Updated: Feb 19, 2019
Those of you who know me know that I am a big 'Peanuts' fan.... Peanuts is the comic strip written by the late Charles M. Schultz, and I've been reading Peanuts since I was a little kid. Peanuts details the adventures of a kid named Charlie Brown and his friends. Now, Charlie Brown is... what would you call him? A 'wishy washy' loser, who has never successfully flown a kite; never kicked the football (Lucy always pulls it away at the last second); manages a ball team that never wins a game; and never gets to hold hands with or kiss the love of his life, "The Little Red Haired Girl" who lives down the street.
Now with all his difficulties, you'd think poor ol' Charlie Brown would not only be unhappy, but depressed and anxious. And he is in some ways (He's remarked, "Even my anxieties have anxieties!"); but, at the same time, he never quits - when he loses a ball game (124 to 0) he still is out there the next day managing and encouraging his team; when his kite barely gets off the ground and then is eaten by "The Kite Eating Tree", he's out the next day with a new kite trying it again; even when Lucy again pulls the football out from under him and he lands flat on his back, he still believes and tries it again. He's the kind of guy who, even with unfortunate circumstances, keeps trying; and even though he thinks he is a failure and nobody in the neighborhood likes him... well, he has more friends than he knows. Even with all his anxieties, he's always there to lend a hand or help someone else out with a problem. In fact, I believe that if he were to disappear one day, all the kids - even Lucy his tormentor - would miss him immensely. And although he thinks he's depressed, he ends up being pretty happy in the end.
Yes, Charlie Brown is just a comic book character - even so, he is my hero - someone I've tried to model myself after a bit. And I think it is that little bit of Charlie Brown in me that has allowed me to stay optimistic, content, and even - shall I say - happy, during this time with Parkinson's. So I thought I would write this blog posting detailing some of the ways I try to stay optimistic and content - even with PD. I hope these words can help you and others out there fighting a chronic disease.
Now before I begin, let me say first and foremost I am just as 'human' as you or anyone else out there - I'm not Superman - not even close! Do I get sad or melancholy? Of course... I, like Charlie Brown, have my own fears and anxieties. Do I worry about the future? Sure I do - occasionally at least. But through it all I have learned to take life as it is and do everything in my power to stay cheerful (at least a much as I can) and to stay optimistic about the future.
So, that being said, and without further ado, here are my top 10 ways I stay optimistic and happy:
Tom's Top 10 Ways To Stay Optimistic and Happy
#10 Realize "It is what it is"
When I first got diagnosed, I was in a pretty deep funk for about 2-3 months. I worried, I fretted - "How did this happen? Why me? What's my future now?" Yes, your's truly was a very anxious and depressed Charlie Brown.
Then one day, I sat down and have a good conversation with me, myself and I (as I've said before, what a group!) We talked about a lot of things, but then we all realized that no matter what I did - cry, curse, throw a temper tantrum, put my head in the sand, shake my fist toward heaven shouting "Why me?" - it wasn't going to change a thing. I was still going to have Parkinson's, and still be on the same journey; and probably feeling worse because of all that expenditure of effort for nothing! It was then that I realized, "WHY DO IT?" It doesn't buy me anything; I'm better off spending one day at a time, and enjoy each day as best as I can.
Now not everyone can do this as easily as I did. For me, being a computer programmer for 40+ years helped as it made me a very logical person (no 'Spock' jokes now!) But I believe it is a critical piece of finding contentment with PD - IT IS WHAT IT IS. You can't change it, but you can still live your life, and you can always hope for that future cure. But realizing and accepting this is key to finding that happier you!
#9 Find a hobby
No one really likes to sit around all day watching TV shows and eating M&Ms (even though I LOVE M&Ms!)... and occasionally even -I- have to just chill out a bit. But we, in most cases anyway, are put on this earth to DO things... so if you get bored or depressed, find a hobby that you enjoy! Be it sewing, woodworking, collecting things, building birdhouses (!) or whatever; find something you like to do, and do it! Not only does it pass time, but accomplishing or finishing a hobby can bring you - and even others - great joy!
In my case, I used to collect coins when I was a kid. I had abandoned that hobby a long time ago, although I kept my old collections. After I was diagnosed with PD, I "re-found" that hobby, and started collecting again. Even though I don't show off my collection very often, I love searching through old coin rolls, or finding and purchasing that "one coin" to fill that empty space in my coin book. It's something to do, it keeps me occupied, and brings me happiness - and that is what a hobby should do!!
#8 Help Others
I've always wondered if the reason I got Parkinson's was so that I could help others out there. This blog itself is one of the ways I try to do that. Not only do things like writing the blog, answering questions from other Parkies, raising money for Parkinson charities and foundations, etc., keep me busy (and not dwelling on all the bad that mean rascal Mr. PD wreaks upon me) but it gives me joy to help someone else who is in the same boat as I am. It gives me a purpose, and it's that purpose and the "thank you's" I get that help make PD livable. So to be more content and happy, spend some time helping out other Parkies - or anyone - with whatever they need, even if it means simply being shoulder to cry on or just being there and listening. It will make you and the others you help more happy than you can imagine!
Even though you can't change the fact that you have PD, there are a few things you can do to affect its progression. One of the most important - as I constantly reiterate - is EXERCISE. We know that exercise can affect progression of PD, but it can also make you feel better! Not only physically, but mentally - it releases that wonderful brain chemical we Parkies are short of - Dopamine! It's dopamine that can make you more cheerful; and if exercise helps with your PD symptoms (and progression)... Well, it sounds like a good deal to me!!
#6 Practice your Faith
No matter what your faith is, practice it. It's been found, via study, that those of faith - on average - live longer, are healthier, have more success, and are happier than those who don't. Practicing your faith, such as going to church or participating in church activities, gets you out (see #5 below) and associating with others. Prayer, for me, is also important - praying for others, and knowing that others are praying for me, makes even the worst of times better. And feeling better - rather than miserable - is what this is all about! So practice your faith - it will mean a lot to you and to others!
#5 Get out! (i.e. Don't be a hermit)
As I've mentioned before in one of my previous postings, no one really likes a crabby hermit!! There just may come a time when you can't get out, so do things you want to do while you can. Whether it's traveling, visiting family and friends, going to a support group, volunteering, or just going out to shop, get out there! Make a difference! It not only boosts your mood and happiness, but I think it helps my PD symptoms a bit by simply getting my mind off them and onto something else. Plus you just can't beat the fresh air!
#4 Keep hope alive
By that I mean, keep your hopes for the future alive - hope for better days, and most importantly, hope for that cure that WILL come someday! I believe that having hope is instrumental in being happy- after all, if one has nothing to hope for... well, yeah, life might be pretty sucky. In our case, we should all be hoping for that future cure - whenever it comes. We hope that it's rather soon (so we can partake, of course); but even if it's not, at least we can hope for those of us to come, such as our children, that they will not have to deal with this disease. To have hope means, for me anyway, to forget your current troubles and hope for things to come - and that makes me a happier Tom!
#3 You're Not Alone
There are currently over 1 million people in the US right now that have Parkinson's. What a support group that would be! (Hmmm, I don't think we could fit that many folks in a support group conference room!) One of the most disparaging things one could face is to have a bad disease and be the only person who has it! But you are not - you are part of a community, whether you like it or not.... so take advantage of it! Go to a PD support group; volunteer for a Parkinson's walk; go to a seminar on Parkinson's; even start your own blog on your journey with PD! (Hey the more the merrier!) Do anything that reminds us that we are not alone - because we Parkies need to stick together and support each other!
#2 Take one day at a time
Sure, we could sit around and worry all day about the future - trust me, I know how that feels. But the bottom line is that the future will come no matter what we do... And since we don't know what the future will bring, why worry about it? Instead just take each day as it is, one day at a time. Enjoy that day to the fullest, and leave the future to itself. As the Good Book says, "Can any of you, by worrying, add a single hour to your life? ... Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself" (Matthew 6:25, 27). If we look at it that way, then worrying and fretting about what will happen to us tomorrow makes no sense - and it most likely will not make us happy (unless we've won the lotto!). So I've found that to be more happy and content, I just concentrate on today - tomorrow will come what may, and I'll worry about that then! <grin>
#1 Be Thankful
Finally, what I consider to be the most important things to being happy in a crazy world: Be thankful. Count your blessings. Yeah, I know that is used a lot as a catchphrase, but if you sit down and really think about it, it's so true. Even in the worst circumstances, you have something to be thankful for. A house over your head, a spouse who loves you, a family to love, and (hopefully) food on the table and some money in the bank. Even in the worst circumstance, such as being near the end of life with PD, you most probably had a good life, enjoyed friends, had a family - these are things to be thankful for.
In cases when I get really down and whine "I've got Parkinson's and I've got nothing to be thankful for..." I remember a song by one of my favorite artists - the late John Denver. The song "Poems and Prayers and Promises" tells of someone who is older and possibly near the end of their life. Some of the verses go as such:
"I've seen a lot of sunshine, slept out in the rain,
"Spent a night or two all on my own.
I had myself some friends,
Spent a time or two in my own home.
And I have to say it now, It's been a good life, all in all,
It's really fine to have had the chance to hang around.
And talk of Poems and Prayers and Promises,
Things that we believe in,
How sweet it is to love someone, how right it is to care."
So ponder this point and be thankful for the things you have or had - or at the least for "having the chance to hang around". It is one the best ways I have found to be content and happy.
In the Peanuts movie, "A Boy Named Charlie Brown', Charlie decides to enter his school spelling bee - even though his friends tell him he's crazy and can't win. But lo and behold, he DOES win - both at his class and school level - which enters him automatically into the National Spelling Bee! Poor Charlie Brown is more anxious than anything, but studies anyway and then gets up there on stage to faithfully represent his school.
Amazingly, Charlie gets through all the rounds; and it finally ends up with him and one other kid left! Charlie Brown is on the verge of his first BIG win; and when it's his turn to spell, the word is beagle. Snoopy's in the front seat of the auditorium, jumping up and down and pointing to himself. Since Charlie owns Snoopy - a beagle - you'd think he knew how to spell it, right? Wrong - he gets flustered and spells 'beagel' and loses the spelling bee!! He's totally crushed - he feels he has let everyone down and is the biggest failure in history. He and his best friend Linus (and Snoopy) take the bus back home - no one is there to greet them when they return that evening.
The next day Charlie Brown stays home from school - with the window shades down and the lights off - and he never gets out of bed. Linus comes over after school and asks where he was - and that all the kids missed him. Charlie replies that he is never going back to school again; rather, he is just going to lay there in the dark for the rest of his life.
Linus sheepishly says that he knows how he feels - like he let everyone down. As he opens the bedroom door to leave, he says something very wise:
Linus: "But did you realize something, Charlie Brown?"
Charlie Brown: "What's that?"
Linus: "The world didn't come to an end..."
After Linus leaves, Charlie sits up in bed, thinking. He then slowly gets out of bed, gets dressed and goes outside. Sure enough, the world is still there, with the other kids playing and doing what they do each day. Even Lucy, who once again pulls away the football when he sneaks around and tries to kick it, remarks "Welcome home, Charlie Brown!".
So even if you do not remember my 10 points, or feel they are silly, or that you just couldn't follow them, always remember at least what Linus says; that even in the midst of being diagnosed with Parkinson's, "The world didn't come to an end". So don't let it come to an end for you - get out there, enjoy life, travel if possible, make friends, do things you like to do, help others out there with PD, and be thankful... And always remember you are part of a community, and that others on the same journey as you.
THE WORLD DIDN'T COME TO AN END, AND YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!
Till next time... Peace.