care, then we move through a variety of stages where the plummeting nature of the graph represents a plummet in other parts of our lives.

In terms of our wider relationship with food and drink, fitness and health tend to be the first to deteriorate. Often with this comes issues with self-esteem, confidence, and an increasing dysfunctionality of performance in other personal, social and work-related areas.

Interestingly, on all products designed to assist people with quitting smoking there is the caveat "requires will power". There is no mention of will power in terms of gambling, alcohol or food - although we all know that the ability to say "NO" to any of these things is "Ours and Ours Alone."


If we can really get in touch with what pleasure means for us as individuals, then we can start to re-evaluate and calibrate our Quality of Pleasure. The phrase "Moderation in all Things" is a very good mantra for everyone, and it can be linked to every point I have already made here. The thing is, what about our perception of that word "Moderation".

Ask yourself what it means for you when you hear that word "moderation".

For most of us I think the answer would probably come out on the side of phrases such as "enjoy yourself less", "be boringly prudent", "don't let your hair down", "spoil the party", and so on. There is this understanding that moderation means LESS pleasure, therefore we should make pleasure only a thing of quantity. Moderation is boring. Moderation is the very antithesis of pleasure!

My point, however, invites us all to have the same amount of pleasure - but to enjoy it in terms of QUALITY not quantity. And then start to find new ways of enjoying pleasure, so that the quantity grows that way - rather than over-indulging in a few pleasures.

Savour the quality of the things we would label as pleasures. Become familiar with what pleasure really means for us. Evaluate the things or actions that give us pleasure, and look at whether they are indulged as primary, secondary or tertiary pleasures - or indeed a combination of all three. Decide what might be a better way of dealing with the impact of tertiary pleasure - because tertiary pleasure merely devalues the pleasure you get from that self same thing when you are supposed to be enjoying it in secondary or primary mode.

Next time you are doing something you enjoy ask yourself these questions, and maybe stop yourself for just long enough to hear the real answers.

We all have a relationship with our pleasure. We also all have a tendency to prostitute that relationship by devaluing its true quality for toxic reasons.