Using Creativity to Deal with Impact of Alzheimer’s
It’s a question Helen Meyrowitz heard often when she was the primary caregiver for her husband who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, “How is your husband doing?”
“People often ask about the person with the Alzheimer’s,” says Helen, “but I never hear anybody ask about the caregiver. It’s almost as though you are the forgotten person and yet you are the one who really has a tremendous burden…”
Helen Meyrowitz, 85, an accomplished artist, used drawing as a way to deal with the pain, frustration, self-pity, and often guilt that was intertwined with the role of caregiver to her husband, Sidney, who was declining from Alzheimer’s disease.
“I was probably a little more fortunate than other caregivers in the sense that I had a way to express my feelings. It would be more difficult in any other way without causing pain to either my husband or myself. I began a series of drawings called The Wind Beneath My Wings.”
The inspiration for the series came from the Bette Midler songYou Are The Wind Beneath My Wings, with words and music giving her the metaphor for her drawings.
The next morning she went into her studio and chose the most immediate tools at hand – pencil and paper. “I began to literally attack the paper with an unconscious scribble, a whirlwind of lines. When I stopped to see what I had put down on my paper, I realized that I was expressing my anger… my fury. Then a large bird, an eagle with human hands instead of talons flew, into my composition. OH MY GOD! That’s Alzheimer’s,” she thought. “There was no escape.”
Self–pity, anger, the question of “why me?” was expressed through metaphor and was very personally cleansing. “I could treat my husband more lovingly and with more kindness. I stopped saying ‘but you already asked me that 10 times.’”
In the years since Helen’s husband has passed, she has become active in her support for caregivers—particularly those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease .
“You have to be proactive in not allowing yourself to be defeated by the 24/7 cycle of caregiving. Wherever you are, whatever your situation, there is something that can be done. Find some way to move yourself. Get out of the chair and get going,” says Helen.
She shares an idea to get started, “Draw your idea of a scream. I find that it works to relieve tension. Of course, there are all sorts of other ways to get yourself out of a bad mood or that feeling of being overwhelmed. My therapy was doing what I could do. It’s really a question of using whatever works for you. There are many, many different methods, so you just have to experiment to find the one that best suits you,” Helen advises.