Dementia and the mid-life breakthrough

Forests teach us gently to accept the cycle of life

Forests teach us gently to accept the cycle of life

Mid-life is a time when many of us have the opportunity to care for a person living with dementia. Whether that person is your parent, partner or friend, their diagnosis can be life-changing.

The term ‘mid-life’ is often associated with another word: ‘crisis’! Dementia is unlikely to be the only challenge we have to cope with at this time. Facing empty nests, health scares, relationship breakdowns, career collapses (or all of the above), few of us sail through mid-life without experiencing the loss of something significant that we relied upon for our sense of identity or security.

My initial reaction to the losses experienced during this period was resistance – a big fat “No!” But I’ve come to appreciate that the stripping away of the familiar and the certain was an invitation to step into another (and wonderful) phase of life.

Researcher Brené Brown writes and speaks about the power of vulnerability. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she famously reframed what she could have labelled a ‘nervous breakdown’ as a ‘spiritual awakening’. It may feel like a big ask, but even a tentative “Yes” in the midst of the chaos is enough to start transforming the mid-life crisis (and even our experience of our loved one’s dementia) into a time of unexpected blessings.

Looking back, I recognise that what I most needed to learn during mid-life was how to get out of my head! My busy brain needed to quieten down – to stop analysing, judging and trying to fix everything – and learn how to simply be.

There are many sources of support that can help us find our way through the challenges of mid-life. Two practices helped to transform my mid-life muddle in general, and my experience of Mum’s dementia in particular.

The first was a technique called Heart-focused BreathingTM that I learnt from my HeartMath® coach. Simply shifting my attention to my heart and my breath for short periods throughout the day created moments of calm in my previously unpunctuated life. I learnt to put down my burden of stress, rather than allowing it to snowball and become overwhelming.

The other was a Nature Solo practice. Every week I would spend a few hours silently observing nature and applying what I noticed to my life. One of the most valuable things I learnt was to accept without judgement each successive stage of life and to recognise its unique and inherent gifts.

Practising calm and acceptance transformed the times I spent with Mum and my experience of her dementia journey. Learning to be quiet and observant in nature enabled me to spend time quietly with Mum, not having to talk but simply savouring the experience of being together.

Shifting attention from my busy brain to my heart and breath, spending unhurried time in nature, and being present with my mother in the last years of her life – these may not seem like much as a list of ‘achievements’ but they have fundamentally transformed my life.

What started as a mid-life crisis feels now like a mid-life breakthrough.

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