Tag Archives: Camino de Santiago

“My Experience” by Wendy Sanchez

Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 6.18.18 pmIt is delightful to be able to share our members stories with you, and this week, we have a lady from Mexico who has written a beautiful story of her experience with both dementia, life and becoming a member of Dementia Alliance International.

Our sincere thanks to you Wendy, for allowing us to share your life with our readers here.

DAI: “My Experience”

Written by DAI member, Wendy Sanchez, November 22, 2015

Three years ago, at age 68, I was in a deep depression.  I’d lost – in rapid succession – my home, my job, my driver’s license, my dreams.  I reached deep inside myself for an old dream; that of walking the Camino de Santiago across the entire country of Spain.  It was that or give up.

I completed that pilgrimage, wrote and published a book shortly thereafter, and then took a nosedive, mentally and physically.  My decline and the sudden arrival of dementia symptoms in my life were alarming.  Well meaning friends and family denied the obvious.  I was completely confused until I read the book “Still Alice”.

It was right out of my journal; and I quickly sought diagnosis, going first to my psychiatrist who had treated me for years for depression and a history of chemical dependence.  She also had my test results from the past few years which indicated a consistent decline.  When I told her of my recent experiences with “Alice”- like FTL symptoms, she agreed with my observations – with tears in her eyes – and started me on Aricept that very day.

We had previously discussed that I presented with multiple markers for developing dementia:  heredity, history of drug and alcohol abuse, decades of treatment for clinical depression, frontal lobe trauma from car accidents and spousal abuse, and YEARS of acute sleep apnea undiagnosed and untreated.

I’d almost expected the diagnosis, yet the shock was enormous nevertheless.

I had no transportation to get back and forth to doctors for much testing and I wasn’t in need of numbers to validate what I’d felt for years.  One psychologist visit and one brain scan were enough to document “mild to moderate cognitive decline”.

As many of us report, it initially felt like a death sentence to me; a dose of cruel reality that screamed “no hope” like a neon lamp.  Being single and not of independent means, I began to outline my suicide plans, like many before me had.  As an RN for decades, I knew there would come the inevitable ‘point of no return’ that heralded the end of my independence.

So the months since my diagnosis in March 2015 have rolled onward.  I returned to

Rural Mexico where I’d been living for 1.5 years with the intention to “take a lover and go snorkeling”. Hardly a wise plan because I was falling frequently, suffering anxiety attacks, challenged with word finding, speaking, understanding, and most executive functions.  I was also getting lost or disoriented, couldn’t find any information about what was happening to me, and scared to death.

At that point, I vaguely remembered a reference in “Still Alice” about DAI and  ? (the other organization).  I found their websites, clicked on members’ writings, found a trail of personalized information, and began to follow the leads:  first to make contact with an individual (Morris) who lived close by in Northern California.  He’d been a published sociologist and professor prior to diagnosis and guided me toward publications and writings by others’ as well, one of whom I have later come to know on line (Jeanne).  Someone else (Jay) contacted me on Morris’ suggestion just as I was searching for a support group.

I felt like Dora the Explorer on a journey of Hope.

Quickly I realized there were tools with which I could design a rehab program for myself.  Once I began to follow it, positive results soon followed.  Although incredulous, I actively follow that structure now.  The “perfect” days that fall with grace from the sky are seductive in that I think the doctors made a mistake.  As many of my peers confirm, the overall experience we share is often one of a roller coaster.

Finding DAI has made a huge difference in my life:  I have been invited into and participate in a weekly support group online, co-ordinated by Mick, who skillfully

Facilitates meetings globally.  The dedication and commitment of Mick, Kate and others in DAI make advocacy for international dementia rights a tangible vision.

It’s been an inspiration for me to see peers continue to “fight the good fight”, regardless of the toll it takes on their energy reserves.  My own personal journey is detailed in a Blog I began in order to advocate and educate friends, family, acquaintances (and their contacts) about the face of dementia; to dispel myths and fears about diagnosis and treatment; to describe our challenges and suggest helpful methods of communication. Being encouraged to continue writing by DAI members and blog readers reinforces that I can still write and hopefully serve others via that medium.

And, in that process, my words to friends and family have morphed from defensive – explaining what’s “wrong” with me – to creative advocacy as I remember that I am still a powerful writer with a voice to be heard.

The Blog in and of itself has been my own personal therapy yet it has impacted quite a few folks already.  I only need to review a few months to see that Hope lives, that Life continues, and – most of all – that I am NOT alone in this.

DAI brought humor back into my life at a time when I was sure it had abandoned me.  What can be more soul healing than shared laughter?

Author: A grateful member of DAI, Wendy Sanchez, Yelapa, Jalisco, Mexico
Copyright: Wendy Sanchez, 2015
Editor: Kate Swaffer