On March 24th, I was invited to speak at a Mental Health Symposium hosted by the Nassau Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. The Theme was “Real Talk about the Elephant in the Room: Eliminating the Stigma of Mental Health with Facets, Education and Resources.”
The focus of the day was to address different areas of mental health and discovering ways to eliminate the stigmas that keep people from talking about or taking action such as shame, phobia, anxiety, rejection, depression, stress and more. While I always intend to be timely with my posts, and yes, this one comes two months later, in all honesty, I needed to take care of a few of my health concerns that were and are draining and hence sometimes delaying what I want to do.
I have been very fortunate to educate and bring a smile or laughter to people through this blog as well as having the opportunity to write for a national magazine and websites, but on that day, as the first speaker and with it being my first foray into public speaking about Alzheimer’s, caregiving and my journey, I wanted to make sure my words were informing, well received, impactful with some fun.
This opportunity allowed me to show others that it’s OK to have discussions about Alzheimer’s and caregiving. I shared how I became an unexpected caregiver and that the sooner I learned to meet my mom where she was at and to communicate in a way that was better for her, was in turn better for me. I shared that as a caregiver it’s important to make your loved one feel validated as Alzheimer’s is changing them. Include them in house duties, dinner choices, after you’ve narrowed it down to a small few, or sing songs, play music and make activities as stress free as possible. And when unkind words are spewed at you or daily care is a struggle you have to remember that it’s the illness and not the person.
I can’t express enough the overwhelming feeling of joy that I felt in knowing my words, my tips and advice were wanted and needed. As I answered questions after my segment and later that day, it further reaffirmed that conversations about Alzheimer’s needs to find a place at the table and messages such as mine and of the other panelists are ones that need to be heard more frequently.
My cause is Alzheimer’s, it is an unforgiving disease, and I have chosen to be unforgiving too in my fight for resources and information. Alzheimer’s may not be what you or your family are facing, but there are many other forms of mental illness that need a champion and to remove the stigmas, we must first begin to talk. Talk to family, to friends, to counselors, to lawmakers, to one another and to continue these conversations until they are no longer needed.
As I’ve mentioned, I’m not a professional, but I am versed in life, in care and compassion. While I’m still growing in my advocacy, I can speak to so much from my own experience and if anyone has a question, needs advice or other please reach out to me. My mission is to be a support, a voice for others and a source of information and we will either find answers and solutions together or we will create a new thing.
I greatly thank my Soror Angela Banks Jourdain for inviting me to speak and in believing that my voice and story is an important one to be heard.