How Poetry Helps Me With My Alzheimer's

The importance of art and creativity while battling this terrible disease.

Posted Nov 18, 2020

I have it. The “disease.” Alzheimer’s. I’ve been dealing with it for nearly four years. It is not fun. Well, I suppose that isn’t always true. It’s actually a bit funny at times if you can believe that. And fun stuff is what I’ve always gravitated towards, like music and writing — especially poetry — all of which I rely on now more than ever. Here is how poetry has helped me with this demonic situation and made it a bit more bearable along the way.

Rodnae Productions on Pexels
Source: Rodnae Productions on Pexels

First, I’m a musician. Most of us musicians have a wicked and warped sense of humor. It just comes with the territory. We walk the high tightrope and we are not afraid to fall, and we do fall, from time to time. Then we get back up, wipe ourselves off, and try again.

But if, in addition, you are unfortunate and contract a deadly disease you have two choices – to either feel very sorry for yourself or to fight the demon. And for me, the demon isn’t just the disease but the accompanying self-pity.     

Whether it’s sadness or joy, when I put pen to paper, I inevitably finish writing with some degree of satisfaction. Of course, there are various degrees of satisfaction. When I’m feeling blue, I don’t try to distort the degree.

When I’m happy, I generally don’t go whacko crazy happy. I attempt to be true to myself, my feelings, and to the depth of those feelings… whether the feelings are joyful or sad, silly or deep. For some reason, rhyme seems to be my medium for expressing myself. Perhaps it’s an extension of making music, or maybe a combination of the two.

What inspires me to want to write something? Sometimes it’s just a mood. A happy one. Sometimes a sad one. Sometimes it’s just something I’ve seen that intrigues further investigation.

I think that my most fertile area of inspiration is in nature. It’s not that I don’t find people endlessly interesting, it’s just that humans are predictable and often disappointing, including me.

I enjoy walking in the woods, alone, listening to the leaves fluttering, the birds chirping. It is autumn as I write this, and it is the most glorious and beautiful fall I have ever experienced. Perhaps it’s because this is nature’s way of gifting us with well-needed moments of beauty and joy in a time of terror. The demonic COVID stalks our world and has yet to be irradiated.

For me, hiking, usually alone, gives me a feeling of watchful joy. Watchful because there are creatures with whom I share the paths, animals who might not welcome my solitary strolls. I have a walking stick and I keep a whistle in my pocket, and I’ve seen predatory creatures, but none up close and personal. Over the years, I’ve learned to keep my ears as open as my eyes, and the listening is a large part of the pleasure.

Let me take you with me on a radiant fall morning. First, we will walk along the road where traffic is sporadic, but we have to keep our ears open. Most motorists wave pleasantly. Then there’s the right turn at the base of a steep hill, and that’s where I start my ascent. Few cars use this hill, and there are cautious hikers, but there are some idiots who enjoy honking.

Once over the crest of this steep hill, there is a view that is breathtaking, especially at this time of year. There’s a lovely breeze to cool me off, and time to stop and look at the trees and listen to the birds and other animals.

When I walk back home, I often feel like writing about things I’ve seen. And sitting down at my desk with a cup of coffee gets me going. More often than not, my hikes figure into my writing, and more often than not I find myself in an excited mood, eager to write.

Sometimes I’ll sit down with all the sights and sounds I’ve heard in my head on a stroll in the woods and I’ll write about that, turning my hike into a story I’ll probably return to at some point. I don’t write to please or to be published. I write to feel free.

Living under a death sentence is difficult only when some well-meaning person with a scrunched up look says something to remind me that I’m living on borrowed time.

“How are you doing?” I’m often asked.

“Great!” I usually answer. “And how are you?”

I’ve also been asked, “How has writing poetry helped you with your battle?”

I appreciate the question but I question the answer. The writing of poetry differs for everyone who tries it, and what one writer considers poetry is another writer’s nice prose.

Having been asked how writing poetry has helped my battle with Alzheimer’s disease, my answer is simple: I have always written poetry, as a child, on through puberty, adulthood, and now as a septuagenarian.

I’ve always considered my writing of poetry a necessity, something that sort of poured out of me, whether I wanted it to or not, and now that I’ve got less time to inhabit this planet, but more time to ponder my existence,  I feel a kind of freedom to write what I want, when I want, and why I write.

I haven’t collected my poems carefully.  I’ve had some published, but it hasn’t been something I’ve aggressively wanted or needed.

And perhaps that’s why I appreciated being asked to explain why writing poetry has helped me with my battle with Alzheimer’s.

This may seem odd, but this is true – I don’t see my disease as a battle with anything or anyone. I accept that I strangely, randomly, unfortunately, perversely, got tapped on the shoulder by the Big Guy in the sky. It’s going to be my turn…

I don’t know when, and I don’t ask why, because that would be counterproductive. I want to keep active, positive, curious happy, fun-loving, and, most of all caring of others, giving in all the good ways, meaning without agenda, without needing favors, but with an eye toward making the most of every day. Poetry has helped me with that every day and in every way.