The other night I had a dream, really a nightmare I guess. It was one of the most emotional and anxiety producing dreams I have ever had. The setting wasn’t clear, but I think I was in a high school classroom, and we were taking a test. It wasn’t all written. Some questions you had to answer on paper, some were multiple choice, but others were a test of following through with the directions and completing a finished product.
I initially felt excited to take the test. The first question or two the answers immediately popped into my head, and made me revved-up because I felt I should sail through the test and do well. The third question I didn’t quite understand. It’s not that I didn’t know the answer, I didn’t understand what the question was asking. I knew to go on and try the next one, I could go back and finish the one I didn’t answer later. It didn’t turn out like that, though. I kept going “to the next question” and I didn’t understand what was asked any better than the ones before it. Was this test anxiety? I looked around and everyone was quickly working, some were cutting out shapes on blue and white paper and fitting them together to make a pattern, but I didn’t even see a question that asked me to do that. It was as if my brain couldn’t interpret what I was reading and make sense of any of it.
This happened to be a timed test, I knew that by the sense of urgency that I felt. I was afraid that any moment the teacher was going to say, “Time’s up!” I wanted to experience the satisfaction of knowing the answers and writing them down like everyone else was doing. Time was ticking away and I was still at the beginning of the test. My anxiety started to skyrocket and I couldn’t do anything. No matter how many times I read the various questions I just seemed to get more and more confused. I went up to the teacher, crying because my brain wasn’t functioning and I didn’t know what else to do.
This had never happened before. It was almost as if there were words on my test paper that didn’t make any proper sentence, but everyone else got the real test. I was incredibly anxious, upset, scared, and crestfallen. At that point I woke up.
I wondered as I thought about the dream if that is what some people with dementia feel when they are in a situation where they can’t interpret or follow a conversation, or are in a crowd and don’t know why they are there? The feelings I had were very real, and very scary.
In the 7 years since Jim has died, I have had senior moments where I wonder, “Is this leading to dementia? Will I be diagnosed as having dementia in a few more years?” I forget where I put things, but I can usually reconstruct the situation and find what I am looking for. But it’s the singular moments like making a bad decision while driving and thinking that I was lucky my actions didn’t lead to an accident….or I’m typing and I will switch two letters around as if I have forgotten where the letters are on the keyboard. Those moments give me pause. I’m sure most of us caregivers feel that way at some time, and besides, there has been no Alzheimer’s on my side of the family. At least that is what I keep telling myself. Unsettling nevertheless. Only time will reveal why I dreamed that out of the blue….or maybe it won’t.
A window into my future? I hope not, but it certainly helped me to have more empathy for those with memory disorders or brain damage!