The Interaction of Kate’s and My Moods

Yesterday afternoon I read the following tweet posted by Chuck Fiello Jr. (@OrangeChuck).

When mom isn’t feeling well, she can’t tell me she’s sick anymore so I have to watch for clues. Is she eating less but more tired? Is walking more difficult? When mom eats, she won’t say she’s hungry or full…she just stops eating/slows down or starts to fall asleep.

I replied that I felt the same way about Kate. If you regularly read this blog, you will recall that I have said many times that “When Kate is happy, I am happy.” That doesn’t mean influence of mood moves in only one direction. I make a difference in her mood as well. Recently, I have cited occasions in which I have been able to make her happy with music, family photo books, or simply talking with her gently about her family, our marriage, and/or our children and grandchildren.

It is very clear that there is an interaction of our moods. Once again, the writings of Judy Cornish (@theDAWNmethod) have drawn my attention to something I hadn’t fully appreciated before – the power of caregivers to influence the moods of those for whom we care. More specifically, she has talked about the sensitivity of people with dementia to pick up on the moods of their caregivers. Thus, when a caregiver is feeling tense, frustrated or depressed, that mood can cause their loved ones to feel similarly.

Until day before yesterday, I had never written about ways in which my negative mood and actions led to that same reaction from Kate. Before that, I always reported on ways in which I was able to turn her around if she was confused, frustrated or depressed. That is mostly because I think of myself as being rather even-tempered and upbeat. That wasn’t the case two days ago. I was tense and frustrated as I tried to get her up, dressed, and to lunch before I left her with a sitter so that I could get to the Red Cross on time for a platelet donation.

There was an obvious interaction of our moods. I don’t know exactly why, but she was unusually slow in getting ready even with my help. Looking back, I think she may have been more confused than usual though she didn’t express it verbally. That’s how I normally would recognize it. (Her difficulty understanding how to wash her hands should have been a clue.) I was frustrated and became tense because I was on a time schedule and wanted to follow it, something she can’t do. I tried not to show it, but she can read my emotions quite well. I found that we weren’t working together in the positive way we usually do. Both of us were frustrated. That continued through lunch. As usual, I finished my meal long before Kate. The difference was the tension I experienced in my effort to get home and then to the Red Cross. Nothing I said (the words, that is) should have conveyed the way I was feeling; nevertheless, I suspect she sensed my mood because she was not her happy self.

It wasn’t until the sitter came that she seemed to be more normal. This was a time she didn’t balk when I said I was leaving. She was probably happy to spend some time with the sitter. When I got home, she and Mary were having a good time looking at one of her family photo books. I was happy to see that, and the rest of the day went well.

Yesterday was a more typical day. We had no obligations before 3:00 that afternoon when we had hair appointments. She awoke unusually early, about 7:50. She was a bit groggy, but not in a bad mood. I told her I was glad to see her. She said she was happy to see me as well. We were off to a good start. Of course, we started that way the day before, but it didn’t last.

I thought she just wanted to go to the bathroom but soon discovered that she was ready for the day. She took a shower, and I got her clothes ready for her. When she was finished, she wanted to lie down again. That is not unusual, and since we were under no time pressure, I told her that would be fine. I said, “I’ll be in the kitchen. Just call me if you need me.” About forty-five minutes later, I heard her say, “Hey.” I went back to her and found that she was ready to get up and wanted her clothes. For the past couple of months, I have been laying them out at the foot of the bed on the side that is close to the bathroom. I do that so that she might notice them after her shower. I don’t think she has ever seen them. She asked where they were and I said, “I’ve got them right here.” And pulled them closer to her.

I remained with her the whole time she dressed. She wanted to do everything by herself but needed my help with every item of clothing. In contrast to the previous day, I wasn’t tense or frustrated at all. We had plenty of time and no time constraints. She was even glad for me to help with her hair. That is becoming increasingly frequent. I think she likes it. I know she likes it when I blow dry her hair.

After her morning meds, we were off to Panera arriving before 10:00. We were both relaxed when we got there. She took a few minutes to enjoy the flowers in a couple of large containers beside the door. I didn’t push her to move on any sooner than she wanted, as I did the previous day. We were there an hour while she worked jigsaw puzzles on her iPad, and I checked email on my laptop. Then we stopped by the house for about thirty minutes before going to lunch. We had established a leisurely style and a corresponding relaxed mood that lasted the rest of the day.

Very early after Kate’s diagnosis, I learned that she is very uncomfortable when I rush her. On several occasions, she had panic attacks when we were running late to an event that had a specific start time. That is when I first started experimenting with soothing music to calm her. Music has served us well since that time, but it is only more recently that I have focused on my own mood. I am generally even-tempered so I have thought of my mood as being helpful. I am, however, very sensitive about punctuality. I know she is able to sense the tension I feel when we run late. She has said as much on many occasions when I felt she was misreading how I felt. I thought I was disguising it. Now I am being more thoughtful about my own mood and its impact on Kate. My experience of the past two days shows what a difference mood can make. I know there will always be situations that produce tension for one or both of us, but I will be more mindful of its impact and do my best to control it more effectively.