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.
I had a conversation the other day with a good friend who had a hard time seeing eye to eye with me about this tragic government shutdown. I say tragic because during this time, those who are living paycheck to paycheck and those in need of medical care, families trying to pay their rent or mortgage, those who are unsure whether they can pay this month’s heating bill or pay their cat’s vet bill are struggling to get by only because our politicians are unable to relate to the families that they are hurting . For anyone just trying to put food on the table, the shutdown can only make life harder.
Appreciating those calm moments of the day, a good laugh, or even a brief nap, may seem simple daily occurrences that are the good stuff of life that we too often take for granted. Too often, we are waiting for something big to land in our lap, but while we are waiting, we miss some of the crunchy goodness. Simple pleasures are often the best.
Playing with your dog in the first snowfall of the season or watching a seagull soar are just two of the magical moments to savor, treasure, and truly appreciate. These are moments that cost nothing and are beyond any kind of currency.
There is a great deal of kindness out there out but much of it gets silenced by louder voices. Many of the soft voices may not get heard, at first, but in time, with commitment, can lead positive change. Loud and noisy can only do so much, but one soft voice only needs to spark one other person to go viral. When the mission is right, everything can fall into place. Kindness isn’t in short supply, it just may need to be cultivated.
Hardships, shocks, tragedies, disasters, illness, deaths, and life tests will be with the human race as long as we occupy the planet Earth. The question for all of us is how often do you take the time to recognize those not so little moments of your life? It’s so easy to get caught up in daily life and forget to be grateful for those simple and little things. Practice gratitude today!
We all need a catalyst at sometime in our lives to keep momentum.
This was created in May 2014, but I thought it was worthy of another appearance.
Here are some Tips for Staying Positive and Proactive:
Take care of yourself. The more you know about Parkinson’s, the better. You play the key role in your own health. Seek out therapies/modalities that work for you. Accepting your illness does not mean giving up.
Appreciate the good in every day. Focus on what you can do! Do not focus on what you can’t do! Savor and appreciate everything.
Stay flexible in all ways. A rigid pole often tends to break in the wind. A flexible pole will bend and give in the wind. Being more flexible will add a new dimension to your life.
A person with a good attitude is much easier to be around and is good for our well-being.
Being positive is a choice! When we label everything “good” or “bad”, we lose sight that we cannot savor one without the other. You cannot have the sweet without the bitter. This is life!
Explore the stressors in your daily life. Find an outlet to help you release your stress.
Procrastination, denial, fear, and apathy only delay the opportunity to begin our own self care. Don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it.
If you don’t laugh every day, start! Laughter has all kinds of health benefits. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t stop laughing!
Plan ahead for what you can and be aware and engaged. Always have a plan B, C, or more.
The best exercise or activity is the one that you like and you are willing to do. If Parkinson’s prohibits us from doing something we love, then we must find a replacement for that activity.
I hope these are helpful to you.
If you are embarrassed, sad, shamed, or lack self confidence about having Parkinson’s, I am here to tell you that you don’t have the energy or time to devote to such unproductive emotions. Stay strong! You have joined a community of amazing, caring, helpful people who are there to support you and encourage you. Spending time on activities that take you away from being your best will only deplete you more. Choosing to be positive and to be your very best can be a reality and not a mushy platitude!
It is up to you to make the first move. Admitting and succumbing to the realization that you need help is not weakness but new found strength. Helping oneself to learn about how others are surviving and thriving benefits all involved. This generous group of people with Parkinson’s and care partners are ready and willing to share their experiences of what has worked and what needs improving. There are tomes of great advice, educational videos, supportive medical experts, and organizations with helpful support groups and exercise programs! Be aware that your improvement and care all begins with your passion, diligence, and commitment to getting better.
I won’t say that being thrust into the world of Parkinson’s is easy and nor is it your first thought to just accept it and move forward. I had some dark days until I realized that my body, mind, and spirit were in jeopardy. My being is my responsibility. There is plenty of help out there, but you are your greatest resource. Now, build your team!
Parkinson’s is an illness that you do not fight, but work with, work around, and find solutions that work for you. In other words, Parkinson’s takes work! I, like you, am on a constant and continuous hunt for wellness or at the very least, some therapy, drug, exercise, or device to improve my condition. I wish you well!
When I was first diagnosed, the neurologist in 1991, coldly and in a matter of fact tone informed me that I had “a reptilian stare”! I don’t know if this is an official piece of medical terminology or the vernacular, but I most assuredly must express my thoughts of using such a crude comparison.
Doctors can be outstanding resources for data gathering and possible new treatments, but often fizzle when it comes to bedside manner, hand-holding, support, thinking outside the box, or just sharing compassion. I know that there are some of them out there and I hope that your doctor or doctors are of the compassionate qualification—but if he or she is not, what do you do?
Here lies the $64,000 question (old reference-sorry), of asking what it is that you expect to receive from your physician and how it is delivered?
Is it so difficult to reach your doctor that you can’t get a 24-hour response? Any response?
Navigating the labyrinth-like phone system of most medical providers is a test of resilience and sheer willpower. I think that it might just be an exercise to see just how committed their patients are to the practice. I would compare calling doctors’ offices a close comparison to my childhood game playing of that ever so frustrating, never-ending game of Chutes and Ladders—almost as annoying as pick up sticks. Ahhhhhhhhh, the good old days.
Some doctors’ offices think that they have joined the 21st century by installing these “portals” that are misnamed, closer to a black hole, are often unread on a timely basis, and overly buggy or confusing to maneuver around—other than my issues, they are great!
I don’t have any insight into defying the complexities of the phone systems or portal projections, but you might express your frustrations to your doctor and any staff who will listen. Be sure and share the good stuff with your doctor’s office as well, when this might happen.