“Teach me to be gentle with myself.”

Before hitting the treadmill this morning, I grabbed an old Time magazine to keep me company. The featured article was about Alzheimer’s Disease, and a powerful life lesson captured my attention.

The article was excellent; covering everything one could imagine on Alzheimer’s. But an essay that appeared seven pages into the piece became my #1 take away.

Mary Ann BecklenbergMary Ann Becklenberg is a retired social worker from Dyer, Indiana. There she is with her husband, John. Three years ago, at the age of 62, she learned she was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Amazing woman that she is, her illness hasn’t stopped her from moving forward. Ms. Becklenberg became an Alzheimer’s advocate. She’s served on the Early Stage Advisory board of the Alzheimer’s Association. And she’s also appeared in “The New Face of Alzheimer’s,” an episode on the PBS Series “Life (Part 2).”

Ms. Becklenberg wrote the essay that captured my attention. It’s entitled, “Early-Stage Alzheimer’s. ‘This disease requires that you lower expectations of yourself’.'” It appears in Time magazine’s article, “Alzheimer’s Unlocked,” from the October 25, 2010 issue.

Before I share some of the essay, it’s important to know that Ms. Becklenberg was a family therapist. And the majority of her work was with end-stage hospice patients and their families. She absolutely loved her work.

Add this life experience to the lessons she’s learned along her Alzheimer’s journey, and it isn’t difficult to understand why her thoughts and feelings are so powerful – and beneficial to all of us. She’s more than earned her stripes.

The words of Ms. Becklenberg…

My husband has become my caregiver. He is the navigator and coordinator of my day to day life. He’s rarely short with me, but I’m often short with him – because of my frustration with myself. One of the challenges is to keep humor in our lives, to laugh about the things you forget.

My message to people with Alzheimer’s is this: Be gentle with yourself. This disease requires that you lower your expectations of yourself. That’s a hard thing for most of us to do. The fear is losing yourself, knowing that you won’t bring this self to the end stage of your life.

So I look to build my spirit. I believe in a loving God, and when I’m afraid or down or angry or frustrated, I go outside, whatever the weather, and I pray, “Teach me to be gentle with myself.”

How powerful is that? All of it. But let’s think about the phrases and sentences I italicized. Whether it’s in overcoming depression, learning how to beat anxiety, building self confidence, or absorbing life’s inevitable punches – it’s all so mighty.

How terribly hard many of us are on ourselves. Our reactions, and manner of response, to our unpleasant circumstances so often result in self-punishment administered in creatively cruel ways.

And to what degree is the management of our situations based upon an inability to lower self-expectations, as well as the pervasive fear of losing ourselves?

I find Ms. Becklenberg’s story moving, inspirational, and motivational. It’s had me asking myself if I’m ready and willing to continue to build my spirit, using humor or any means available in my emotional and mental toolbox. And I’ve recommitted myself to being more realistic with self-expectations, as well as being able to humbly get down on my knees and beg of my spiritual power…

“Teach me to be gentle with myself.”

And then it’s on to being a good student – completing and applying my assignments.

Doesn’t this apply to all of us?

Thank You Ms. Becklenberg!

feature image credit meezoog.com May Ann Becklenberg image credit time.com

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