Why did friends tell me I was brave when I told them about the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s?
After receiving the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s I told our children of course, and then I spoke to friends. Many of them looked at me strangely; or looked away. Someone in our family brushed it off and never referred to it again. Later, friends told me that I was brave. The same thing happened when our son was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Neither my son nor my husband had done anything wrong; each one of them had contracted an illness, so where did bravery come into this?
At first I blamed the problems my husband was having on the regular aging process but after a while I realized that it was more than an age-related problem. I do not have the greatest sense of direction so my husband had always been the navigator. Suddenly he could no longer see street names or numbers; maybe he no longer knew where exactly to search for them. He was no longer a safe driver so I drove using the excuse that I loved the feeling of holding the steering wheel and the freedom it gave me. He acquiesced but I was never sure whether he believed me or not. His doctor asked me to cancel his driving license but I refused, telling her that it was up to her. So, she told him in no uncertain terms that if she heard he’d been driving, she would cancel his license. He never drove again. It was cruel but I did not want to be the one to hurt his feelings. He had enough issues to deal with.
Some individuals made me feel that our struggle against Alzheimer’s was something furtive. Why? I’d always been under the impression that schizophrenia was known as the hidden illness; Alzheimer’s seemed to be in the same category. Caregivers and their families need compassion. Critical or derogatory attitudes can be damaging to them as well as to the ill person. Once that individual has been identified as being different, it is difficult for him to be accepted, no matter how hard he tries. It is not easy to shake off stigma … and stigma results in a loss of confidence. A person suffering from Alzheimer’s disease might even begin to feel that he is not a worthy citizen as he loses his place in society; is no longer able to find a niche for himself.
My hope is that it won’t be long before we all learn to accept anyone who is different; different from us due to an illness, the color of our skins, or a vastly different background.
LET’S WORK TOGETHER ON TRYING TO LESSEN BLAME, SHAME, STIGMA AND ANY KIND OF DISCRIMINATION.