Sunday, March 7, 2010

Stretch, Change and Transform: The Parkinson's Demand

As I am arched on my back over the exercise ball like some upside down turtle flailing for balance, my personal trainer, Angela, espouses the importance of stretching both before, after and between our workout sessions. I hate stretching. I have not been able to touch my toes for decades. My flexibility is inflexible. Sitting cross-legged on the floor is torturous. Exercising I can tolerate, as there is sort of a competition with myself to push beyond the prescribed timing and painful repetitions. But stretching is boring. It does not seem to be accomplishing anything, at least at the time (except perhaps my ability to dramatically groan and grimace). There is no adrenaline rush or elevation of endorphins to encourage me. Why am I doing this?

However, I have learned that in life, like in exercise, stretching is inevitably required if I am to make needed changes. Neither the body, nor the mind, naturally stretches to facilitate transformation. It typically requires a daily decision, diligence, self-discipline, and in my case due to weakness in those essentials, accountability to a third party. It is much easier to remain stagnant, stuck; guilt-ridden initiative giving way to inertia.

Of course, Parkinson's disease and the world around us are dynamic, constantly on the move. Change in both is inevitable. We either stretch to keep up with their demands, or admit defeat and fall victim to the debility and depression that follow.

This fact became obvious at the annual checkup with my neurologist, marking the 4th anniversary of my diagnosis. Despite the rather slow pace of my PD, it was inevitable that some change had occurred over the last 12 months. Even as the world around me had been speeding up, my physical ability was in the process of slowing down (with the notable exception of my right arm and leg, both of which seem to mark time with a fast polka tune heard only by them). This requires me to stretch, to change. It is as if I must be able to immediately react to my own disease-driven transformation, set up my own counter-insurgency terms. I must be more than an observer, more engaged than an embedded journalist reporting from behind the lines. I must be a contestant, even a warrior, making changes to combat the changes I experience. Better yet, anticipating the enemy and neutralizing its future effectiveness.

I struggle with this cruel reality: the more my disease changes my body, the more it demands that I stretch to meet those changes. The more it seeks to define me the more I must defy that definition.

How can I do this? Certainly, it is not easy at times. When the alarm rings, getting out of bed to exercise requires determination to defeat the lethargy and stiffness of the disease. When 30 years of professional momentum has me readily volunteering, "Sure I can do that.", it is difficult to realize I need to more often say "No". And when tremor and fatigue promote self-pity, it seems counterintuitive to stretch my social circle and engage others when I would rather surrender to the safety of home.

I am learning. I must stretch when I can. I must change what I can. I must transform as best I can. For it is my firm conviction that in doing so I stand the best chance of keeping pace with the demands of world around me, and the disease within me.

1 comment:

  1. I too hate stretching. But a fun way to do it without anyone seeing my ineptness of it: WII.
    really, the yoga one on the exercise program helped me so much, as it did my friend who has PD. We compare our scores occssionally, or we did. My married son stole my WII box, but I use to get up faithfully at 6 a.m. each morning and do the yoga and the other programs,, such as jogging in place,, skiing down a mountain and skii jumping. I was able to maintain a consistently lower weight and flexibility even with hypothyroidism. Then when he stole the box with permission I might add, I started gaining, and gaining, even using an exercise machine, until I decided to take charge of my life and start eating healthier, taking supplements (especially for the heart and brain) and playing pickleball 3 times a week. But I must say I miss the WII and my time alone with just the tv and myself to challenge to set new personal records each day.