Coupled with my Monet-like vision, my hit-and-miss memory makes finding my glasses a frustratingly blind scavenger hunt. I have adjusted to allow for memory lapses because that is what we humans do. We work with what we have. So, I have a designated finder pair of glasses that reside on my dresser. Sometimes I just have to wear the finder pair if I left my others in an especially well-hidden spot. In perimenopause an addled thought process is sometimes what we have to work with as waxing and waning estrogen levels that are essential to neurotransmitter and oxygen levels in the brain fluctuate. Some days I am sharp and can remember and carry out a multitude of detailed tasks that leave me feeling damn good about myself and rather smart. Other days I am scattered, have to wear my finder glasses, and return to the grocery store for the detergent that I left in the cart. Adding to my brain drain is the shame of not being on top of my game which is stress-producing for my Wonder Woman alter ego. Stress, or the inevitable cortisol dump that accompanies it, actually shuts down learning and negatively affects the hippocampus, the memory center.
When my Grandma began showing signs of dementia a couple of years before she died I researched what we could do to make her life less frustrating. I never thought I would soon employ some of those strategies in order to fake out Wonder Woman fans. I also use the strategies I learned when placed under increasing pressure to do more and more at work, a common theme in today’s workplace. I completed a Franklin Covey course titled “FOCUS, Achieving Your Highest Priorities” that seemed tailor-made for my planning/controlling nature. There is truth to the adage that writing something down gives it POWER and planning requires writing it down. Working in medical education I became addicted to studies. Prove it to me; give me some stats or metrics. Smooth Operators no longer hold sway here in the 5th decade. So naturally I believe the hundreds of studies that show that multitasking is an inefficient illusion which makes for costly and time-consuming mistakes. We all know someone who moves at break-neck speed and radiates anxiety, but is not very effective. I am the friend that has no problem saying, “slow the hell down and identify what is crucial for you to accomplish today”. The downside is that people get pissed when they are running around while I am calmly asking for identification of priorities. My satisfaction is that I never spent an hour hunting for pencils the morning of a national inservice exam. Wonder Woman always keeps her pencils in the same spot because it is a stupid thing to spend time on. “A place for everything and everything in its place” may seem contradictory for a creative person, but if I spent my time hunting for tools I would have little time to create.
Here are a few other strategies that maximize my unreliable memory and help me focus:
- Identify the most important goals for a month and work backwards in weekly, and then daily increments and make to-do lists. Do not forget relationships on these lists. Just don’t let your husband see that you penciled him in on Wednesday evening.
- If something unexpected comes up (and when doesn’t it), think about what day’s list it can go on. Someone freaking out does not necessarily mean it becomes your priority. Sick kids trump everything, though. Don’t sweat it. Rework your lists and try to delegate where possible.
- Never go to the grocery store without a list that was generated from a menu. Poll the family while you are making the grocery list and only go off the list if it involves chocolate.
- Pay with cash. Not only will you spend less, but you do not have to keep track of several debits, just one withdrawal.
- Do one thing at a time. A person who works sequentially is 50% more productive and makes 50% fewer mistakes. Time is a commodity!
- Take a five-minute break once per hour to stretch, move about, or talk to someone you like. Movement sends more oxygen to the brain and restarts the recall center. You get a good feeling when interacting with someone you like because the brain is dumping those enjoyable hormones like serotonin and dopamine.
Interestingly, Our Bodies Ourselves, the book that granted us the power of knowing where our clitoris resides, just celebrated its 40th anniversary. This monumental book granted women permission to discuss the taboo subjects of our sexuality by giving us the power of knowledge. While young women today are prepared for menstruation and openly discuss sex and birth control with their mothers, we still have a long way to go on ridding ourselves of the taboo associated with mid-life female changes. We have seen the effect of open dialogue and being able to call a vagina a vagina. In that vein, I welcome you to share some of your strategies for adjusting or minimizing the changes before and during menopause. If you find yourself trying to put it in what you think of as acceptable terms, just say out loud, “clitoris, vagina, penis, orgasm”.