In 2013, Wendy Mitchell (56) was holding down a very responsible job as a receptionist in an extremely busy hospital organising rosters, passing on important messages and keeping all the wheels turning, when suddenly a fuzziness started in her head and her speech became slurred. She began to have unexplained falls when out running and everything became such an effort. She had single-handedly brought up her two daughters, Sarah and Gemma, since they were tiny, as well as doing a lot of DIY at home etc. and keeping all the balls in the air.
Is it a stroke? Is it ‘her age’ as doctors often say? After many tests, scans, etc. Wendy is diagnosed with early dementia. How could this be when she is only in her 50s, has always had good health, exercised, ate well, was involved in many activities, and was renowned for her excellent memory at work?
In her book, she looks back on her previous life, such as baking cakes for her girls when they were small etc., and later remembers her happy holidays in Blackpool with her own mum.
Terrified that she will not recognise her own children in the future (she never wants them to become her carers), Wendy makes a memory wall of photos in her spare room. She finds her iPad invaluable for reminding herself to take tablets, eat lunch, remember birthdays, etc.
Her huge disappointment was having to give up driving after some very frightening episodes when she just blanked. As she says in her book, “Her brain in exchange for a bus pass”.
She explained to her staff about her condition and was able to continue at work combined with homeworking for a couple of years.
Eager to stay active and involved as long as possible, Wendy became a Dementia Friends Champion and helped others to follow her example. She often attended conferences in other cities on her own with a lot of pre-planning – copying timetables of trains and buses/map for hotel/landmarks, etc.
Her daughters and friends were always helpful, but Wendy was determined to stay independent for as long as possible. She likened dementia to “a thief in the night robbing her of her memory”.
She was invited to the premiere of “Still Alice” a film starring Julianne Moore as a woman living with dementia in her 50s, and they became good friends.
Wendy really had to tackle technology – iPad blogs, Facebook and Twitter, which she praised at various conferences and other people thanked her for “keeping her tail-lights on”.
How would you cope if you couldn’t recognise your own house when you came back from a walk around the block? Wendy stuck some tiles with forget-me-not (emblem for dementia) on her door! No more mistakes after that.
An unforgettable book! A wonderful woman, Wendy!
Deirdre Spendlove 5/5
Somebody I Used to Know by Wendy Mitchell
Bloomsbury Publishing 9781408893333 pbk Mar 2019