Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Lessons Learned From Parkinson's

I have misled you. The title to this post would be more accurate if it read, "Lessons I am Learning From Parkinson's". Despite my education and experience, I am a slow learner when the lessons involve change, at least when I am the one that needs to do the changing. Isn't it strange that we expect others to change instantly, saying, "They never learn!", while we so often forget our false starts and failures? Exampl: It’s March already. Anyone still on target with their New Year's resolutions?

Despite the disclaimer, let me share my personal experience with and tutoring by PD, that curious, and still largely mysterious, disease that carries the name of Dr. James Parkinson who, 195 years ago, was the first person to detail its debilitating and potentially devastating symptoms. Granted, there are others who have heard the voice of my stern teacher differently. PD is not a professor that marks its students uniformly or even fairly. We pupils with Parkinson’s are schooled on different schedules in different classes on different topics. But curiously, our grades are handed out not by Professor Parkinson's, but by ourselves, and to a lesser extent our peers and people we interact with in field studies. How well did we learn the lessons of PD? Well, unfortunately, like living itself, our final marks are given and our baccalaureate conferred only when life has breathed its last; PD is true lifelong learning.

The first, and perhaps most important, lesson I am learning is rather obvious; life gets shorter every day. At 53, when I was first diagnosed, my body was beginning to bring that lesson home without much assistance from Parkinson's. But I was resistant to its oft-repeated message. My mantra was the title of the then popular book, "Younger Next Year". Talk about misleading titles! Now I knew then that life as we know it, will be 100% fatal; we all expire. But what I didn't realize or want to acknowledge was that some aspects of living have a "best before" date. This is not to deny the Christian view of life after death, but to simply recognize that whatever our view of 'post-graduate housing', our current physical facilities and mental faculties may not remain firm for the duration. Even 24-hour fitness clubs can’t offer eternal youth.

While living in ignorance of the slowly diminishing dopamine in my brain, I was ‘driven’; mostly by things that matter much less now in the thinner atmosphere of PD. I lived with a definition of significance that included things such as being well known (hopefully for something positive like a brilliant victory in Court or a stunning result in a negotiation) or having the respect of my peers and clients. Now, despite still finding my fingers grasping in desperation those prize pursuits at times, I realize those so-called “glory days” are over. And that is not a bad thing. There are purposes much less egocentric and more fulfilling. They have forced my original, now threadbare, passions into a box of memories, stored in the attic for an occasional nostalgic peek.

Now, facing a never-dreamed-of future, I find myself consistently asking, “How can I live well with Parkinson’s?” It is not a pleading question, so much as a prayerful one. You see I feel compelled to live more intentionally. The well-worn paths I walked, mostly to my office, must become less travelled if I am to explore the uncharted Parkinsonian trails that await discovery. These new adventures may take more metal and wisdom than life’s earlier challenges. Certainly, the rewards for succeeding will be less apparent to others.  More like a satisfied smile than whoops and whistles and ‘high-fives all round’. Nonetheless, these PD lessons are exciting times, each day a chapter offering depth and breadth never before encountered.

1 comment:

  1. You are definitely being watched and having more influence than you did in your prior "driven" years. All over the world people are reading you, following your journey, and becoming someone to watch because of how you handle the rest of your life. God may have just given you this "thorn in the flesh" because He knew you would become the man to watch to show how to more than "handle an illness" but to LIVE with a problem and to rise above it, as Paul the disciple did, or Helen Keller, or numerous other people. When you started the blog, you probably had no idea that some day a 62 year old Texas lady would be reading your every word so that she would know how to speak before a PD group; and no telling how many different stories of readers you have. I know on my blog I have people from countries I didn't even know where they were located and had to get a map out following and reading me. I'm almost as popular in China as USA where I live. How mind blowing is that! I thank you, thank you, thank you for opening your life to the world and letting us be the fly on the wall.