Category Archives: A Soft Voice book

Trying to Process Shock, Loss, and Grief

I didn’t see it coming and the shock that I feel is one full of confusion and sadness. Saturday night, our 11-year-old Chocolate Labrador, Lily, jumped off the couch for her late walk, but her eyes were unclear, her head was unsteady, and her breathing seemed shallow. We think she may have experienced a seizure. When your chronically hungry lab turns down an offering of a treat or a hunk of cheese, your warning sign has been activated. Lily was a canine vacuum, so when she turned down anything close to being edible, there is an emergency pending.

Thinking that you are flexible and easy-going can be dramatically different until, you are challenged.  Life has a way of sneaking in unexpected setbacks that knock your feet out from under you.  We recently experienced the challenge after picking up the flu, following almost a month-long trek through the southeast. This strain of the flu knocked us on our butts, hard. It lasted far longer than we had expected. Our loyal lab, Lily, helped us mend and kept us company, the whole time. She was our nurse and companion through the coughing fits. She wanted to make everything okay. She was selfless!

Angela and I were in crisis mode. We rushed Lily to the 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic. It was early on Sunday morning. Tired and scared is a bad combination, especially when you are worried about the fate of someone you love.

Lily was an exceptional dog, with great intelligence, and a stubbornness for chewing sticks and sometimes eating them. We just assumed that a stick had lodged somewhere, causing her discomfort or a blockage of some kind. Other than this new development, Lily had shown excellent health and vigor for a dog of her age. She looked spry and active and never missed a meal or a treat.

Motivation

 

Lily was a sensitive and caring dog. At first encounter when you met Lily you would see her lip raise and her teeth would come out—some saw a snarl, but if you knew her and her nature, you saw her smile. She greeted everyone with her welcoming smile. Her smile brought so much joy to so many, especially us.

It was close to midnight on Sunday morning at the emergency vet, when Lily tried to smile at her doctor but was only able to make a partial lip raise. She really tried. Her tail wagged and she searched for a greeting, but the energy just wasn’t there.

Our emergency vet was a young man in his early thirties. He was a very gentle and accommodating doctor who bonded immediately with the ailing Lily and her anxious parents. We explained our situation to the doctor. He told us he would scan Lily to check her insides for any possible cause for her discomfort.

Ten minutes after he had left the room, he returned with devastating news that she was bleeding in her heart due to a cancerous tumor. Her options were not fair to her and we were left with no choice but to give her a peaceful sendoff. We would not be taking her home again. It happened so fast and at around 1:00 AM in the morning.

 Trying to comprehend the situation and the sheer rapid pace of information and decisions that were being flung our way took all our concentration and strength. Our energy was drained, and our emotions were overwhelmed. We were not prepared for what the universe was doing to Lily and us and the speed with which it was happening. Lily was gone by 4:15 AM. All that I can say is it was a peaceful death. She didn’t suffer.

Dealing with the death of those who are close to us doesn’t get any easier with age. We are still in shock. The pain may dissipate over time, but it will never go away entirely. There are at least half a dozen places in the world that I don’t want to go– one of the top places is the emergency vet in the very early morning /late night hours, or at all.

We are so grateful for the emergency vets’ efficiency, compassion, patience, and kindness. He made a very tough situation much easier when it could have been even more difficult. As hard as losing Lily has been, we see a positive in the wonderful care that she received and the tenderness that we all were shown. There was no way to prepare for this shocking experience but together we will support each other to get through this difficult time.

We miss her so much!

The Missing Month–Where Have I Been?

If you are wondering where I have been or why ASoftVoice.com has had a month of dormancy, I can explain. I am finally capable of telling you just where I have been and the mystery, behind it. The mystery is not nearly as thrilling as this build-up, but it’s fun to write something different for a change. Writing a mystery has some appeal but this is neither the time nor place. I am happy to report that my tale is one of travel. Not too salacious, not too violent, but it does explain my absence.

I am back, after taking almost a month-long adventure-road trip to Key West and back to Northern Virginia. For about 3 weeks, Angela, Lily, the Chocolate Lab, and I explored the Southeast coast and sucked up the warm breezes, compelling sunsets, and miles of open road. Ripe with photo opportunities, my cameras were consistently clicking. Above is a sample and collage of just a few of the pictures that will be in my new gallery, on the website.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, we picked up a souvenir, called Flu-don’t pick it up. It is very unfriendly and may cause you to stop off at the Emergency Room on a Saturday morning. I did. A bad cough, a fever of 103.7, and body aches made for a hard-hitting attack. Slowly, I am on my way back and am feeling human, again.

The trip was great! Getting ill has been a setback, but I’m making my way back! Please subscribe, so you never miss the latest post.

Getting What You Need-Support

 

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.

 

Saying It Gracefully Through Poetry—Robin Morgan’s TED Talk

Eloquent and Poignant Descriptions

Robin Morgan’s TED talk in 2015 is an eloquent expression of her poetic epiphanies from years with Parkinson’s disease. Her gentle cadence and masterful verbiage put her finger on many of the concerns, frustrations, and unknowns in dealing with a most mysterious illness.

Poetry has always puzzled me. I read it—I write it, but rarely for public consumption. Ms. Morgan’s poetic prowess builds upon 4 of her poems that walk the listener, or this case, the viewer into what Parkinson’s disease is, on a very personal level.

A Better Understanding of Parkinson’s Disease

I found it to be fortuitous and coincidental that Ms. Morgan expresses the very same attitude towards the need of expression that I profess. My blog post from yesterday speaks of urgency for communication for a series of obvious reasons when it comes to an unpredictable neurological disorder such as Parkinson’s disease.

Sharing More-Hearing More

Not everyone with Parkinson’s is as comfortable and as candid as Ms. Morgan is in expressing themselves. Exposure from the growing, blogs, books, and videos, are opening the eyes of both those familiar and unfamiliar with revealing insights. Education and demystifying the layers of Parkinson’s disease can only lead to better understanding, communication, and therapies.

It’s National Family Caregivers Month-Here are some thoughts!

CarePartner/Caregiver Appreciation

Those of us living with Parkinson’s disease and have a caregiver or care partner to assist us, may overlook or take our helpers for granted. Take the time to show your love and gratitude for all that your caregivers do for you. Show your support and make them aware of your appreciation and the changes that they make in your life. This is a thank you to all those selfless people who make life easier for those who need assistance.

 

Here are some tips for you and your carepartner/caregiver:

  • Caring-Taking care of another can be a rewarding and spiritual adventure that can bring our relationships closer. In any relationship, there are caregiving challenges that will require patience, understanding, compassion, empathy, and possibly, even more patience.
  • Stay Vigilant-You, the caregiver, are the cheerleader, coach, and trainer, all in one, for a team that may or may not show up. It is your responsibility, as a caring helper to be observant and to ensure that you not over tax yourself. You must see that you take respites and time for self-refreshment.
  • Appreciation-My wife, Angela, is the most caring, most selfless, most generous, and most thoughtful person that I have ever met. Acknowledge and do your best in thanking those making a difference in your life. It’s so vital that those caring for us know that they are valued.
  • Limits-If carepartners fail to monitor and maintain their own health, it is vital that those who care about them step up and say something.
  • Watch for Burnout-Continuously caring for another takes a toll on body, mind, and spirit. If a caregiver overextends themselves, they are likely to face health, sleep, and stress related illnesses.
  • Self-Care-Caretaking for yourself, even for a small part of your day can be calming, centering and help to keep you healthy. Keeping your identity and getting time for yourself is a health must for you and those around you. Just a few minutes a day can rejuvenate the entire body.
  • Taking Your Time-Pay close attention to any changes in how you interact and communicate. If you find yourself on edge, quick to react, and overly sensitive or emotional, take a few moments to scan yourself and the situation. Just finding a quiet spot like an office nook to try some deep relaxing breathing may quiet things down.
  • Knowing your Limits-This requires knowing one’s self. Monitoring your condition is as important as the patient’s status. As a team, if the caregiver can function well, the patient sees those benefits as well. Taking care of yourself is the best gift that you can give to those that you love.

It’s hard to take care of others well, if you aren’t well. Take care of yourself and thank you!

World Parkinson Congress (WPC) 2019 in Kyoto!

WPC Kyoto 2019

I have had the good fortune to attend 3 World Parkinson Congresses: DC, Montreal, Portland. The 5th Congress has been taking place in Kyoto, Japan #WPC2019. I have been listening to their official podcasts and highly recommend the first three days of podcasts: They are quite well done! The @WorldPDCongress brings the world of people together. This Congress brings together 55 different countries and 3000 plus attendees. I had the honor to be an official blogger for the 2016 Portland event. It is an amazing congregation of people with Parkinson’s, neurologists, researchers, care partners, sponsors, exhibitors, and demonstrations of what people around the world are doing to help themselves. For 4 full days, there are events presentations, panels, and discussions to inform, educate, and inspire. This podcast is hosted by Larry Gifford @ParkinsonsPod

Please take the time to listen to all the podcasts! This link starts with WPC Day 1 and the rest of the recordings will follow in succession.

The Mysterious Future

 

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.

An Interview with journalist John Williams on his Parkinson’s journey and the common term that he created.

The following are 5 questions for writer/journalist, John Williams, who I met recently, at a local Parkinson’s disease (PD) event, here in Fairfax, VA. We talked about how important it is to remain active and not to spend too much time on the couch! Learn about John’s well-known creation and his amazing career as a journalist.

Question 1: You have been a journalist for many years and are one of the foremost experts on disability. You are known for coining the term “assistive technology”. How and when did you come up with this iconic term?

In 1982 I was writing a story for the Washington Post on a blind business man using a talking terminal. I was trying to find a word to describe what the technology to help the blind man that would be immediately understood by the reader. I grabbed a pencil and tablet and started writing phrases. I don’t remember the phrases that I wrote down. After 90 minutes, the words assist technology were the last words I wrote. However, I did not like the term assist technology.  I wrote assistance technology and service technology. I did not like it. Then I came up with the phrase assistive technology. I liked the way assistive technology sounded. I used the term assistance technology in the article. The editor accepted it. So I used it again and again and again in articles.

The word assistive was not in any English language dictionary at that time. It is now.

Question 2: When did you realize how important your creation of the term “assistive technology” was, and that it was catching on?

In 1985, I started being invited to conferences dealing with technology for disabled people. The words “assistive technology” kept appearing in the conference titles. And I was introduced at conferences as the creator of the phrase “assistive technology.”  I did a lot of free-lancing in the 1980’s.  I wrote for newspapers, magazines, newsletters and assisted TV producers from Japan, Brazil, Canada, New York and Washington, DC and did documentaries on disability issues.

My regret is I have been told many times by lawyers that if I had copyrighted or trade marked “assistive technology” I would be a rich man.

Questions 3: Your long and impressive history in journalism has introduced you to a laundry list of American presidents, celebrities, politicians, and prominent people in the media. Can you share some insights about any of the behind -the-scene interviews that relate to your Parkinson’s disease? I know you talk about how you have fought stuttering for most of your life. Were those who you interviewed, patient and understanding when you interviewed them?

I never had a negative experience with any of the well-known people I have interviewed. I stuttered less when interviewing politicians, CEOs, scientists, writers, actors and other well-known people.

I had two negative instances regarding my stuttering in which I won awards for stories. In 1972, I was working for a company in Pennsylvania that was moving into the environmental area. The company had an office in Rockville, MD.  The article dealt with waste disposal in the North Sea. The article was published in January 1973. My boss received a letter from the corporate headquarters in Philadelphia, PA. The letter stated that I had won a journalism award for my article on waste disposal in the North Sea. The letter listed the names of the other winners. The letter said that I was not to go to the awards ceremony, and I should not be told I won the award. I should be on travel on the award night.

I learned from a colleague about the award. When I confronted my boss about the award and not being sent to accept it, he said, “Corporate knows there will be thousands of people at the ceremony and a lot of international press. The award winners will have to speak. Corporate office wants to avoid the embarrassment of you stuttering in accepting the award and the embarrassment of people knowing that we hired people who stutter.”

I was told that if I went to the ceremony on my own, I should not come to work the next day.

Six weeks later I walked into my bosses’ office and quit.

A similar situation occurred when I wrote for an international magazine. I won an award from the California Governor’s Committee for employment of disabled persons. My boss told me I won the award, and the company would send me to California to accept the award. The night before I was to leave to collect my award, my boss told me that my trip was cancelled. Why? Because the bosses  were afraid I would  stutter on camera or while being interviewed. The company would be embarrassed.

I could not believe what I had just heard. I had been with the company for 3 years, and I had interviewed Senators, congressman, Microsoft’s CEO Steve Balmer, and other well-known people.

I did not go to the ceremony. My award was mailed to me.

Before I interview a well-known person, I make sure I know the subject area well. Sitting before a mirror I make believe I am interviewing the celebrity. I memorize my questions, and I keep my questions short. I listen. When I can I use a portable, digital voice recorder and take notes. I keep eye-to-eye contact with the person I am interviewing.

In addition I have a Sony handheld recorder. I use the Sony to tape my questions and compare my current interview past interviews. I listen to my recordings to hear my stuttering.

Question 4: Technology and assistive technology (AT) has greatly improved and is more accessible to the masses than ever before. You have been active in making this a reality. What have you seen over time and what do feel is left to do for those needing help with their conditions?

A lot has to happen.  Manufacturers of AT products must improve their marketing programs. They need to advertise their products on TV, on the Internet and in publications. Local, state and federal governments must put more money and resources into assuring that schools have the AT products from pre-school through college

The Assistive Technology Industry Association has to broaden its outreach in schools and businesses.

The press must be educated on AT products.

More people with disabilities must get involved in their communities as leaders, politicians.

More corporate giants must work with AT manufacturers to develop better and less expensive products.  Microsoft, IBM, Verizon, AT&T, Apple and Amazon are doing this.

There should be a month titled Assistive Technology month and PSA run showing the contributions of people with disabilities to the world.

A history course should be developed for schools on the contributions of people with disabilities throughout history.

Question 5: You have written for Business Week and several well known publications. What was your experience like as you worked with colleagues and you slowly saw your Parkinson’s disease (PD) advance? Were they understanding, cruel, at ease, or none of these? Did the publications that you wrote for make it easy for you or did you face challenges from your employers? Sadly, there are still challenges with employers and those dealing with conditions. Do you have any advice for them?

When I worked for Business Week, I did not have Parkinson’s disease. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 8 years ago. Since I was told I have PD, six publications that I wrote for regularly have dropped me as a contributing writer. Editors stopped calling me to write stories as a free-lance writer. Editors stopped sending me to assistive technology conferences.

In 2016, I co-wrote a documentary script with Carol Bash, an independent producer-director for Home Box Office and PBS.  The script was a history of the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. At the time we wrote the script, my PD was out of control. I was having a tough time daily. Over six months I had three separate meetings with possible investors in the project. Because I could not guarantee the investors that I would be on the project from start to finish, they declined to put up the $200,000 to start the project.

I have also missed about a dozen deadlines in five years because of my PD. In several situations the editors were justified for not calling me again. Twice I sent in articles that had numerous spelling errors and poorly written.

My advice to employers interviewing a person with PD is learn about PD and what the person can do now. Give the person a chance to show their ability. Ask the person, “Can you do this task?” If the person says yes then ask “In the time allotted OK? or do you need more time?”

While Parkinson’s disease has slowed me down, I can still work and want to work, I can still do things on my own and will continue. I will keep my muscles moving. I am determined either to defeat Parkinson’s disease or fight it to a draw.

For more informtion about John and his work, visit his website by clicking this link.

Conference Nirvana and The Real World!

In 2003, I attended my first Young-Onset Conference in Atlanta where I met some great people and made lifelong friends. In 2004, I was asked to join the planning committee right after the Minneapolis meeting. In 2005, I would help organize and arrange conferences each in a chosen city until 2008: Phoenix, Reston, Chicago, and Atlanta.  Attendance was strong, and the Conferences brought in people from all over the world. The Conference for many of us turned into a large family get together.

The events were not only planned by the committee, but each member would present at the Conference as well. We were encouraged to live by example and to motivate the crowd. Our dynamic group of people with Parkinson’s covered an array of topics of how to live well with the disease.

When you bring hundreds of people together with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in one place, everything Parkinson’s seems normal and the world outside our hotel seemed odd. A peace came over us, where explaining ourselves to why we were doing what we were doing wasn’t necessary. Parkinson’s was the normal for this closed and safe environment and we all understood one another. A symptom of the illness or a drug side effect needed no explanation, but if it did it wasn’t drudgery to relate.  An overwhelming feeling of belonging and being part of something that was changing people’s lives provided us an amazing opportunity. When the final day of the event came around, parting was hard for us all.

The medical information was helpful, but the living knowledge provided to us was empowering. What really made the difference in most of our lives was the freedom that we felt inside those walls and the relationships that we would take away. It takes a special event to recall so many joyous encounters around what could have been a maudlin event—but it was not.

The unity of these participants was unlike any other that I had ever seen. The newly diagnosed were being encouraged by those who had a little more experience with the illness. For many of the attendees this was there first conference devoted to Parkinson’s as well as the first time meeting another person with the disease. This was an important moment for thousands of people with Parkinson’s disease.

This was an event sponsored by a large foundation, organized largely by a committee of 7 or 8 Parkinson’s patients, which focused on educating, empowering, and enriching those diagnosed with PD. Most of the lectures were from those living with the disease and not those attempting to treat this disease. Who better to advise on how to live with an illness than those living with the experience?

There is a place for medical conferences where the program is filled with medical expertise and experts related to the illness of choice. Far too often, I see conferences about living well or living better, but the conference organizers neglect to include the ones who are living with the condition. The ones who are living well with the disease are the experts, in my opinion.

A doctor can tell you about research, medications, studies, and possible medical procedures, but they can’t tell you what it is to live inside our bodies. They can speculate and imagine, but it just isn’t the same. A conference for people with a specific illness, like PD, ought to be planned by the ones who understand it the most.

Expression Choices

Expression and making our voice heard is hard enough but if you throw in a neurological wrench like Parkinson’s disease, a whole host of challenges can arise. Some of us speak softly while others may find it difficult to form words or sentences. Our words are often judged be it vocabulary or elocution. But, real expression goes beyond the boundary of words as the transcendence of understanding relates to us through the mediums of photography, oils, pencil, music, film, video, and a host of other outlets.

How we interact with the world is only limited by our imagination. Through the medium of painting, viewers and appreciators experience the work at a gallery or museum, but this is limited access. Paintings gather deep and powerful feelings and yet limit a very particular sector of the overall population. Whether you are a viewer or creator of art, our understanding of the medium and the message make a difference in the impact. There is no doubt that the artistic personality of anyone stifled by illness is at a loss without the therapeutic reward of a creative medium.

Just as a dancer feels the urge to leap and twirl, those with limited mobility and restricted movement may need to express themselves in a manner beyond their media of choice. Bottled creativity may be wasted and untapped. The frustration and built up anxiety of sustaining our message or messages, only adds to feeding the powder keg. When done right, awareness and understanding can come about, through our expressions. Finding an outlet for any sensory message and making one’s “voice” heard is a human necessity, like breathing.

Photography, for over 40 years, besides the written word, has been a favorite medium of choice. Every photo that you see on this site, for the past 10 years was taken by me. Capturing a moment in my life or nature through photography is gratifying and almost Zen-like. When I find myself in a mountain valley or a sun-drenched beach, my focus becomes nothing but the beauty around me.

Those of us with limited options for expression must delve into exploratory mode to uncover the medium that we think fulfills the message that we mean to convey. This is art therapy. Offering creative solutions or even simple solutions can make a difference in a life.

 

%d bloggers like this: