Unfortunately, I had low self esteem right into my thirties, like a dark cloud hanging out in the background of my subconscious. I was quite shy as a child, and always wanting approval as we rarely received positive feedback, no matter how well we did at something. My self esteem developed after many years of reading and attending motivational conferences and seminars, lots of self evaluation and reflection, in fact, a lot of hard work!
It did not come easily to me, and with broken relationships and the death of someone I had loved, it was often easier to ignore my own worth, and blame myself. I have delved deep into my subconscious, and many of my book shelves definitely look like the inside of an Adelaide self help bookshop called COPE!
My self esteem was soaring, not egotistically, but in a healthy way, and then along came dementia. The shame, stigma, discrimination and ever-increasing disabilities tried desperately to erode my self esteem, somehow made me feel less worthwhile, less able. The label ‘disabled’ was really difficult to accept, even though in dementia circles, considering the symptoms of dementia as disabilities was not at all the norm, and is only now evolving.
In 2009 I wrote a report after attending a disability conference, supported by the University of South Australia, and facing up to the symptoms as disAbilities was the most positive thing I could have done. And then, finding ways to overcome or accommodate them ensured my self esteem didn’t tumble back to ground zero. As I’ve been advocating for people with dementia to become involved in a new group, Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Advisory Group, I’ve been fighting hard to get many of the carers people with dementia, as well as the people with dementia, to believe they have the ability to contribute.
As the website ‘I Can I Will’, inspired by Richard Taylor implies, people with dementia can and must speak up for themselves. This will not only ensure we have a voice about our own care and futures, but will help to keep our sense of being valued, of contributing positively, and our self esteem intact. It is important people with dementia still have a purpose, a reason to fight against the symptoms of dementia, and against the stigma and discrimination. If we only evaluate our own worth, or judge ourselves by dementia, our self esteem has nowhere to go except downwards. Self-esteem is a disposition that a person has which represents their judgments of their own worthiness, and therefore it is important for others to treat us as valued citizens, and to respect and understand they should not define us by ‘dementia’, to help us believe in ourselves and our self esteem.