Shelley's story

I’ve done a bit of media work before, but I’m really pleased The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes is being shown because I was the second youngest who took part; I’m 45 years old. 

It was really important for me to get that awareness out there, because I didn’t realise until I got diagnosed, just how many people do get diagnosed at a younger age.  It came as a big shock to us, so I thought, if I didn’t know about it, then there’ll be thousands of people who don’t know about it.  

That’s why I started beating my drum.  I’m a mum of five and I want to show my girls that no matter what life throws at you, you have to carry on with life to the best of your abilities.  When you focus on something, it takes your mind off things.  My husband said to me as he went out to work this morning, ‘You know what, this should have been the worst 18 months of our lives but it’s kind of turned into one of the best.’  We’ve met some wonderful people and made some amazing friends.  My daughters are very proud of me, especially the younger two who are still at home, they’re always giving me hugs and telling me they’re really proud of what I’ve done.

I was approached to be in the programme via a private message on Facebook and thought, ‘What an opportunity!’  It was filmed in Bristol and I wouldn’t have been able to cope with getting a train there from Nottingham but every week we had a taxi pick us up from home and me and my husband, or me and a friend, or one of my daughters, would go to Bristol for a few days. They’d put us up in hotels, gave us an allowance for meals and everything, and then at the end of filming, they’d arrange for a taxi to bring us home again.  It was absolutely amazing. 

We had a couple of training sessions so they could see how we were with knife skills and gauge where we’re at.  They had us do a sort of Ready Steady Cook sort of thing where we had to pick our own ingredients and make a meal out of it.  We were put in teams, it’s in the first episode and it’s the funniest thing you’ll ever see.  It’s not laughing at people – it shows the funny side of dementia, the humorous side, the things we do every day.  It’s been handled so sweetly.  Don’t get me wrong, one bit you’re laughing, the next bit you might be crying your eyes out, it pulls at your heart strings as well.

In one of the episodes, they filmed me cooking lunch at home for my family, and I turned round to put the oven on and I couldn’t remember how to do it.  That happens to me near enough every day that I don’t know how to work something, but that really did take me aback because it’s the first time I’ve seen myself look lost and confused and I’ve seen myself with dementia.

I was the head chef in the kitchen.  Because I was a chef, you don’t see me as much as you see the others because more of the focus is on the actual restaurant.  Me and Steve were kind of a little bit forgotten out the back but without us there wouldn’t have been a restaurant!

I didn’t know any of them before filming began but we’ve become such a great team, there’s not a day when we’ve not be in touch.  We’ve got a social life again from having done this and have all been able to support eachother. 

Being in the programme has given me back my confidence.  Being a mum of five, I’ve always cooked and used fresh ingredients but I had started to get a bit lost in the kitchen, doubting myself and burnings things quite a lot.  I had begun to rely on processed foods and that’s not how we’ve ever eaten as a family.  But now I’ve got that reassurance to get back in the kitchen because I’ve been told, ‘You can do this,’ and I’m now cooking again.  I’ve learnt that as a chef, you never leave the kitchen, so now at home I don’t leave the room and I just focus on cooking.

I think out of everybody, I gained the most confidence.  It showed in my well-being scores that we did with Dr Zoe in the programme.  My confidence, my mood, the way I feel about myself has changed so much and I’m still up there in that bubble.  At the moment, I still feel like I could achieve anything.   As long as I’ve got the support there to put things into practice, I think I could do anything really. 

It was an eye-opener on the Restaurant to see how different dementias affect people in different ways.   It gave me reassurance as there were people on the programme who were further along than me, and seeing them still living well made me think, ‘I’ll be alright, I can do this.’  Watching them overcome their struggles and difficulties made me think, ‘I’ll be fine.’ 

I wear a badge when I go out, it says, ‘Please be patient, I’ve got Alzheimer’s.’  It’s kind of a bit of a safety net for me and the amount of people who stop me and say, ‘You’ve got Alzheimer’s?  How old are you?’  When I say, ‘45,’ they say, ‘Wow!’ I quite like seeing their shock, because I know if I’ve shocked them, they’ll tell somebody else, who will tell somebody else…   

My one wish is the programme changes people’s perceptions – that not everyone’s sat at home in their 80s with dementia.  If they see me walking down the street with my bleach blond hair, fake tan and red lipstick and they can see I’ve got problems, it doesn’t mean I’m drunk, I have got something wrong with me.  So, if it just makes one person, or one doctor even, stop and think that there could be more going on here than we realise, then we will have achieved everything. 

Hopefully the platform we’ve been given through the programme to raise awareness will mean that people won’t have to fight for PIP money and policy makers might change the way things are done.  That would be amazing.  As long as it gets people talking, that’s the main thing. 

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