After being diagnosed with dementia, Myrna Norman was told to go home and get her affairs in order. Unfortunately, this edict is all too common when someone is diagnosed.
In hindsight, she recognizes that her diagnosis stunted her appreciation of life. It took a couple years to “get her feet underneath her,” and for someone to tell her that it’s okay to have joy before her life improved. Once she learned that, she became very involved; she had always felt compelled to help others.
This is when her dementia advocacy started, and it brings her so much purpose and joy. According to Myrna,
“There is no message out there that says you can still have joy in your life.”
However, she did come to realize that just because you are diagnosed with dementia doesn’t mean life is over. Somewhere along the line she got permission to be happy, and that she sees as a pivotal moment in her life after diagnosis.
She had never painted or written poetry before her diagnosis, but now considers herself an artist and poet.
“It doesn’t matter to me if no one likes what I am doing, because I actually feel good about it, and I never had that before.”
While working with a group at the University of British Columbia, she was given permission to like what she was doing and to take time to enjoy her life.
She wrote this poem about how she progressed through dementia:
Advocating dementia taught me lessons, embracing joy and happiness without questions.
Being creative in ways that stimulate my brain, calls for nutrients that spark neurons and share jubilation.
It’s my responsibility to be happy. My job to find joy and to find reasons to smile.
I cannot accept the myth that happiness, joy, contentment, and connections are not deserved because of a diagnosis of dementia.
The committee of jerks with a home in my brain, keeps trying to make the case that it’s over, to curl up, to live in darkness, to choose inactivity, dullness, and wait to die.
Get out of my head you messenger of doom!
I have the right and the responsibility to use my choice of ambivalence, or of certainty, of choice of living well and being productive.
Finding a spark of life, enabling acceptance, and choosing to live with full throated delight.
When Myrna was asked about challenging the notion that ‘nothing can be better’, her response was:
“Things can be better. We can actually take steps to make them better. We know that there are certain tools that we can use, from going for a walk in nature to listening to music, that can actually improve our life. So, things can change, if we open ourselves up to accepting the challenges and tools that are available to us.”
You may want to read our article, called “Have hope” where we share strategies from others with dementia who have found hope.