What it's like to lose your mind... bit by bit: Wendy Mitchell's haunting diary ... trends now

What it's like to lose your mind... bit by bit: Wendy Mitchell's haunting diary ... trends now
What it's like to lose your mind... bit by bit: Wendy Mitchell's haunting diary ... trends now

What it's like to lose your mind... bit by bit: Wendy Mitchell's haunting diary ... trends now

Author Wendy Mitchell passed away this week at the age of 68 after spending years documenting her battle with dementia. This is an extract from her bestselling 2018 book Somebody I Used to Know:

Wendy Mitchell was a fit and healthy 56-year-old NHS manager when she began showing the first symptoms of dementia. 

A divorcee with two grown-up daughters, she was eventually diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. 

Today she is 61 and still managing to live independently at her home in Yorkshire. 

In a powerful and deeply affecting memoir, she gives the first ever account of what it’s like to suffer this devastating disease by someone who is actually going through it. 

In a powerful and deeply affecting memoir, former NHS manager Wendy Mitchell, 61, gave the first ever account of what it¿s like to suffer from dementia

In a powerful and deeply affecting memoir, former NHS manager Wendy Mitchell, 61, gave the first ever account of what it’s like to suffer from dementia

 September 2012

I am running along a path by the river with an impending sense of something I can’t put my finger on. 

It’s lingered for a few weeks now. 

More honestly, a few months. How can I possibly describe it? 

Perhaps that’s why I haven’t been to the doctor’s; why I haven’t mentioned it to anyone else, not even my two grown-up daughters. 

My head just feels fuzzy. Life is a little less sharp. 

It was this fuzziness that had pulled me from the sofa this afternoon. 

I wasn’t sure where I’d get the energy to run, but I knew I’d find it. 

I’d push through that initial wall, just as I had dozens of times before, and when I got home I’d feel invigorated. 

That’s what a run had always done. 

I’d tackled the Three Peaks Challenge last year and I can still conjure up the feeling I had when I reached the top of Pen-y-ghent, the first peak; it felt like I’d conquered the world. 

Aside from my rubber soles hitting the path, the only other sound is a swish of oars breaking the stillness of the river. 

But then, in a second, everything changes. Without warning, I’m falling. 

There’s no time to put my hands out as the concrete comes crashing towards me. 

My face hits the ground. I feel a crack, something hot and sticky bursts from within. 

I reach up to my face and my hand returns to me covered in blood. 

After being patched up in A&E, I go back to the path, searching for the wonky paving slab that’s left me with two black eyes, yet — thankfully — no broken bones. 

The place where I fell is easily recognisable from the spatter of red where my face hit the pavement. 

I search all round, but there’s no dip, no loose slab, nothing to trip over. 

So what was it, then? I go home, battered and bruised, and let lethargy cover me like a blanket. 

Wendy (pictured with her daughters Gemma and Sarah) was a fit and healthy 56-year-old when she began showing the first symptoms of the disease

Wendy (pictured with her daughters Gemma and Sarah) was a fit and healthy 56-year-old when she began showing the first symptoms of the disease

A few days later, my tiredness drags me to my GP. 

‘I just … I just feel slower than usual,’ I say, and he studies me for a second or two. 

‘You’re fit, you exercise, you eat well, you don’t smoke and at 56, you’re relatively young,’ he says. 

‘But there comes a time when we all have to admit to ourselves that we’re just slowing down.’ 

He sits back in his chair and folds his arms. 

‘You work hard, Wendy. Maybe take some time off.’ 

I’m actually in the middle of annual leave from my job as an NHS manager at St James’s Hospital in Leeds, and the idea of taking any more time off is preposterous to someone like me. 

At work, I manage rosters for hundreds of nurses, keeping all that information stored in my head. 

My colleagues nickname me ‘the guru’ because my recall is so sharp, because I can problem-solve in a second, remembering who works night shifts, who needs which day off. 

They can’t possibly manage without me. 

I’ve always been super-organised. As a single mum, I had to be. 

I am the one who drives all over the country, who walks for miles on holiday, never frightened of getting lost. 

I’d brought up my daughters, Gemma and Sarah, alone, ever since their dad left when they were four and seven. 

It was hard, but there was always a way. 

That was my motto. I was the one who never forgot anything. But this… this tiredness, just isn’t me. 

A divorcee with two grown-up daughters, she was eventually diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer¿s. She had become reliant on Post-it notes to remember what she had to do during the day

A divorcee with two grown-up daughters, she was eventually diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. She had become reliant on Post-it notes to remember what she had to do during the day

‘Age,’ shrugs my GP. 

Months go by and the snowdrift that seems to have settled in my mind remains, along with the lack of energy and the same feeling I can’t put my finger on. 

And then it happens again. 

I’m out running and I fall flat on the pavement — this time bruising nothing more than my ego. 

There are another three falls in quick succession. 

My brain and my legs just aren’t talking to each other. Everything’s getting slower. 

On bad days, my mind can’t instantly recall names and faces and places like it used to. 

This really just isn’t me.

...........................................................................................................................................

I am sitting in a hospital waiting room, with an overnight bag at my side purely as a precaution. 

The sensation of a head half-filled with cotton wool has continued for months, and this weekend it had been much worse. 

When I got to work on Monday, a colleague noticed how my words were slurred, and now I’m here. 

My daughter Sarah, who’s training to be a nurse, comes with me to the hospital. 

They tell me that they are keeping me in for monitoring. 

There’s an electronic roster on a screen that I can just make out from my bed. 

The nurses have no idea that I can read from it just how understaffed they are. 

I hate hospitals, and I know I make a terrible patient. But I don’t panic. 

I have a low resting heart rate. I’m fit and healthy. Aren’t I? 

The next few days are taken up with tests and scans. The word ‘stroke’ is mentioned, but nothing is confirmed. 

Wendy still managed to live independently at her own home in Yorkshire

 Wendy still managed to live independently at her own home in Yorkshire

I want to leave. I want to go home and put on my work clothes and return to my office, not be stuck here at the mercy of consultants too busy to give me more than five minutes of their time. 

I close my eyes and long for visiting time, when normal conversations can resume, when I can hear what’s going on in the outside world, where routine means independence and a life fully lived. 

It turns out there’s a hole in my heart. 

They think that may have been the cause of the stroke but they’re not sure. 

They make me an appointment with a neurologist and finally discharge me. 

...........................................................................................................................................

Recovering at home, the next two months drag. 

Each day I wonder how much more daytime TV I can take before I risk exposing myself to another stroke. 

I miss the team camaraderie that used to fill my day. 

I miss the buzz and the working to deadlines. 

'I glance around the table at the familiar faces, and yet I can¿t recall their names,' she wrote

'I glance around the table at the familiar faces, and yet I can’t recall their names,' she wrote

I used to wonder what it would be like to be retired, to do all those things I never had time for — and yet now I lack both the energy and the inclination. 

But I notice something else, too. 

As the date of returning to work comes closer, I start to doubt myself in a way I never have before. 

What if I don’t know what I’m doing any more? What if I can’t remember the system?

........................................................................................................................................... 

March 2013 

Three months after the stroke I’m back at work. 

The days go by as they always did, and even though maybe I creak rather than leap into action, my confidence grows. 

The things I do forget — names or numbers, places, people — well, that’s understandable. It’s because I’ve been off for months.

At least that’s what everyone says, and I start to believe it. Almost. 

Two months later, I’m sitting in front of a consultant neurologist, trying to pinpoint the vagueness I’ve been feeling for months. 

What sense would it make to her if I told her that the pile of yellow Post-it notes scattered on the carpet by my bed had got thicker and thicker, as I woke numerous times in the night desperate to remember all I’ll need to get through a day in the office. 

‘My mind just doesn’t feel … sharp,’ is all I can offer, and the consultant nods and writes down some notes. 

A month on, I’m seeing a clinical psychologist called Jo. 

She hands me three words that I’ll need to remember and repeat to her at the end of our session. 

Sounds simple enough. I do some memory tests. At the end of the session, Jo closes her notebook and folds her arms across her chest. 

‘Now, can you tell me those three words that I asked you to remember?’ she asks. 

But I can’t. 

‘Is there anything I should do to help myself in the times when my mind feels particularly … foggy?’ I ask. 

‘There may be times when you become disorientated, the fog will descend and your surroundings will be unfamiliar,’ she says. 

‘But the most important thing to remember is not to panic. Give the fog time to pass, let the world become clear again. And it will.’ 

That’s all. Jo says she’ll see me again in 12 months.

...........................................................................................................................................

I am sitting opposite my daughter Sarah while she reads a letter from Jo after our last meeting. 

I can tell just from watching her how far through the letter she is. 

She’s currently reading the bit where Jo has detailed how independent I am, how well I manage at home, how organised I am. 

But then she turns the page and I see her brow furrow and I remember the moment when my own did the same. 

It’s one line below a heading that says ‘Opinion’ in thick, bold type. 

Sarah looks up and I catch her eye. ‘Dementia?’ she says. 

But that isn’t what it says. I know exactly what it says: ‘It is possible that this is a profile of the early stages of a dementing process.’ 

I’ve burned the words into my memory. 

Sarah puts the letter down. 

 'Where once there was pale green carpet, I¿m now crunching yellow Post-it notes between my toes'

 'Where once there was pale green carpet, I’m now crunching yellow Post-it notes between my toes'

‘But it can’t be that,’ she says. ‘You’re so fit and healthy. ‘It doesn’t seem fair.’ 

‘Exactly,’ I say. ‘I’m sure it’s nothing like that, but I suppose they have to cover every eventuality.’ 

A few weeks later there is another letter — this time from the neurologist. 

Both of my

read more from dailymail.....

PREV Boeing plane traveling to San Francisco forced to turn around after poo from a ... trends now
NEXT One dead, another seriously injured after quad bike crash in NSW's Hunter region trends now