The holidays have long been known as the season of joy, but how do you truly define joy? As someone living with Alzheimer’s disease and approaching my first Christmas since receiving the diagnosis, I’m beginning to define joy differently than I have in previous years.
While I previously found joy during the holidays in festive decorations, music, meals and parties, I’ve come to realize these are fleeting. This year, spending time with my family, making new memories and remembering past holidays are the activities that bring me the most contentment.
In fact, joy has become less of a feeling and more of an action for me. I actively rejoice for the blessings I have in my family and friends. I show joy through acts of love and have let go of the small stresses that would’ve stolen my happiness during previous holidays.
Some will read this and wonder how I could possibly rejoice given the circumstances of my disease and its prognosis. Alzheimer’s is a fatal disease that has no cure. It worsens over time – slowly causing problems with memory, thinking and behavior, and it will eventually rob me of my ability to respond to the world around me. The disease will ultimately take my life, typically in eight years from now.
It’s not easy to cope with the reality of Alzheimer’s, but my faith has helped me rejoice this holiday season. Alzheimer’s is part of me now, but it does not define who I am. Alzheimer’s may have changed my brain’s biology, my personality and my expressions, but I tell my family that the essence of who I am in my heart remains the same.
Further, Alzheimer’s disease has added greater purpose to my life. For example, I put my joy into action by joining an advisory group of people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s through the Alzheimer’s Association. Working with this group to raise awareness, reduce stigma and help others living with this disease has provided a great sense of resolve and happiness in every season since my diagnosis.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it’s important to never deny the disease. While it can be painful to accept, it’s important to know that you are not alone – help and support services are available through the Alzheimer’s Association.
Until there is a cure, I am determined to continue living my life with Alzheimer’s to the fullest and helping others experience joy as we navigate the challenges and changes brought about by this disease. As I look toward my first Christmas with Alzheimer’s, relishing in the love of my family, my faith and kindness from others are the pillars of my season of joy.
May you, too, find joy in every circumstance.
About the Author: Jeff Borghoff is raising awareness of Alzheimer’s disease as a member of the Alzheimer’s Association 2016 National Early-Stage Advisory Group (ESAG).