Review: Somebody I used to know by Wendy Mitchell (2018)

To start with, I implore you to read this book. Just do it. It will be good for your soul.

As I wrote in my tweet above (yes, I do twitter, and I love it loudly and proudly), when I finished this book back in November 2018 I pressed it to my chest and gave it a big hug. Due to anxieties about how my review could ever do this incredible book justice, I have delayed reviewing it for far too long! So here goes…

At 58 years old, Wendy Mitchell received a diagnosis of Young Onset Dementia. This book is largely autobiographical, documenting Wendy’s life before and after a diagnosis of dementia. Scattered among accounts of significant events in her life are short letters from current day Wendy to a younger Wendy (before diagnosis). The writing is often poetic yet easy to read, and the key messages are clear.

Here are a few (of the many) things that I LOVE about this book:

  1. Wendy provides a unique perspective as someone who has the support of her family, but who has had to navigate the challenges associated with living alone with dementia. Wendy was working for the NHS and was living alone when she was diagnosed. She writes about some practical changes she made to her house to assist with her navigation and organisation. These suggestions (there are quite a few) may be useful to others with dementia and/or their families.

  2. I really appreciate Wendy’s discussion of moving to a new house post-diagnosis. This is of particular relevance to me as a researcher interested in housing transitions for persons with dementia. It provided me with greater insight into what housing transitions might mean for persons with dementia, and reiterated that: (1) a lot of the feelings Wendy expressed are not particular to persons with dementia- I feel much the same each time I move house, and (2) there are both positives and negatives of transitions for persons with dementia… its not all about the losses! Again, she talks about changes she made to her new house to make her everyday life easier. She writes about modifications such as removing doors so that you can see through to different rooms of the house, or adding a coloured border to light switches to make them more visible, for example. She talks about many of these home modifications in a fabulous video made for the Alzheimer’s Society (UK)- click here to view.

  3. I recently visited the town of York, UK as a student and lived there for 3 months. Wendy lives very close to York. I’m devastated that I did not read this book earlier, as I would have loved to meet with Wendy and share a pot of tea (Wendy loves tea). In her book, she provides just the most vivid description of getting lost in the winding and weaving cobbled streets of York. I remember one day I was riding my bike in an area of town that was new to me and became completely disoriented. The roads seemed to follow no logical pattern, there were no street names I could find and nothing looked familiar. I remember riding my bike for a solid 5 minutes, likely round and round in circles, slightly panicked and desperately hoping to see something familiar. Then I spotted the Minster! HURRAH! I knew where I was, and the panic slowly resided.

    Given this experience, Wendy’s description of becoming disoriented in York really resonated with me. The difference was that she had once known York’s winding and weaving cobbled streets intimately, and this disorientation was caused by an unwelcome change from familiar to unfamiliar. Wendy’s book really helped me to connect with what that feeling of disorientation in a familiar place might be like.

  4. Like many other authors with dementia, Wendy writes of the importance of her advocacy work. She writes of her HOPE for a meaningful future. She describes how her advocacy work helps not only those she is advocating for, but also adds meaning to her life with dementia. My hope is that this book inspires many others with dementia to speak out and share their experiences, because there are many of us who are ready and willing to listen to what they have to say.

Wendy has filled this this phenomenal book with warmth and generosity. This book has had a profound impact on the way I view dementia, and those living with this diagnosis. For me, it sits alongside the work of Kate Swaffer in the way that it blasts open the door to the world of dementia as it is experienced by those living with it- and invites you, the reader, to step inside.

Wendy is an advocate for persons living with dementia. She keeps a blog ‘which me am I today?’, is on Twitter (@WendyPMitchell), and has starred in short films for the Australian ABC, The Guardian UK and the Alzheimer’s Society (UK), among many others. I think she’s pretty incredible.

Anna Wharton assisted Wendy in writing this book.

A modified version of this review has been added to the ‘BOOKS BY AUTHORS WITH DEMENTIA’ section of my library. For more reviews of books about dementia, please select ‘LIBRARY’ in the main menu or CLICK HERE to access. ENJOY!

Jessica YoungComment