I’ve always liked to keep myself busy.
Growing up, I admired how my parents always seemed to be ‘on-the-go’. Even after a long day at work, I’d find Dad in the garage or garden, creating, fixing, or nurturing something. Mum was often inside the house, dressmaking or baking something delicious. They seemed to have endless energy!
Naturally, my sister and I followed their example and each day, once we’d finished our homework, we’d busily move onto something else. We were creative so enjoyed crafting or we’d go off to Brownies, Guides, Church, or Sunday School. This was how we liked it, it made life full and exciting.
I went onto become a primary teacher and then a primary headteacher, and enjoyed a long, happy career that spanned 30 years (and a day)! When I retired, my husband and I decided to move south to Cornwall to enjoy our days at a more leisurely pace for a change. But my inner driving force wouldn’t allow me to relax for long. Soon after settling down, I came across an advert for an ‘Access to Art and Design’ course and my interest was piqued! I decided to apply and was delighted when I learned I’d been accepted to embrace student life once more – and what a wonderful life it was! I spent the year discovering new skills, forging new friendships, even exhibiting and later on, selling some of my own work. I felt a huge sense of achievement.
Eventually, we decided to return to Scotland but I was determined to continue to indulge my new-found passion for Art, connecting with new friends while showcasing my work. There was rhythm to my retirement - and I loved it! Then, three years ago, I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. What a shock. At times, I’ve felt overwhelmed, down, despairing even. But I’ve resolved that I will not be defined by this condition. It’s just one part of who I am – I’m still me. I’m determined to continue living the life I love, with art remaining an important focus.
It’s true that certain aspects of my life have changed and there are challenges I never had to even think about before diagnosis. For example, reading for extended periods of time is harder than it used to be. Sometimes I even find it tricky to decipher my own written notes. But art – and my drive to stay busy – remains.
Often, I call-to-mind something my Primary 4 teacher told me. “Take your pencil for a walk,” she said, “and draw a squiggle that goes around and around.” That piece of advice, that artistic technique has remained with me for many years and proves therapeutic even to this day. The wonderful thing about my art is that it has turned so many negatives into positives. Not only do I find it cathartic and calming, my creative side is continually challenged. I test myself to do more, to experiment and see where it takes me.
My sister and I held a fundraising dinner during which we raised £500. I decided to turn my attention towards raising more money for Alzheimer Scotland. After an exhibition of my art and craft work at the Penicuik Art Centre, and sales of a book of poetry I wrote, I have raised over £1000 in support of this worthy cause.
We may not be able to run a Marathon or do a Memory Walk, but we can put on the kettle, buy some biscuits and ask friends round for tea and to make a donation to Alzheimer Scotland.
So yes, the rhythm of my retirement may have changed – but I’ll continue doing all the things I love with the people I love and care for. Dementia will always be just one part of me.