Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Battle of Balance

When I was young boy, a half century ago now, I would stand at the fulcrum of the teeter-totter trying to achieve that perfect perpendicular pose. First one end and then the other would dip as I shifted my weight back and forth to counterbalance. Sometimes I would slip and one seesaw seat with its metal T-bar handle would pound the ground. This would add to the hole that had been inadvertently dug by children who had clung to that end as it dropped from its apex with the bone-jarring crash that usually resulted from the occupant of the opposite end inconveniently, or maliciously, deserting his or her seat. Lessons learned: (1)the law of gravity can produce dramatic and, in some cases, tear-producing consequences; and (2) those on whom we count to provide balance sometimes vacate their designated roles. Both lessons have life-long impact. But that is not what I remembered best.

I could never get the green painted two-by-twelve to stay perfectly still. Sometimes the board would temporarily allow me to stand, not breathing, arms crossed and motionless. But mostly I was constantly having to shift my weight to correct for the wind, a mistimed breath, the unhelpful push of a playground acquaintance or just my own inner lack of equilibrium. Despite my best intentions and disciplined concentration (if I was capable of that then), perfect balance was unachievable for more than a very short time.

Such is life. And more so it seems for those with Parkinson's.

Our daily existence is often jammed with conflicting priorities all clamouring for more. Work, family, friends, community, church, sports and leisurely past times compete, often aggressively, for our time, energy and money. With PD, the balancing of these demands/options can reach epic proportions.


Well, first there is the restless sleep, which is rarely enjoyed uninterrupted. So a PD person often starts the day tired. Then there is getting up earlier so that you have the necessary time to actually get moving. While I can jump out of bed relatively effortlessly, other PD people need their medications to take effect before they can walk. And speaking about meds, additional time to sort and swallow them without losing them down the drain due to your fumbling fingers can be a frustration. It takes me about 15 minutes more to get ready in the morning just due to "inefficiencies" in morning ablutions. All round, those of us with PD do life slower, which makes the goal of 'balancing life's priorities' (to quote the final entry of our firm's Core Values) more difficult.

But I am learning some things about balance. Like on a teeter totter, balance is not a static state, it is a dynamic one. It requires constant readjustment, sometimes making minor corrections, sometimes major. Just when you think you have it something comes along and sends 'one end' crashing into that 'hole'. It is the relentless search for the balance that actually allows us to achieve it, or nearly. For those of us facing the ever-changing symptoms of PD, we must modify our idea of balance and recognise the need to recalibrate our expectations. Patience and a willingness to go slower in the ever faster paced world we call home, that is what I am trying to learn.

So I say, give yourself a break if you can't stand stationary for long at the midpoint of the seesaw. No one else can either.

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