People are often surprised to learn that I have Alzheimer's disease.
"You're not all all what I expected" they say.
"What DID you expect?" I reply.
"I don't know...." is usually the quiet answer.
But they do of course...
There is a stereotype for people living with dementia. And the stereotype is not a flattering one, because stereotypes seldom are.
There is of course, a stereotype for EVERYTHING.
It seems to me that the only way human beings can cope with the complexity and diversity of life is to catalogue things into "types", grouping them into categories and filing them in neatly labelled boxes.
We're ALL guilty of it.
Noise in the street? Litter? Loud music? - Must be kids.
Benefits? Council house? - Work-shy chavs, single mums, smoke weed, has a large TV, always on their mobile phone...
Scots? - Mean. Germans? - Leather shorts. No sense of humour.
Eastern European? - Criminal. Taking our jobs.
We just can't help it. "pigeonholing appears to be the only way for most of us to cope with the richness and complexity of life. I guess it is also quite comforting to "other" people who are not the same as us. It gives us a sense of superiority.
We often poke fun at our own stereotyping. Take this map of the United Kingdom and Ireland for example...
And of course there are many others; millions of them I expect. Displaying every prejudice and generalisation under the sun about every aspect of our human condition. Before I continue, have a look at this world map I found on the Internet. It views a world of stereotypes from an Australian perspective:
On a superficial level, these illustrations are light-hearted - even funny, but they mask a dangerous tendency. Many people will have a stereotype pop into their heads when they hear the word "benefit". It has become synonymous with "scrounger", "lazy" and other pejoratives. Nothing of course, could be more untrue. There are a thousand reasons why a person may claim a benefit. And yes, they represent the community at large, so a few WILL be lazy, but to our shame, we have stigmatised all of those who need help the most by our arbitrary categorisation. Back on topic... Other than my diagnosis, I currently have nothing at all in common with the stereotypical image of a person with dementia. You know the one? That pitiful, ancient, lost person in the nursing home who cannot recognise their children and must be spoon fed. This picture of senile dementia is the one that is usually presented as representative of my condition. The stereotype gets in my way, as I fail to match the expectations of some observers.
I hear that there are even some eminent Neurologists who question whether high functioning people like me even HAVE dementia (even though there is brain scan evidence).
It's SO annoying! So what can be done? Well, let us CHALLENGE lazy stereotypes wherever we encounter them, either within ourselves or within others. Our failure to speak out damages ourselves and society. We are better than that surely?