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How losing my dad lead me to brain health

Our most undervalued organ is the one we need the most

Daphne Tideman
Daphne Tideman
Head of Growth
June 30, 2021
8 min read

It might be considered unusual to be obsessed with my brain and longevity at 27 years old but I am. I also believe that once you understand why you will be too.

The moment it all changed

Everything shifted when my dad suddenly got sick. At just 61 years old his heart started failing. It was terrifying to see my dad shift from going to the gym three times a week to his heart only being able to operate at 18%. Within a few weeks he couldn’t even walk the length of the hospital corridor. 

Then, he seemed to be getting better. But, the doctors warned us, a heart doesn’t recover from failing. He wouldn’t be able to walk more than 200 meters by himself but he would live on. 

Live? My dad loved the gym, biking, walking, and travel… you call that living?

Looking back, if only that had happened. What followed was far worse; he started to lose his mind.

The reduced performance of his heart meant his brain couldn’t get the oxygen it needed to function correctly. Every day my dad slipped a bit further away from the clever and sweet dad I knew to a scared and confused stranger. 

He couldn’t be alone anymore so his girlfriend, my sisters and I took turns to sleep every night in the hospital. He would wake up in the middle of the night and say, “We’ve got to go, I need to run a hotel.” Even though he had retired years ago. I did my best to calm him down and spent nights unable to sleep.

It was then that I truly realised. It’s far worse to lose your mind than your physical health. When he passed I felt heart-wrenching grief but also a strange relief that he was no longer suffering. That his mind and body were at rest even if it was at least twenty years too soon. 

Celebrating his last birthday together

Your mind is yours

My dad always valued my mind. He told me how smart I was and how far I would go. I think he wanted me to know I had something no one could take away from me: my brains. 

I moved around a lot as a kid and was a bit of a nerd: glasses, braces, baggy clothes. I didn’t always fit in and got bullied a fair amount.

“Fill your mind with knowledge - it’s the only kind of power no one can take away from you.” - Min Jin Lee

But, I did have my brains; I did well at school and could constantly be found in the library with my head in a book. I even joined maths competitions, yup, mega nerd. It didn’t solve my loneliness, but it gave me enough self-belief to pull me through the hard times.

By the time I went to university and got my first job; my brains became even more key. How well I could focus and learn impacted my grades and my career success. 

Yet, it often felt like I could do it but that there was something mentally blocking me. 

As I gained more and more responsibility at work, I entered a new realm of reading: about high performance. I focused on the physical aspects: working out, getting enough sleep, having way fewer heavy drinking nights than in college. 

All the while still not realising that my mind was the one thing I should really be taking care of. 

Trying to process it all

The year that followed my dad’s passing was a blur as I tried to process my grief. Fear started to creep up and consume me.

I began to relive losing my grandma to Corsica (a form of dementia) when I was ten. As she  progressed, and no longer knew who I was, my dad suggested I didn’t join the visits. But I couldn’t leave him. I sat on the grass outside braiding daisy chains while he visited her. But it wasn’t like she knew him either by that point. 

I realised even then, that her needing a wheelchair to get around was the least of her problems. 

I couldn’t go the same way. 

I started therapy when I was 26 to try and process my grief. Instead, I found out that I suffered from ADHD, which was that mental block I never knew how to explain. It was why I struggled to focus, needed excessive amounts of exercise to feel calm, constantly fidgeted and acted without thinking.

The restlessness of my ADHD made the constant worry about losing my mind as I got older more and more intense.

I signed a living testament that would allow my partner and sister to pull the plug should my standards of living be too low. It gave them the right to decide if I couldn’t so that they wouldn’t have to go through the same thing I had. Twice already.

But it wasn’t enough; I still had the fear. What else could I do to protect myself? How could I really take care of my mind, my most important asset?

I started working out more, meditating, trying to eat healthier. 

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Stumbling upon brain health

When I discovered Heights and brain health, it all just clicked. Before, I focused on habits for overall well-being; and while many of those habits benefitted my brain, not all of them did. 

Yes, it was great to eat healthier, but I still missed out on some of the essential nutrients my brain needed. Yes, it was great to meditate, but my daily life was far worse for my brain.

I was excited to join the team and help start spreading the word of brain health, even though I was only at the start of my journey. I became obsessed with learning more and devoured books on the topic and started to finally give my brain the love and attention it needed.

I learned how our brains shrink with age, starting in our 30s and speeding up in our 60s. I found out that we can reduce that by intentionally improving our neuroplasticity and feeding our brain what it needs. I learned the 10 key pillars of braincare and tried to include each one of them in my day-to-day life. 

Here is what changed:

  1. I’ve never eaten seafood, and didn't understand why it was a problem until I found out that due to my primarily plant-based diet meant that I wasn't getting key nutrients my brain needed like omega 3, iodine, or vitamin B12. So, I started taking Heights Smart Supplement. 

  2. I started drinking at least two litres of water a day as even 1% dehydration can impact our focus and attention.

  3. I focused on reducing my stress through regular yin yoga sessions and walking as well as journalling. 

  4. I started eating more brain-healthy foods: berries, extra virgin olive oil, leafy greens, beans and pulses, dark-hued foods, seeds and nuts. 

  5. I made sure I was learning a broader range of skills outside of work and doing brain training to keep improving my brain’s neuroplasticity.

It is easier to obsess about our bodies because we can see the results more quickly. We see ourselves losing weight, gaining muscle and feeling fitter. With the brain, it is much more complex. We don’t know if it is declining; we still have good and bad days. 

Take care of your brain, and it will do the rest

The funny thing is caring for your brain helps everything too. I noticed improvements in my skin, my hair, and my fitness level. My job depends on me being sharp and bringing my A-game. Now, I know that the best way to do that is by caring for my brain.

As the world constantly develops and evolves, we are no longer challenged by physical challenges but by mental ones. 

We need to know more, be ‘on’ for longer and strive to achieve more. 

We put so much pressure on our brain to perform that it only seems fair to give it the love and attention it deserves to thrive. 

I think of my dad every day, I grieve for him and the loss of his amazing mind. That I can no longer talk to him, hear his laugh and see him. Sometimes thoughts cross my mind that it was way too soon, but I know the truth. The minute his heart hit that low point, which made him lose his mind, the thing that made him my dad, it was time. 

I’m no longer scared about being physically less able or attractive as I age. I’ll do my best to maintain that and do all I can to keep that going. But know that now it’s my brain that comes first.

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