Checking out – are we sowing the seeds of our own dementia?
Updated: Aug 7, 2020
Checking out is a concept that I had never heard of until around twelve years ago….
I had for many years been suffering with memory problems. Remembering yesterday was always a struggle and I couldn’t retain anything in my head. I would have to keep checking my diary frequently just to remember what I had organised for that day. I would go to a room to get something and when I got there I had no idea what it was I came to get. I started noticing these symptoms considerably in my forties but they were probably prevalent long before that, it’s just that I didn’t give them any attention.
My mother and grandmother had both suffered with dementia and my mother’s psychiatrist had warned me that I was therefore at a high risk of developing dementia myself as the psychiatric thinking at the time was that dementia had at least a hereditary element.What the doctor didn’t know then, mainly because I didn’t tell, was the ‘little’ (big) details about my life-style choices.
Since my teens I had been a regular consumer of caffeine and alcohol. I would drink tea and coffee all day and then switch to alcohol in the evenings. Seven days a week. I didn’t view myself as dependent on either of these substances, I simply persuaded myself that I “enjoyed” them.
In 2007 I started to become interested in what alcohol and caffeine really did to the body and I came across the concept of checking out, what it was and how it could sow the seed of dementia if we allow checking out to become our normal. This struck a chord of truth in my body and I decided to explore it further by observing and studying myself.I had no doubt that the alcohol and caffeine were harming me deeply, soI made the choice to cut them out of my diet and life-style and around six months later I suddenly realised that the fog had dispersed and for the first time in many years my head felt clear.
Although the head felt clear, I was still aware that my memory was not something I could rely on very much, which is not surprising given the length and level of self-inflicted abuse on my body.I therefore chose to try something called the Gentle Breath Meditationto see if that could help in any way. To my own astonishment, it helped in more ways than I could have possibly anticipated.
In addition to starting to learn to be consciously present, which I now know from experience to be a true antidote to checking out,I also discovered that I had been living without a connection to the true me. That feeling I had lived with all my life of ‘there must be more than this’ was, I discovered, caused by this lack of connection to myself, and that in reality my life to this point had been more of an existence than truly living life to the fullest.Words are genuinely inadequate to explain the power of the Gentle Breath Meditation to connect one to one’s true essence, but it is simple to testout for oneself.
So, what is checking out and why is it so harmful for us and our well-being?
Checking out is something most of us spend a lot of time doing without even knowing we are doing it. To fully grasp checking out it helps to understand presence first because in essence it is our presence that we are checking out from. In simple terms it is the being present state that we are avoiding.
Presence is being completely with ourselves in whatever it is that we are doing whilst we are doing it. The mind and the body are working together in union, so that what we are thinking is what we are actually doing, and what we are doing is what we are thinking about. In other words, no extraneous thoughts are coming in to distract us.
For example, when walking in presence, we are aware in our bodies of our every movement and of feeling our feet as they touch the ground. We are also aware of everything around us. If a thought comes in about something that happened yesterday or perhaps about a meeting next week, this triggers us to check out from that presence and therefore we no longer have the mind and the body working together in harmony as one.
Once I experienced over a period of time what being truly present felt like, I realised that I had actually been living checked out most of the time. It became so clear that I couldn’t drink coffee and be present; caffeine affected me in a way that I became a racier and on edge person. Similarly, it became evident that I couldn’t drink alcohol and be present; alcohol had a numbing effect on me and altered the person I was. Interestingly, and after all these realisations I also noticed that I was even using watching television to numb myself and escape from being present and switching off from reality. It would transpire that the problem was very much larger than I had thought and I could see where this was going to lead if I didn’t start making different choices.
The dots finally got connected that when we opt for checking out in life it is more than possible that we could we be sowing the seed of our future dementia. Abandoning the ability to be present, to the point that we are no longer there, where we check out so much that we cannot check back in again, can, as it did in my case, take us on dementia road.
However, from my own lived experience, I can state that it is very possible to come back from living in a predominantly checked out state and thereby reduce our chances of becoming another dementia statistic. The Gentle Breath Meditation and Conscious Presence are some of the key tools that assisted me with this. I found the Developing Conscious Presence Meditationa great place to start and learn more about conscious presence and how to incorporate it into my daily activities.