Forgetting

Fifteen years ago, I worked for about thirty or so people, from executives on down, and I handled all their expense reports and purchases and you name it. I was so good at it that I was one of the employees that others would come to when they were stumped trying to figure out how to expense something. Executives from outside my department would come and ask for help. That was at Disney and I knew my shit. I was also, for a year or two, the one man purchasing department for Disney Online, when it was a start up. Millions of dollars of purchases went through me, I drew up the purchase orders, I figured out to set up the accounting for each, I got them approved. I remember setting up a database on Access to keep track of them. A schedule on Project. I had that purchasing down, too. Later, I was told by accounting that I processed more accounts payable invoices than the rest of the Walt Disney Internet Group put together. Tens of millions of dollars every couple months. That is in addition to all those expense reports and getting purchase orders processed–though I was no longer the purchasing department. There were several people by then doing what I had once done. I was a master of details and process and numbers.

This occurred to me a couple nights ago as I stared at our bank account and tried to figure out if we had enough cash on hand to cover rent. (We did.) I couldn’t remember what charges were outstanding. I couldn’t remember what we had paid or not. I had definitely forgotten to pay the DWP, I knew that, as they were threatening to shut us off. Time Warner Cable too. All these numbers swimming, these things I have no ability to calculate or schedule or understand. An infinitesimal fraction of what I was once a master of at Disney. It’s all beyond me now.

Losing your executive functions is a bitch. Abilities just disappear. Things everyone can do I can no longer do. Basic human being things. Those neurons burned away a long time ago. My temporal lobe, where all these things lie, is a beat up mess. A life time of small seizures, thousands of them, have done their damage. It’s like someone reached into the hard drive of the computer I’m writing on and 0-949uj1/’p23fh13wcde’p9dcalkjaZXA. Just like that.

A couple days ago was our wedding anniversary. The day before I was looking up at the digital sign above the bus driver, charmed, and it said November 28. November 28? Oh wow, November 29th is our anniversary. I said that aloud. She said yes it is and smiled. I said I had completely forgotten. I had never forgotten before. Not even almost forgotten. I always remembered. She smiled again. That’s OK, she said, we’ll have a nice dinner. You live with a husband long enough and you can see that his brain has been zapped away, and that he forgets things, but he means well.

I had never forgotten our anniversary before. I wondered what else I was forgetting. What else I would forget. And I sat there, as the bus lurched along, with the cold hollow suspicion that I was not going to able to take care of us by myself much longer.

 

(This is also posted on brickwahl.com)

Sometimes I miss the old me.

Having your executive functions slip away is crippling. There is so much you can’t do anymore, basic fundamental stuff, it drives you nuts. Or it doesn’t, and everything is every pleasant, and then someone reminds you that you forgot to do almost everything you were supposed to do. The weirdest thing of all, though, is how everything is increasingly in the present tense. I quickly forget most things beyond a day or so, and I can’t see into the future at all as far as planning anything. I just sort of wander along in the now, and the whole concept of time as a continuum from past to future disappeared somewhere a few hundred thousand missing neurons ago. When I’m hanging out with people you all talk about your lives in terms of things you did and things you plan to do. And I know that I used to be able to do that and just sit and marvel at the wonder of it. I think to myself that when I go home I will write about it, but I usually forget, and write about something else. Now I’m looking at this stack of papers on my desk and know that there are things I was supposed to do in there but can’t remember what. I lift up the keyboard and there’s an unpaid parking ticket and a jury notice I was supposed to call about. And a neurologist I was supposed to call. I forget his name. What a weird mess this is becoming, in tiny increments, a few damaged synapses at a time. Sometimes I miss the old Brick, but mostly I can’t remember much about him.

Executive functions

Epileptics are used to memory loss…that’s just part of the package and to be honest you don’t really notice it that much because you don’t remember what you forgot. But as I age and the brain has burned itself out from several decades of too much electro-chemical energy and seizure meds, I’ve started losing executive functions…that is, my organizational and planning abilities. And that is driving me nuts. I used to be incredibly organized. I got things done, stuck to schedules. Was always aware of what I was supposed to do. I laid out tasks to be done each day, each week, and did them. Now suddenly things I plan on doing don’t get done, and I have no idea how they didn’t get done. It is so frustrating. If we ever get on our feet again I will get a business manager or an office manager, somebody to manage my affairs. And anyone that has known me a long, long time–and certainly anyone that used to work with me–can see the irony in that statement.

The good thing is that there is no loss in smarts or creativity. Hell, I’m a better writer than I ever was. If I could I’d write all day long. That I can do. I just can’t plan things very well.

I get asked about writing a book all the time. Well….you have to plan a book. Those long narratives just don’t happen. I could put together a helluva collection, though. In fact, I’ve been planning to for ages. But that is something else that hasn’t gotten done.

This is just ridiculous.

My wife, of course, lost much of her executive functions in 2008 when her heart stopped for five minutes. She’s back, smart as hell, funny as ever, but she can’t plan worth a damn either. In sickness as in health, man, in amnesia as in confusion. That’s us. The perfect couple. Which we are, actually.

Oh well. Life’s trajectory can be odd. If I’ve flaked on any of you lately, this is why.

p.s.: I completely forgot I’d written about this already. Now that is funny.

Mañana, mañana

It is really funny how messed up things get as your executive functions slip away. You look at things, realize you used to be able to keep all that straight and organized and systemic, and wonder how. You pile a pile of them in different piles. Then you got into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, start talking to the wife, and busy your self on some tangent. Laundry, maybe, the dishes, an old film noir, an essay, a book. Hours later there’s a messy couple stacks of things that you forgot what it was you were doing with, and you put them back into the single pile from which they came. Mañana, mañana.

Music

One of the more fascinating, if unsettling, things about a neurodegenerative disease is how parts of your personality slip away unnoticed as synapses wilt and whole brains parts shrivel. These past several years music slowly stopped being a vital part of my life. I find myself going days, even weeks, without listening to it except in a car. I have a huge collection of recordings–vinyl, cassette, CD, digital–I barely touch anymore. I fear I could sell them all and miss only the mementos. And I scarcely ever write about music anymore. There was a time I did so fanatically. That time has gone. Somewhere in my head, in the temporal lobe or frontal lobe or both, enough neurons have been singed to make music less important to me than, say, books or old movies. I love the music people and I love the excitement of skilled improvisation, but very little else moves me anymore like it once did. I thought a couple years ago that maybe it was just a spell, maybe being a jazz critic had burned me out, but no. It’s permanent. I still love music, but it’s no longer essential. I still hear it all the time, tunes going through my head, but somehow the emotional connection has faded. Like it’s still up in my frontal lobe, intellectually, but the feel and soul of it in my temporal lobe has shriveled away with my bruised and battered hippocampus. I wish this bothered me more, but it doesn’t. Still, I wonder with a chill what, in ten years time, will also have faded away in significance.