I went on a rare trip to the cinema last week, rare in that I went to see a film that did not involve some sort of cartoon character. The film that my wife and I chose to see was ‘Still Alice’, a harrowing story of a linguistics professor, a much deserved Oscar-winning performance by Julianne Moore, who develops genetic early onset Alzheimer’s disease. I found the film to be particularly affecting because it reflects the fears that I, and I am sure many of us, have about losing my memory and identity. At one point, shortly after her diagnosis, Moore says to her husband “I wish I had cancer”, and I knew exactly what she meant. Any amount of pain would surely be preferable to the fear of my identity being annihilated.
Reflecting on the film afterwards I found myself being feeling scared stiff of contracting such a disease, of losing my sense of self and my surroundings, including those around me – and of the effect it would have on them. It also brought back to me the consequences that two strokes had on my Father’s health, and how they affected his ability to communicate and express himself. This led me to be very fearful of such a thing happening to me and got me wondering just how many of my life decisions are based on fear?
It is certainly the case that I was more motivated by the fear of dying early than feeling healthy when I started losing weight, and I am very grateful to someone a few years ago who said to me “if you lose weight your children will thank you for it in a few years when you are still around for them”. It was a very blunt thing to say, and I was rather offended at the time, but her comment stuck with me and became one of the things that reminded me when I wondered about having that second helping that I did not really need.
Fear is often linked to control, and often the lack of it. This was certainly the case for the ‘Alice’ character in the film, who was devastated by the impending loss of her faculties. We fear the unknown, and do not want to leave everything to chance. This is where I think I really connected with the film, and saw some similarities with my own recent history.
One of the purposes of this blog for me is to understand how I managed to completely overhaul my lifestyle. I find it very difficult to comprehend how I got from where I was to where I am now; how I managed to re-balance. I was in a place where I feared the unknown, where I was unsure what was coming next. I had already found how tiring uncertainty is through what I described at the time as ‘the long car crash of losing my job’ thanks to endless re-organisations and I guess I wanted some greater stability.
Much of this, it seems to me, is down to awareness; or rather the lack of it. I now look back three years or so and see a version of myself who was stuck in a cloud of unknowing, out of control relative to today, and living in fear of the future. By taking control of some key areas of my life I seem to have found a place that feels less fearful and more contented. Ironically it has been by letting things go that I have achieved this. Maybe even letting go of the sort of things I was originally fearful of losing, especially around employment and associated feelings of self worth.
I still fear what I see as being the horrible degeneration that is Alzheimer’s disease, but by the same token I am really able to embrace what seems to be a much simpler life. Perhaps it is too simplistic to conflate the two, but at this moment in time I feel that I have made the sort of changes that might just have at least postponed the possibility that it might occur.
What do you think?