Inspiring People: Wendy Mitchell

Another post late in the day… this Blogtober thing is no joke! I feel like I’ve been busy all day, and yet it’s currently 9.45pm and I’m only just getting to writing today’s post.. Anyway, it’s been over a week since I’ve written an ‘Inspiring People’ post, and today is the turn of Wendy Mitchell.
Wendy was diagnosed with young onset dementia in 2014 at the age of 58, and after being shocked at the lack of awareness of the condition, she set up her blog; Which me am I today?

Picture: Lorne Campbell / Guzelian
Wendy Mitchell of York, North Yorkshire, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at the aged of 58. She is pictured with her daughters Gemma (left) and Sarah.
Why does Wendy Mitchell inspire me?

After Wendy was diagnosed with dementia, she was forced to retire early from her job as a non-clinical team leader in the NHS; people didn’t know what to say or how to modify her role so that she could continue to work – even those that had extensive clinical experience (she worked in the NHS for goodness sake!). That in itself is both shocking and upsetting, and I say that as someone who has limited experience with dementia. Older members of my family have had it, but I’ve never been a carer for someone with the disease, and I’ve been distanced from those individuals by physical location rather than emotion. It’s difficult to say what you’d do if you were diagnosed with dementia; surely no one really knows until it happens to them. That said, I don’t think I’d deal with it very well. Honestly I can only just visualise myself doing everything that Wendy does now, as a healthy 26 year old, but I can’t imagine deciding to start a blog, contributing to support groups, travelling around the country to be involved with research projects, and giving talks to student nurses having been diagnosed with dementia.

I read and reviewed Wendy’s book, Somebody I Used To Know, in March this year, and her work continues to inspire people as she spreads knowledge and awareness of life with dementia; last month Wendy’s words featured in The New York Times, yes, the actual New York Times.

One day I would love to write a book, and I would be stunned if I was ever able to write for The New York Times; but Wendy demonstrates that these things are possible. She raised her two daughters, she had a brilliant job within the UK’s health service, and then life threw her a curve ball. Instead of collapsing and admitting defeat, Wendy make a new career for herself. She is an author, a public speaker, an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society, and an active research partner. She has found her own way through Alzheimer’s disease, compiling her own tips and tricks to help her live with the condition in an independent and comfortable way. She shares these tips so that others can continue to maintain their independence too – see the video below that she filmed for the Alzheimer’s Society.

Find out more

If you’d like to find out more about what Wendy is up to, I would recommend that you follow her blog and Twitter page. I’d also recommend reading her book, which you can get here (it’s currently reduced to £11.49 so grab it whilst you can!).

Other articles I’d recommend reading:

Wendy Mitchell’s 5 tips for supporting somebody with dementia
I had Alzheimer’s. But I wasn’t ready to retire. (The New York Times article that I mentioned earlier)
I have dementia and I take part in research: Here’s why
Dear Diary, I know I can live well with dementia
Dear Diary, I want to talk about public perception of dementia
Don’t call us sufferers – it makes us lose all hope

WCMT Fellowship #1: Meeting Other Fellows

Last week I headed to London for a much more relaxed meeting with the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust than my last encounter! I was invited to a seminar with other 2018 Fellows from the Science, Technology and Innovation, Nursing and Allied Health Professions, and Health and Wellbeing categories. Before this seminar, I was shocked that I was a 2018 Fellow; I’d heard what a huge opportunity it was, and I knew I’d done really well to make it through such a competitive application process. After the seminar, I was really, really overwhelmed. There were other Fellows there sharing their experiences and advice, and the entire process became a lot more real. This is such a huge opportunity and I am so excited!

So, excitement aside, the day was brilliant for a number of reasons; here’s what happened.

Introductions, welcomes and advice from the WCMT Team

Julia Weston – I met Julia at my interview and she was so lovely. She opened the seminar and she was just as lovely in a much more relaxed environment. She explained how the Fellowship program started, that Churchill knew of and approved of the program, and that the Fellowships were a lifetime deal. Her welcome really made me feel part of something, and the words that stuck with me were ‘aim high, don’t be shy‘ and ‘travel to make a difference‘.

Sara Venerus – I have a feeling Sara is going to become my go to person at WCMT over the coming months whilst I’m planning the trip; she explained all about the process of planning such a significant period of travel, and made it really clear that WCMT don’t just want us to pack our schedules with research meetings – we need to experience the culture and people around us too! I’m genuinely really excited to plan my trip now, spreadsheets and colour-coding are going to be my best friend..

Tristan Lawrence – Tristan focussed on what comes after the travelling part of the Fellowship; the report. The majority of the reports that I’ve read were purely text and photographs, but Tristan made it really clear that WCMT are very flexible with the formats of the reports. I’m now furiously thinking of different formats that my report could take; I definitely want to make it a creative thing because my project is focussing on creativity – so many ideas!

Stephanie Talbut – Ok, so Stephanie‘s talk included references to Beyonce, that Professor Robert E Kelly interview, and research methods – in short, I’m 100% sold and I think she’s brilliant. Research methods are my thing, and I loved the way she emphasised that methods are just a one-stage thing, they’re something we need to think about before, during and after the research we do as part of the Fellowship.

Jonathan Lorie – Reportedly the Beyonce of what he does (comms), Jonathan encouraged us to begin the project with a ‘comms mindset’. I loved the way he discussed dissemination plans, the importance of the report, and the huge impact that our work could have after the travelling part of the Fellowship is over – I felt hugely inspired and motivated to make the most of this opportunity after hearing what he had to say.

Sara Canullo – I met Sara at my interview too, she kept me calm ensured that I didn’t trip up the stairs (yes, that’s a thing I often do when I’m nervous); which was very welcome. She rounded off the WCMT welcomes brilliantly, driving home the point that we are joining a passionate and vibrant group of Fellows that are ready to network and welcome us to the WCMT family. Again, I have a feeling that she’s going to be someone I get to know pretty well over the coming months.

Breakout session with the Science, Technology and Innovation category

Main practical advice from past Fellows:

  • Buy packing cubes
  • Learn how to budget (this one is v important and can involve many, many different apps/spreadsheets etc)
  • Get a Monzo card
  • Check baggage allowances for internal flights
  • Local SIM cards are good

Highlights from past Fellows:

  • Arfah Farooq’s vlogs – Arfah was a 2017 Fellow, and she was so passionate about the work she’s done on diversity in STEM, particularly focussing on Muslim women and Tech. She’s Queen of tech herself – recommending loads of different websites and apps to help with trip planning, documenting and sharing. Arfah is brilliant – so enthusiastic, so engaged, and really open to helping this new cohort of Fellows. I hope I can take at least a pinch of her passion and use her project dissemination to inspire mine.
  • Rose Mary Johnston also discussed her 2017 Fellowship – and it was mind blowing. Her project focussed on body farms, something I didn’t even know existed. Hearing her speak was extraordinary; her topic was so interesting, and the way she discussed the moral and ethical complexities of the subject showed that she really knew her stuff.
  • After the breakout session had finished we had a chance to network and speak to other WCMT Fellows past and present. I got talking to Missing Wolf, a 2017 Fellow. On the surface his project didn’t look at all like mine – he travelled to the USA to investigate soundscape ecology, the study of sound emanating from the natural landscape as an indicator of biodiversity loss – but after a few minutes we started to make some really brilliant comparisons, and I’m hopefully going to link up with some of his contacts when I’m in Toronto for my Fellowship.

Honestly, the afternoon went by so quickly, and I was left pinching myself yet again. Each and every one of the past Fellows that I spoke to were incredibly helpful, passionate and enthusiastic – and they were all so happy and encouraging, reinforcing that this Fellowship could, and hopefully will, bring big opportunities providing that we invest our efforts and make the most of it. My fellow 2018 Fellows were largely feeling just like I was; nervous, excited, and overwhelmed with the possibilities that lay ahead of us. I have a feeling this is going to be one hell of a journey, and I cannot wait to get started with planning my trip!