I read the most exquisitely written & deeply moving book over the holidays called, “Someone I Used to Know”. Author, Wendy Mitchell, is a single mother of two daughters with early onset dementia. And I choose these words carefully as I suspect Wendy would hate for anyone to describe her as suffering. While her deterioration robs her of a life that was known, safe & happy, Wendy chooses to embrace the opportunities that her new life presents – motivated by her discovery that the world isn’t well set up for people to live independently with dementia. Equally, her experience with the medical profession did minimal to instil confidence in her ability to live a happy life whilst she was still able. She found herself written off. Being told, “there is nothing left for us to do”.
Through her speaking engagements, research participation & any opportunity that presents to improve the quality of life for her community, Wendy now stands for all people with dementia. She has made the decision to live the remainder of her able life helping the rest of the world understand her perspective. To help them realise, what those with dementia need to navigate the world safely, the simple changes that make a huge difference & to remind the universe they are equally as valuable as people now as they were prior to their diagnosis.
Wendy describes dementia to others as two bookcases. All of us, dementia or not, have two bookcases.
The first bookcase is the annals of our factual life. The top shelves are our most recent memories of – what we do, who we are & what our life is made up of. As the shelves get lower, we go back further in history until we reach the lowest bookshelf housing our earliest childhood memories. Dementia causes that book shelf to sway side to side – imagine an earthquake. The top shelves tumble first, the lowest containing our oldest memories, remains.
The second bookshelf is our emotional life. It represents the way people who cross our paths make us feel. The first impression they make & the lasting feeling that lingers in their fresh absence. For people with dementia, this bookcase remains rock solid.
We never forget the way people make us feel.
Consider for a moment the start of your day & the people you interact with.
- Do you stop & chat – focusing on them & not you?
- Do you offer your mental presence?
- Do you acknowledge people you pass with a hello?
- Do you make eye contact?
Emotional connections are vital to our mental health, providing us with a protective factor against anxiety & depression. (www.beyondblue.org.au)
In the workplace, our ability to form trusting connections determines the strength of the community we are trying to foster. When we pause & take the time to understand another person’s perspective, in the other person’s eyes:
- We are hearing them
- We are understanding them
- We care about them
- We improve our likelihood of being able to help them
In turn, we create an environment that breeds – trust, security & a sense of supportive community willing to wrap its arms around us in times of need. We also improve performance.
Whether we are – the leader of a team, a sales professional with customers or a clinician with patients, our ability to form trusted connections amplifies the impact we make. Our work becomes more purposeful & fulfilling. Our performance improves & the legacy we build for ourselves becomes a more powerful asset in our armamentarium.
As the new year gets underway, consider the connections in your world.
What efforts can you make to strengthen those connections into robust trusted partnerships?
If you find yourself being dismissive & lapsing into bouts of physical presence & mental absence, purposefully slow yourself down. Schedule time in your week to invest in your relationships.
- Focus less on yourself and more on the person in front of you – be curious.
- Do what you say you will do – don’t commit if you can’t deliver.
- Share what is only yours to share – if it’s not your story to tell, don’t tell it.
- Speak your expertise in a context that is relevant to the other person – your assumption of their world might not be correct.
The efforts we make to connect with people are remembered long after the emotionless facts are forgotten.
Remember Wendy & the bookcases.