Sunday, January 22, 2012

Six Benefits of Six Years of Parkinson's Disease

"It's my anniversary. Six years ago today I was diagnosed", I found myself saying to a friend as we discussed our common ailment, Parkinson's disease. He reacted with a mixed question/exclamation, "You keep track!?" What he really meant to ask was, "Why do you?" That unasked question and its potential answers hung in my mind for hours like cigar smoke in a room with no ventilation. To me the anniversary was unavoidable. January 19, 2006, was a day in which my life changed irreversibly, irreparably and irrepressibly. A memorial had been built that day to which I return annually. Difficult though this pilgrimage has been, I try to recall what it felt like to hear news that began to permanently alter my priorities. The truth is I was numb, and the anesthetic effect of the neurologist's words took years to wear off. It may not have yet.
However, that day was not, as it may have felt, the beginning of the end. Yes, it began the slow strangulation of some dreams and the suffocation of naïve assumptions I had made about living. But that needed to happen if I was to maintain an attitude of adventure in the days that lay ahead. As surely as birth of spring follows the death of winter it remains true, "to everything there is a season". The old must make way for the new. Living began to school me, teaching me lessons I had never anticipated learning. It was like that treasure hunt game we played as kids where our parents hid a series of clues, each one leading to another clue until finally we reached the "treasure". And so it has proven true; the best teachers are the toughest.

Like a poor student who has difficulty paying attention, I often fail to learn my lessons the first time through. But here are a few of the benefits that six years of Parkinson's disease has tried to bestow on me.

1.      Impatience with myself and others is really a form of arrogance, a failure to acknowledge that there may be a good reason why someone else is going slower than me. I know how fumbling with keys or coins, dressing, walking and eating more slowly, all seem to aggravate those in the "fast lane", attracting a scowl or stare that effectively communicates, "Get out of my way!"

2.      Discomfort with the disabled, deceased or simply different is born out of fear. Uniformity has no value when it comes to people. Each one of us is unique. The truth is that we can only be accepted by others by accepting the diversity of others.

3.      True friendship flourishes in the mutual sharing of weakness, vulnerability and inadequacy. Hiding the symptoms of our diseases only drives others to do likewise, leading to loneliness. We need each other. Each relationship requires risk to test its strength for the storms that lay ahead.

4.      Pain is neither part of a sadistic plan, nor is it intended to punish. Pain has a purpose. It may be darkness without which the light cannot be seen, a reminder of what is important. Has anything worthwhile been gained except through hardship and sacrifice? The greater the goal, the greater the cost.

5.      Life is short. We all seem to act as if that final day will not come. There is no need to sprint. Haste is just waste. And there is no reason to dawdle. Pace yourself for the race. You will need the energy at the end.

6.      Invest time, the ultimate nonrenewable resource, wisely. Make each day count. Search out your calling and pursue it passionately and relentlessly. We each have something to contribute.

Whatever your anniversary, be it one of pain or pleasure, recognize it. Use it to build hope and purpose.


  1. Bob.....those are very well worded benefits. could not agree with them more.

  2. Bob,

    I could not agree more. I am fast approaching my second anniversary and realized that there are indeed some benefits bestowed upon those of us in the PD community.

  3. Hi Bob,
    Thanks for your inspirational words; well said, as always. I actually forgot my diagnosis anniversary last year, but not this year. Other people often don't understand why this date is at all important. They just want you to tough it out and act "normal". To me, though, it is a milepost of triumph; another year that PD couldn't bring me down. I'm still working, still playing, still dancing, still having fun. So there.
    So-- Happy Anniversary, Bob! Maybe someday, we'll all have a new anniversary to celebrate: the Day of the Cure.