April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month
I am 53 years old and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 23. I have made it my mission to provide Parkinson’s awareness through my 12 year old award winning blog, www.asoftvoice.com by sharing lessons and information related to this illness.
Thirty plus years with Parkinson’s has taught me a great deal about living well with this chronic condition.
Here are 10 things I want to share with you about Parkinson’s disease:
- No two people with Parkinson’s are identical. Every patient is unique and may require a personalized treatment plan.
- Often, the first symptoms of Parkinson’s can be a loss of sense of smell, constipation, or wrist or shoulder discomfort.
- Tremor, mobility issues, and facial masking are probably the symptoms that are most identified with Parkinson’s. It is believed that symptoms may begin 10 or more years before visible symptoms might be recognized.
- Some people with Parkinson’s disease may show no external symptoms but can have difficulty with memory and other cognitive issues, digestion, pain, eye problems, or depression.
- A positive perspective, a good attitude, staying flexible, and a sense of humor can help to deal with stress and anxiety.
- Embracing exercise (Rock Steady Boxing), speech therapy (SPEAK OUT!), yoga, reflexology, reiki, meditation, massage, can help to reduce anxiety and stress to calm both mind and body. Don’t stop looking for a combination of therapies that work best for you!
- Parkinson’s disease is not an old person’s disease. I have had Parkinson’s for several years prior to my diagnosis and that was over 30 years ago.
- Dyskinesia (rapid, uncontrolled movement) is not due to Parkinson’s disease itself, but it is a side-effect of the medications.
- Protein can reduce the efficacy of some Parkinson’s medications. Consult your doctor for more information.
- Find a neurologist who is a Movement Disorder Specialist (MDS). They have specialized training in Parkinson’s disease.
I’ve found that by staying active and taking a proactive approach to my Parkinson’s, I’ve been able to live well, pursue my writing career and published two books, lecture, travel extensively, and continue my passion for photography. A diagnosis of Parkinson’s has not been the end for me but given me a new purpose and a new direction for my life.
For the first 7 years of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, I didn’t see a need, nor did I have a strong desire to join a Parkinson’s disease support group. When I moved to the suburbs, my neurologist, at the time, encouraged me to see what support groups could offer. After attending meetings of a few support groups, my wife, Angela, and I envisioned what we wanted in a group. In a very short period, I went from avoiding Parkinson’s support groups to speaking at them and even starting one of my own. My wife and I ran our support group for a dozen years. I learned so much from so many amazing people. As much as I thought that I didn’t need a support group, it turned out, that I really did.
The reality is that a well-run support group offers camaraderie, information, and a wisdom that comes from so many, all in one place. A support group can show you what is working and what to avoid, doctor information and feedback, available classes that pertain to Parkinson’s, local therapists, caregiver support, Parkinson’s news, and speakers in your area. When you find a good group, it feels like another family and a place that you belong. A strong network of family and friends is crucial to your health and wellness, no matter what the illness.
Some support groups may not match your personality or may not be the kind of group that you feel comfortable with, right now. I wanted a group that focused on the sharing of information and left me more empowered than when I came in. We made a lot of friends, shared both the good times and the rocky times, and provided one-another moral support. Despite our age differences and unique situations, we all learned together and bonded together into a cohesive unit for most of the group’s longevity.
We Are All In This Together
Knowing that you aren’t alone, is so important. Something as small as telling someone that you are thinking of them or that they matter to you can save another’s life. Knowing that people are thinking about you and caring about you is so empowering. Just a simple quick text, an email, a phone call, or a good old-fashioned greeting card can make a huge impact.
Care-giving has its stressful moments. We all need a break. Taking time for ourselves is not selfish-it’s a precious necessity. Your self-care makes you a healthier more helpful contributor.
Helping Ourselves Helps Those Close To Us
Patient or caregiver, there is no shame in admitting that you need help. It takes a strong person to go outside his or her comfort zone. Tell someone close to you what you are feeling and to let them find assistance for you.
I am not an expert on mental health nor am I a doctor. This is not medical advice; it is only what I have seen for over the 30 plus years of having Parkinson’s disease. I have observed friends struggle, who may have benefited from this kind of help. If you see a friend in need, reach out and offer that help. You may be saving a life.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255 or 988 in the USA. Go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_suicide_crisis_lines for an international list of hotlines.
I have hobbies: I write, I read, I travel, I photograph, I do Reiki, and I collect shark’s teeth. Shark’s teeth are elegant, silky, shiny and smooth. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, textures, and tones. Just like people with Parkinson’s disease, all the teeth are totally unique and full of character. The teeth are technically a waste product of discarded chompers that are fossilized over long periods of time. Some are black, brown, gray, speckled, multi-toned, sharp, dull, serrated, or pointed.
I can’t explain the connection that I have to these tiny but beautiful pieces of art. Nature and time have created a cornucopia of remarkable masterpieces. Some pieces are almost gem-like, worthy of display and adornment. Often, their beauty is overlooked, underappreciated, and cast aside because beachcombers fail to recognize what is right in front of them. They fail to identify the magnificence and uniqueness of the diversity of each and every piece. The teeth are results of wear and tear from years of natural forces, while being tumbled through swirling water and abrasive sand. The varieties of sharks combined with the range of conditions affecting the teeth, create a product that is easily underappreciated and often overlooked.
Diversity, it is to be respected and upheld, for without diversity, the world would be boring and tasteless. The splash of colors and striations throughout some of the teeth are due to minerals and variations from the water’s varying pH level. These imperfections in the teeth, add beauty and character, plus they make each tooth memorable and one of a kind.
It takes a fresh perspective to look at something so common, with new eyes. We must look deep and see what is there and not be influenced by what others may want us to see. Some will try to influence what we see. Most of us know what is right and what is wrong. Appreciating these teeth took realization and a level of understanding. I see their beauty even if some do not.
Ben Franklin is quoted to having said:
“Do not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight”.
This quote speaks to me when discussing Parkinson’s disease or any illness. Living our best life now, prepares us for a better life in the future. For many of us who try to live in the moment but sometimes slip into predicting the future, we create unnecessary worry, fear, and anxiety. Procrastination for taking care of ourselves now, only delays our future wellness.
There are actions that we can take to prepare for our future physical health, financial health, mental health, and spiritual health. Some future planning can be very helpful in reducing future anxiety.
Our creative and active imaginations can run away with innumerable variations of what our future self will look like. Put a hold on that thinking and focus on the now. Our futures are variable, undetermined, and largely up to the decisions that we make, right now. Fate, destiny, karma, and the universe are most likely going to intervene as well, so let the winds blow and hope for the best, but don’t fret over the outcome, especially if it hasn’t happened, yet.
The quote also refers to the ‘sunlight’, something we all need but many of us with Parkinson’s are susceptible to skin problems. Due to the way our medications may impact our skin to sunlight, it is so important to apply sun protection to our skin, avoid direct sun exposure, monitor your skin, moles, and marks for any changes that might be a red flag to rush to your Dermatologist.
Franklin was focusing on staying positive and keeping a positive attitude for the future, in his quote. This is a message for us all to remember when we look to the future. The unknown isn’t to be feared but should be a fresh opportunity. The future may be different than we expect it to be, but it doesn’t have to be negative just because it is out of our control.
Trust, faith, hope, and diligence are four key components to seeing your way through any health challenge. Personally, they have made my 30 years with Parkinson’s disease more than just sustainable. Living well with Parkinson’s disease takes a variety of skills that must be honed and used. Before I get to trust, let me express the essential weight that faith and hope play when facing illness.
Without faith and hope our internal drive shuts down and leaves us vulnerable to only worsen our condition. We all need to visualize a path for our future, whether it is a leap or a small step. Your path is yours alone and only you can determine the scope of your vision.
When I speak of trust, I mean the belief in oneself as well as believing in others. Trusting that if we follow our gut, listen to our inner voice, and do what we know in our head/heart is a big part of making a good decision. There is much more, though. When it comes to making an informed decision about your medical condition, it is best if you’ve done the research as well. You may want to consult those around you for their opinion.
Trusting your doctor’s decisions, his or her pharmaceutical suggestions, surgical outlook, or any other decision will require your educated consent. You have the free will to reject or accept your doctor’s suggestions. Trust can only go so far when questioning your doctor. You must weigh the pros and cons of the proposed medicines and possible procedures. Providing cogent reasons and facts for why you are adamant about going against a doctor’s wishes needs to be thought out and be thoroughly researched. Depending upon the severity of the recommendation, a second or third opinion may be needed, despite the trust.
Diligence means making use of your time and taking care of yourself. There are things that you can do for yourself that even your doctor can’t. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and keeping a schedule take discipline but can be very helpful when structuring your day. If you take medicines every day, structure is crucial to stay on time when administering medicines.
There was a time when we didn’t question our doctor’s advice, but with greater access to information and a better understanding of therapies, nutrition, exercise, diet, meditation, reiki and more, there is real opportunity to work with your doctor. As a constant seeker of information about improving your condition, you become a resource for your doctor and are empowered with knowledge that may unveil new options for your future.