Mary Beth Wighton uses writing as an outlet for living well with dementia.
Author and dementia advocate Mary Beth Wighton was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD), in 2013, at the age of 45.
Today, the 54-year-old is living well with young-onset dementia in South Hampton, Ont., alongside her partner, Dawn. She is also a proud mother of two daughters and recently welcomed two grandchildren.
Mary Beth Wighton and her dog Bailey.
Wighton says that after her diagnosis, writing was an important outlet for her. So, she began journaling her story and sending it out to readers via email list made up of more than 100 people.
“[The email list subscribers] said, ‘Mary Beth, you need to get this in a book.’ That’s when I started to think, this is a good way to help educate people,” says Wighton.
The responses from her email list may have sparked the idea to write a book, but it wasn't until about seven years later that she actually pursued it.
"There are very few people who have dementia and have actually documented it in some manner. So, I felt like it was almost my duty to encourage change.”
– Mary Beth Wighton
Dignity & Dementia: Carpe Diem by Mary Beth Wighton
In her recently published book, Dignity & Dementia: Carpe Diem, Wighton pulls you into her world of living with dementia from the very moment she was diagnosed, through her first six years living with FTD.
“I’d never written before, so it was all new to me, but I liked the power it gave me. I could tell people how I felt and what my story was rather than the typical stigmatized story,” says Wighton. “It’s a great deal of power when you can tell your own story.”
Wighton's goal was to create a book that depicts the reality of dementia through the lens of someone who is experiencing it.
“The simple reason is there’s just so much stigma out there. There are very few people who have dementia and have actually documented it in some manner. So, I felt like it was almost my duty to encourage change,” Wighton says.
“I think it's really important that I’m surrounded by people who know the importance of really living every single day the best that they can.”
– Mary Beth Wighton
A motto to live by
Published as journal entries, Dignity & Dementia presents the ups and downs of Wighton’s journey. She gets extremely vulnerable with her writing, which makes the book engaging and authentic. Throughout, she also reiterates the motto that has helped her get through the most challenging days: carpe diem.
In Latin, the phrase translates to “seize the day” and is often used to encourage people to make the most of the present moment. For Wighton, it’s an important reminder to live the best day that she can — every day.
Wighton [right] with her great-niece, Teighan [left].
“I really don't know when my symptoms will become worse than they are, so I need to really stay focused on the present and what’s in front of me,” says Wighton.
After a dementia diagnosis, it’s easy to get discouraged and focus on the negative aspects of your journey. Carpe diem is a reminder for Wighton and her readers to focus on the positive.
Her first encounter with the phrase occurred after she received a painting from her great-niece, Teighan, with the words carpe diem on it.
“I’d never heard of it, so she educated me on what it was, and that was literally the start of embracing it,” says Wighton. “Actually, now when you come into our home, we have her painting right there, so there’s an expectation of, ‘don't be a downer, come in and just be as happy as you can.”
Wighton is honoured that her family has adopted the motto as well.
“I think it's really important that I’m surrounded by people who know the importance of really living every single day the best that they can,” she says.
The painting given to Wighton by Teighan. Image courtesy of Mary Beth Wighton.
Advice for living well with dementia
For those living with dementia, Wighton says, carpe diem, but she also encourages people to focus on the things that they can do.
“Sometimes, when you’re focusing on the things that you can do, you find what my partner calls treasures,” says Wighton.
The hidden treasures are the things that you didn’t do before your diagnosis, or that you didn’t realize you could do. For Wighton, her “treasure” is writing.
“By staying positive, and by looking at what other people are doing, that’s when you start to think, maybe there’s something here that I can do as well,” she says. “So, look for those hidden treasures.”
IN THE MARKETPLACE
Find more information about Dignity & Dementia: Carpe Diem by Mary Beth Wighton at the Dementia Connections Marketplace!