I remember when my closest niece was born. My wife got the call and headed up north to help out and, well, just be there. (I, unfortunately, had to work. Oh joy...). Well, this little red-haired baby, whom I've watched grow up into a beautiful young lady, started college this week, along with my other niece. And my first thought was, "Good grief, what happened to the time?!? It was only yesterday I was a good looking (ha!) 20-something young man! What happened!!" Then I look in the mirror and yes, I know what happened!
I bet a lot of you think that way, huh? We may be older, but I hope we are wiser - although some of us... well, let's not go there! I think I am a little wiser ('think' is the keyword) - at least I know I have learned a lot in the almost 60 years I have been on this planet. And having PD the last few years has definitely caused me to learn more than I ever thought I would.
We took a trip out to Denver in August, because I had never seen the Rocky Mountains and felt I had better do so while I can. It was that trip that got me to thinking, "What lessons have I learned because of having Parkinson's?" I've always felt I got this darn disease for a reason; and maybe one of those reasons is to get me to stop and think, and learn new ways of doing things. So, with that said, and after much thought, I've come up with just some of the lessons I have learned - either due to age or to Parkinson's. See if you can relate to any or all of these!
SLOW DOWN! When I was in high school, it always seemed that each of my classes were at the opposite ends of the school building. Also, as most teenagers would do, everyone seemed to hang around in the hallways between classes and yak it up - and as I would put it, 'plug up the hallways'. (I always told my sister that I needed a giant 'plunger' to un-plug the hallways!) As a result of that, I found myself 'learning' to move rather quickly through those crowds - shifting and moving around as fast as I could and yet not run into anyone. Most of the time it worked - and that is something I kept doing throughout my life.
As I moved around through the crowds of folks last week on vacation, I found myself going back to that old "Faster Faster" way of thinking. Unfortunately, I am much older now - and have Parkinson's - and although the DBS makes me able at times to move almost like I used to do, it's not nearly as smooth as it was then. Which makes me frustrated, along with possibly bumping into folks as I try to squeeze around them quickly (which slows me down even further as I have to stop, apologize, and then start up again).
My point being that I just can't function in the FASTER mode anymore - I HAVE to slow down! Because PD will make me slow down whether I want to or not! And not just physically, but mentally as well. Being retired, I should slow down, enjoy life, and take time to 'smell the roses'... But a lifetime of FASTER makes it difficult to do so - it's something I am still working on, but definitely a lesson learned!
Be Thankful - This is one of the most important lessons I have learned; and yet, for me and I bet a lot of folks, is one of the hardest to do. After all, I have Parkinson's disease; I am old-er (notice I didn't say OLD); my mind, although still sharp, isn't what it used to be; and I have the unfortunate knowledge that, unless a cure for PD is found, my future isn't all that bright.
"So, what in the heck have you got to be thankful for then?" Only a true Scrooge would think like that! Parkinson's is bad, yes, but it could be worse! (Alzheimer's comes to mind) And you never know really what the future holds - my faith in God always reminds me of this (and who knows - that PD cure may come sooner than we think!) And as I look around, and see so much pain and suffering in the world, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I don't have it as bad as others might, and only by the grace of God do I have what I have. So.... I try each and every day to be thankful for what I have - even stupid PD! - and not be covetous of what others have. And just remember - there have been studies done that show that people who are thankful usually end up with a happier life than those who are Scroogey!
Try to be a help to others - As I've said, I believe I got PD for a reason; and I am sure that includes helping others. That, after all, is really my whole purpose for this blog. Each day I try to be cordial to others - which is something truly lacking out there - and help them out, even if it just means opening the door for an older person. I may be in their boat someday shortly, and I'd like to think someone would do the same for me!
As some of you know, I was chosen to be this year's Honorary Chairperson of our Michigan Parkinson Foundation's Kalamazoo Walk-a-Thon. I was humbled and honored to be chosen, and some might not have wanted to take on this responsibility... But I decided to dive right in! Why? Again, it has always been my desire to help others out with this disease, and to help raise awareness in the community about Parkinson's. What better way is there than this?
So remember, each and every day, be conscientious of others and be a helpful sort of person - that is what I want to be remembered for when I am gone from this earth. The world would be much better off if everyone would think that way!
But don't be afraid to ask for help! During our trip home, I stumbled on the train stairs trying to lift my huge suitcase (the one with the kitchen sink in it!) onto the train. Luckily, I fell backward and landed right on my suitcase, which helped soften my fall; although I did scrape my wrist (not bad), I probably hurt my pride more than my body!
I've always resisted asking for help; I was raised that way (my Mom was divorced and had to raise us basically herself, and instilled into us that same belief). Some might call it "Hard Headed-ness" (my family for sure) but it's just the way I am. I want to be independent and do things for myself!
But... there's always a but... not only am I older but also have Parkinson's - so I need to remember to not only help others but also take advantage of help when it is available. In this case, there were 'Red Caps' around that I could have used to get us from the terminal to the train, and also help get my baggage onto the train. I had seen them and thought, "Those are only for handicapped people." Well, folks, maybe - just maybe - I myself am a little handicapped now because of this disease. So after this little mishap I hope I have learned to not only give assistance but also accept assistance when needed! It sure is easier on the body, let me tell you!
Enjoy each day - This should be a no-brainer... and it was for me, since I've been a pretty laid back person for the most part (my wife and family are probably laughing hysterically now!) but for others, it's harder than you think. This is especially true for those of us with PD - we tend to worry and fret and think about the past (when we didn't have Parkinson's) and of the future (what will I be like in 10 years?). But worrying about these things doesn't do us any good - as the Good Book says, "Who among you can add an hour of time to their life by worrying?"
Rather than worry, we all need to try to enjoy and take stock of each day now - one at a time. There will never be another day like this; and although I at times fall back into the old "what does my future hold" mode of thinking, I try to remember that no one knows the future - especially in terms of Parkinson's. That cure may just be around the corner!
Laugh a lot - Studies have shown that laughter is not only good for the soul, but also the body. Laughing releases those 'feel good' chemicals in the brain, and actually lowers the stress level of a person.
So I try to laugh a lot - especially at myself, which is pretty easy to do! And if you can laugh at yourself and even those bad circumstances that come around, you will be a better person for it. Look at Michael J. Fox - even with Parkinson's he not only laughs at his lot in life but helps us laugh with him!
As the actress Betty White said, "We laugh a lot. That's for sure. Sure beats the alternative, doesn't it?"
Socialize - By nature (or by design) I am a homebody... I like staying at home and just doing things myself. But I have found we have two options, once we are diagnosed with a disease such as Parkinson's - we can either sit on our butts all day and whine 'Why me?'... Or we can get out there, enjoy life, and socialize with others. No one got ahead in life by sitting home and becoming a hermit. No, go out, visit people, visit friends, have dinner with new people you've just met - all of this will not only help you, but - and studies have shown this - will help with your Parkinson's symptoms and, more importantly, your mood, by fighting apathy and depression. Not only that, but interacting with others in the same boat as you (in this case, others with Parkinson's) helps us remember we are not alone in this!
Remember: Human interaction is one of the essential components of well-being. So get off your behind, get out there, and visit friends and family! You'll like it, and I know they will too.
Now, you may think that doing all this is easy, and that I do it all the time with ease. No, that is the farthest thing from the truth - learning these lessons is HARD - sometimes hard on the body and soul! I'm no saint - sometimes I just flat out feel bad or am so rushed that I don't think about laughing, or slowing down... And yes, even I have times when I get so tired of having PD that I might feel a little bit sorry for myself and/or ask "Why me?", and I surely don't feel very thankful during those times. No one is perfect, so I don't expect any of us - myself included - to remember and do these things each and every time. But it is my belief that if we do: Slow down, be thankful, laugh at ourselves, and help and interact with others, our life will be much more rich than we could even dream of - even with old man Parkinson invading our space and trying to cause trouble!!
Those are only a few of the lessons I have learned... What about you? Let me know your thoughts using the Comments section below!
Signing off - till next time!