If you know me even a little bit, you will know that my middle name is dementia. My life has been defined by this dreaded and dreadful condition. As a teenager, I was a young carer to my mom who lived and died of Young Onset Alzheimer’s in her 40s. Everything I did from then on for the next decade was either to cope with the onslaught and aftermath or merely survive. When I finally got myself together, I dreamed only of making a difference to the lives of others living specifically with Young Onset Dementia. And I did just that for a year in 2012 as an almost full-time volunteer at the Alzheimer Association in Chicago and then as a Social Worker at the Alzheimer Society of Toronto from June 2015 to December 2017. I did some exceptional work and learned some invaluable lessons. I had started out wanting to support people living with dementia and their families, but I walked away forever changed by them.
It took me six long months to actually put in my resignation. After all, how could it be that I wanted to leave? I loved my job. But having done a lot of work through therapy on myself, I have learned to trust my gut. It was demanding that I move on. So I did. My last week at work, I was inundated with calls, emails, cards, hugs, coffees and lunches from colleagues, clients, professional contacts. A part of me was questioning my decision, but the other part kept saying, “That’s the way to leave…on a high!”
So…here I am 3 months after I have quit. I am at the beginning of a new journey – setting up my own business as a private practice therapist. I can tell you I have not one ounce of regret. Here is what I learned about myself:
- I have evolved. So have my dreams.
- I want to be a learner for life.
- I will always make space. Even if it means giving up something good.
- Time is money. I will own my time.
- I am worth more than the money I make.
- I am willing to try new things, even if it means I fail.
- I am more than one thing at any given moment.
- No one is allowed to tell me how to feel about myself.
- My work does not define me.
- I want to invest in me doing things I love and being with people I love.
- If I can give up the one thing I’ve always wanted, I can live without anything.
- My ambition now is to lose typical ambition.
- I am more than the pain I went through.
I think the last learning has been a long time coming. Had I not had the opportunity to work in my dream job, I would still be empty. Now that I have given back to the cause that has shaped me allowed me to become whole, I can move on.
In the last 3 months, I have done a lot of fun things like taking vacations and spending time with people I love and reading all night. And I have done a lot of administrative things like landing two amazing part-time gigs and setting up my practice.
However, the most important thing I have done is go to a 11.5 day silent residential meditation retreat and develop a daily meditation practice that is non-guided. I think the biggest act of self-love is to love myself even if I will never be all the things I once dreamed of. This is exceptionally hard for I am a typical type A personality who is intelligent, driven and extremely competitive.
Don’t get me wrong. I will work. I will work hard to have my practice flourish. But I no longer feel or want the pressure to be the most visible dementia warrior. I have let go of my pain identity.
I am free.