Saturday, February 5, 2011

Distraction, Destruction and Distress: Growing With Parkinson's Disease

Seven…that is the number of times we have expanded our offices since July 1998. And here we are renovating again. Although necessary to accommodate growth, just the thought of getting bigger shifts my Parkinson's disease tremor into overdrive. Taking on additional leased premises (with the increase in overhead). Putting up with the noise, inconvenience and uncertainty of construction. Being sidetracked by priorities other than the work currently toppling from my in-tray. They all leave me wondering about the wisdom and expense (both direct and indirect) of expansion.

Pondering the process of our office renovations, I saw parallels with my Parkinson's. Each involves distraction, destruction and distress. With proper perspective, both can facilitate growth.

Our law firm has always taken a conservative view of potential expansion. Adding team members to our carefully cultivated culture has been approached with some angst. The influence of one person who fails to understand our mission and core values can be more disruptive than a fire in the file room. However, adding people to our common endeavor becomes inevitable if we are to continue being successful in serving the expanding needs of clients who place their trust in us. From a humble beginning of one lawyer and one assistant in July 1998 to our current complement of at least 20 team members has meant a steady string of renovations and additions. Over the last several months the reality of our need for additional space has become acute again.

The first obvious consequence of engaging in renovation is the distraction it brings to everyone's focus on the work at hand. It takes time to plan expansion. Drawings, budgeting, scheduling and relocating all require hundreds of decisions, each of which require care and attention to detail and, typically, need to be made immediately. Since PD entered my life it has been a sometimes all-consuming distraction. The shaking, stiffness, fatigue, insomnia each dictate constant awareness of the disease. Add to that the need for medication, neurologist appointments, physiotherapy, and a nap from time to time, and you have more than a small disruption of daily routine. In a word, Parkinson’s disease is definitely disruptive.

Another result of engaging in expansion of the office space is the need for destruction of perfectly functional office improvements. Renovation requires removal of fixtures, demolishing walls and tearing up carpets. These are all necessary to permit the reconstruction of improved premises. Parkinson's results from the destruction of dopamine, and the consequential loss of functionality. At times the disease strikes with sledgehammer effect, damaging or destroying expectations, aspirations and opportunities.

Perhaps one of the most disconcerting aspects of expanding our offices has been the stress that we all experience. The "normal" office configuration is upset. Process and people are rearranged. Uncertainty replaces the usual, every day regime. Change, even when it means overall improvement, inevitably creates some distress and insecurity. Will it work out as expected? How will all this affect me? Similarly, those of us who face the stark reality of Parkinson's are confronted by a constant "new normal". Continual degenerative condition can easily create a disturbing sense of distress. What will the future hold? How fast will the disease progress? How will this all affect me?

Despite these difficulties, the resulting growth can be an exciting process. But whether it is the expansion of physical or other less tangible horizons, growing involves challenge and stretching. Even before being diagnosed, I recognized the wisdom of what James Freeman Clarke said in the early 1800s, "We are either progressing or retrograding all the while. There is no such thing as remaining stationary in this life". Little did I know that this “progress” would play out in my life in the challenging way it has.

Comfort leads to complacency. “Adversity precedes growth” [paraplegic, Rosemarie Rosetti]. We need to grow. Refusal to “renovate” means a rejection of growth. The only alternative to expansion is resignation to stagnation, a form of slow dying. I am totally convinced that Parkinson's disease provides opportunities for growth. It presents opportunities that would not otherwise be available.

…be ready at any moment to give up what you are for what you might become.
W. E. B. Du Bois (black civil rights activist)

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