Responding to a letter from actress Emma Thompson, Wendy Mitchell – who lived with the disease for five years – explores how her dementia teaches an important lesson about today's life
Wendy Mitchell was diagnosed with Young Onset Dementia in 2014 at age 58. His memoir Someone I knew became a bestseller and reached an agreement with thousands of people across the country. Last month, actress Emma Thompson wrote to Wendy a letter exploring the idea that dementia is a gift in some way, because it allowed Wendy to forget who she was and to be who she is now. Here Wendy responds to Thompson, writing that she is allowed to live as we should all of us – in the present.
It may be strange to say that living with dementia has had its bonuses, but it's true. Since I had this problem with a diagnosis in 2014, I discovered that I can do it if I look for the positive aspects. Fortunately I have always been a person half full of glass, determined to hunt good in whatever situation I was. I think our personality has a lot to do with how we face the challenges that life throws at us, so I feel very lucky not to be someone who could be overwhelmed by the negatives.
The biggest lesson in dementia taught me, which could apply to anyone in any situation, is how important it is to live for today. I have never experienced the past or what I lost, and I don't allow myself to think too long about the inevitable future. I can't even change it, so why focus on something you don't have control over? There is a lot of talk about reminiscence therapies, which use the senses to help those who live with dementia remember the past, but I've never been a great defender. Most of us have things we should forget in the past; my parents died many years ago, but I chose to remember their birthdays rather than their funerals. I suppose it's just my way of dealing.
A beautiful sky outside my window to celebrate the arrival of spring … .. pic.twitter.com/LRrBZRPOUG
– Wendy Mitchell (@WendyPMitchell) March 20, 2019
There are many daily activities that I find difficult, and it is true that I cannot cook, drive or run as before. But I can he use a microwave oven, I can he take public transport and me can he to walk. As for the future, well, the final stages of dementia will come when they arrive. Focusing on "I can do" and ignoring the negatives, let me enjoy the here and now.
Why should I want to change a younger life that my daughters brought me, the two most precious people in my life?
People often asked me if it was something that I would change in the way I used to live, in case I could prevent it from happening. The simple answer is no. I drank and smoked in my early years, but I've always been in shape. I stopped drinking several years ago and haven't smoked since my daughters were born. All this shows that dementia does not discriminate. He is not sexist and does not take wealth or intelligence into consideration. While it is worth taking every possible precaution, if dementia decides to keep you prisoner, it will. Why should I want to change a younger life that my daughters brought me, the two most precious people in my life?
Dementia: the facts
- There are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK
- By 2025 the number will be more than one million and two million by 2051
- One person develops dementia every three minutes
- 1 in 6 people over 80 have dementia and over 40,000 people under age 65 live with the disease
In writing Someone I knew, I just wanted to keep a book in my hands and give it to my girls as a legacy. Instead I received thousands of emails and tweets thanking me, saying that it changed people's perspective or taught them something they never knew. From the people who are about to go through the diagnosis process by saying "I'm no longer afraid", to people whose loved ones have dementia who write that "your book really opened my eyes to what my husband is going through; I feel I can help him now in a positive way ", I am so happy that my book has been able to offer comfort and support.
The icing on the cake was recently receiving a nice note from the actress Emma Thompson. She congratulated me on the book and quoted Oscar Wilde as saying that "every little action of the common day is what makes or doesn't make the character".
I suppose what I say to myself is a good mantra for anyone who can live, regardless of the challenges they face. At times when dementia takes over, I always think that if today is a bad day, tomorrow could be better. As Emma Thompson told me, "hope in the new is a vital part of existence".
The paperback of Someone I knew (Bloomsbury, £ 8.99) is now available