Standing and staring into the bathroom mirror in the early morning does not count as one of my favorite moments in the day. First, even without my glasses, I am instantly aware again that the unshaven person with tousled gray hair that I see reflected has aged considerably since he was 18 (the age that I feel on the inside!). Second, since I haven’t taken any of my pills the stiff movements and uncontrolled shaking remind me of the Parkinson’s disease prison that I occupy. But thirdly, I quickly start thinking about the battles I will face in the day ahead. Fighting bone-deep fatigue, trying to ignore the aching pain that develops in my shoulders and arms, and managing to eat with a fork despite its tendency to catapult its contents onto the table, floor and the person seated next to me; they are all challenges I will have to deal with because of PD.
But some days are worse than others. Now that I am the president of a small university (Trinity Western University), I am often required to wear a suit and tie in order to appropriately play host to special guests of various cultures. Of course, this necessitates that I wear a dress shirt, and my favorite dress shirts that I wear are the Nordstrom’s “boat” shirts. Comfortable, crisp and durable, there’s just one problem, THE BUTTON. Actually, there are five buttons with which I wrestle each time I put on a dress shirt. There are the cuff and sleeve buttons, four in total. However, usually after 6 to 8 attempts, I can squeeze the little plastic spheres into their too small stiff-cotton slots where they will stay until the shirt is laundered and returned to my closet to wait its turn to be worn.
However, one button, strongly stitched on the edge of my collar next to my throat just under my beard-hidden double chin, remains to be conquered. I pinch one half of the button with my right forefinger and thumb as if to squeeze it flatter. At the same time, while trying to bridge the chasm that separates my collar band, I pull with my left thumb and forefinger to "stabilize" the buttonhole that awaits insertion by the approaching button.
Now all this sounds quite typical and easily accomplished, but not so with Parkinson’s. For someone with PD, attempting to place the mini discs through the appropriate reinforced slits can be like trying to thread a needle while standing up in a storm-tossed dinghy. Each desperate try results in deeper frustration, and increased shaking, often ending in exhaustion even before the day has started.
There is some things about the way I fight that battle with the button that are important. For starters, the time-consuming process teaches me patience, demanding that I go slower than I would like. Attempting to rush the task is certain to lead to failure. Further, the simple war I wage with the button any given morning trains my spirit to be determined, refusing to give up too easily when it seems hopeless. It may seem to the outsider that this is just being stubborn. Be that as it may, I believe we need to be stubborn in our fight against PD. But there is one more lesson I have learned from the button: the humility to know when I need help. It is a balancing act: asking for assistance too readily on one side and exercising prideful insistence on the other. It takes wisdom to know when to enlist your ally to win the battle of the button.
I have the battle of the button. What is your battle?