On July 31st 2014 Wendy Mitchell received the news that she had young-onset dementia. Wendy describes the moment in her newly published memoirs Somebody I Used To Know.‘ Nothing prepares you for the feeling of emptiness. It’s not so much a fear of death that hits me full-on, but a sense of time running out.’
Wendy, a mum of two grown-up daughters, was still working full time when the diagnosis was delivered. She worked in a high-pressured environment as an NHS manager, and had experienced a number of puzzling symptoms in the past couple of years, including unexplained fatigue and falls.
Afterwards, Wendy tried to take stock. ‘I could have given up and gone into a deep state of depression, but I knew there must be more,’ she says. ‘We all have talents before a diagnosis of dementia; we don’t suddenly lose all those talents overnight when we get a diagnosis.’
Gradually, Wendy developed a coping strategy; a way to live her best life by focusing on what she could still do, and remaining as positive as possible. ‘For me, a diagnosis is all about adapting. Adapting to a new way of living to compensate for the bits of your brain that no longer function as they used to and continue to adapt as the disease throws new challenges your way.’
She started by finding out ‘all there is to know’ about dementia and decided to taking part in lots of research. ‘I could be helping create a better future for my daughters, so taking part in research was a no-brainer for me,’ she says.
Wendy also decided she wanted to start documenting her daily life, so she could show friends and family that her, ‘intellect was still intact.’ With help from her daughters, she created a blog https://whichmeamitoday.wordpress.com to record what she does so that she can ‘look back and smile.’ Wendy’s blog soon gained popularity, winning fans in more than 100 countries worldwide. ‘That other people all over the world choose to read it is humbling,’ she says. ‘Plus it’s enabled me to raise awareness. I hope it will help others look at dementia differently.’
When she looks back at her blog posts and sees what she’s done, Wendy is amazed. ’I can often remember the vague facts of a visit but can’t remember the detail. I type the detail at the time and on the journey home while it’s fresh in my mind.’
But perhaps Wendy’s most impressive achievement to date is her beautifully written memoirs Somebody I Used to Know, published on February 1, in which she gives an honest, unflinching account of life with Alzheimer’s. Wendy gets to the heart of what it means to live with dementia and shares some of the ingenious ways she’s found to overcome it, whenever possible. ‘I beat dementia by still being organised,’ she says.
4 ways Wendy makes life easier for herself
- Each morning I do Sudoku to kick start myself, then Solitaire on my iPad and online Scrabble.
- On trains I set an alarm on my iPad to remind me when I have a suitcase with me, otherwise I’d forget.
- In hotels, I leave the curtains slightly open, so I don’t wake up in the night thinking I’m in my room a home.
- I take photographs of the contents of my kitchen cupboards then stick them to the cupboard door.
Wendy reveals the humorous side of dementia too; laughing when she finds she’s collected ten cheese graters (whilst not even liking cheese very much) and delighting in telling friends that their secrets are completely safe with her…since she probably won’t remember them for very long. She also describes some very poignant moments when she ‘sees’ her mother and father standing in front of her and realises they are probably hallucinations…
It’s no surprise that Wendy’s book is already received rave reviews from critics, who have described it as compelling, uplifting, brave and illuminating. As dementia expert Professor Pat Sikes succinctly puts it; ‘This amazing book will change a lot of people’s minds about what it means to have dementia.’
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