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Posts from the ‘Parkinson’s’ Category

On Hold

The last 8 months, since Richard’s brain scan — The diagnosis, the move, the change of identities, the stress of dealing with so many interactions, the life with no home — have been about endurance, tolerance and patience, and hoping we would meet at the other end of this current ordeal as much in love with each other and with life as before.

I believe we’ve achieved that. And some.

It’s been a gruelling first step in our new life, and a step that had to be built before the other steps could materialise.

I think about our old life often, and about how holding off would merely have delayed change and made it more difficult.

This has been a tough time but it would have been so much worse if we’d held out until circumstances with Parkinson’s problems dictated and then tried to build a new life with less strength and ability.

We’ve been aided by a glorious summer and can’t bear to think how we would have managed to live on a building site for so long had it been a typical, wet British summer or if we’d tried to do this after the disease had progressed further.

Just clearing out decades of clutter and crap was emotionally and physically draining. Not something you’d want to do with limited faculties.

And there were some days when we had nowhere to hide and nowhere to rest.

Initially we approached the few months of eating out and TV dinners in our room and enforced walks to get ourselves and the dogs out of the way, and of every day holding something different and challenging as a holiday and an adventure. We didn’t say it was going to be awful, we didn’t say we would struggle, we didn’t instantly fall into anxiety and despair. Being realistic about a struggle helps you plan ahead and create coping strategies.

But all the attitude and willpower in the world can’t fight the other stuff. We stopped eating out in late July and didn’t have the energy to celebrate either our anniversary or my birthday.

We are supremely knackered. We are sick of dealing with stuff. When Richard is tired or stressed or upset he shakes phenomenally and I, by his side, shake with him. He literally shakes the furniture (Yay! We’ve got furniture now!) and all I see is our world quaking.

When too many problems and noises and mishaps come too fast I lapse into fight or flight instinct, and anxiety rules. When anxiety rules me, it rules Richard too.

Richard has been suffering with a chest cold for weeks and there’s not been enough down time and peace to shake it off. Parkinson’s can cause some people to have weakened immune systems and struggle more with viruses, and he needs to take extra care of himself forever now.

How you cope and handle things is not all about strength, willpower and attitude. It’s about what extra stuff life throws at you.

We chose to handle Richard’s diagnosis well. We chose to see the positives. We chose to maintain our senses of humour and we chose to have a good attitude to it all and treat the moving and the house renovations as an adventure. Our minds were fully turned on to strong, good attitude and glass half full – if not more so.

But we can’t willpower away the fact that his tremors got worse. We can’t positive attitude away the aches and pains. We can’t say my often crippling anxiety is just a mind over matter thing.

Yesterday my anxiety appeared in the form of a force field that pinned me to the spot in terror and left me unable to speak. Think rabbit in headlights. Anxiety force fields are the result of exhaustion and not enough repair time. (Thank goodness for the internet and social media where my words can continue flowing freely). I thought I would pass out.

We can’t choose to not have our brains. We can’t make the tiredness go away. We can’t lie about how intolerably difficult some moments have been.

I’m honest about my feelings and. I’m self-aware of the place I’m at.

I’m not moaning, whinging, ranting; I’m not asking for sympathy or answers.

I’m not angry. I’m not fed up. I merely recognise what is going on in my life, my head and my heart.

It doesn’t feel natural to silence myself until I have only good news and happy scenes to share, and it is not always healthy – and certainly not necessary to those who truly care.

Projecting a perfect life onto the watching world can be hard work and can cause people to retreat if they feel it’s the only thing allowed.

For all the good, this is HARD work. For all the breathing in there needs to be breathing out. And right now we need to do extra, slow, heavy breathing out.

I think people often misunderstand openness. It’s not glass half empty. Not for us anyway. It’s honesty.

This evening I found myself looking at photos from last year – specifically the ones where I was still trying to work out why Richard wasn’t well – because his first doctor had said it can’t be Parkinson’s… Yeah…

My head went to some bad, scary places. Suffering in silence and denial and holding so much in is awful and halts progress.

As everything we’ve had to come to terms with this year sinks in, and the literal dust literally settles, we can see how the next steps can now appear. We’ve rebuilt our identities, we’ve rebuilt our home, and now we can start to rebuild our life.

I look forward so much to seeing Richard being physically active again and regaining his strength and ability to fight. I look forward to having time and energy to enjoy this space we’ve made and planning life-enhancing activities.

There is so much to do.

But first we rest. We are so very, very, very tired.

Some people need to get out more. I guess you could say we need to get in more right now!

We are not OK and that’s OK

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Dylan the dog coping with the chaos

Whilst over Christmas we might have looked like lucky buggers with enough time and money to be swanning off to Australia, in truth it was more like “pinch from Richard’s pension to have a holiday of a lifetime because we don’t know what scary news 2018 will bring with his brain scan looming”.

We hadn’t had a holiday for many years and we’d never had a big holiday. And we’d only ever had one family holiday with all five of us – which Tess was far too young to remember.

Richard had almost stopped surfing and we were both suffering from anxiety. The shop takings were down, the books weren’t balancing and we’d borrowed money three times to see us through winter and for much needed home improvements. We’d both also had 10 years of various physical and mental health wranglings to deal with on top of losing both our fathers.

Rich doesn’t like talking about this stuff. He grins and tells everyone he’s fine even when he’s absolutely not. He internalises money worries until he’s ill. So I joined him in the stoic front while privately I was in turmoil about his health and our future.

Grin and bear it is not my style though and I found it difficult to pretend – particularly as I had done months of research and knew the various reasons for tremors, and had contemplated the possible outcomes and the effects on not just his but all our lives.

While we were away thoughts of what we would be returning home to prevailed, and on the flight home I watched Richard’s tremor increase with the tiredness and anxiety, and wished I could stop it. I wished I could turn off his brain and give him a break.

When we returned from Australia in early January we had to gear ourselves up for hospital appointments and test results with months of winter still left to plough through. Surely it was finally time to stop pretending we were okay?

I eventually broke my silence and told Richard to prepare himself for a positive Parkinson’s diagnosis. I was worried that he had been hanging on too long to his former GP’s opinion that it was “just a tremor” and to the story he was telling himself and others that the scan was just to “rule out” Parkinson’s. I could see him coasting into yet another year of stress and full-time shop-running shenanigans without giving himself time to process the enormity of his own health issues. We are complete opposites when it comes to denial or self awareness and discussions of such, and I could foresee life getting very difficult with this “just keep plodding on” mentality of his.

It was time to dig deep and lay it all out.

So for seven months I have pushed to put what is important to the fore. I have made all our actions and visions and plans about family life and simple life; about peace, about reducing stress, about visualising what is best for all of us and making it happen. I am trying to force us both to recognise and accept – and love – each other’s quirks and limitations and work around them to make them no longer limitations.

Money, school grades, possessions, appearances, status, other people’s ideas about a life well lived are all off our radars. Bugger all that. We’ve bought a small unassuming house in order to pay off our mortgage, and don’t give a flying fig what people think of us.

Life is now going to be about acceptance, day-to-day appreciation, little stuff, beauty in nature, eating well, and space. Space in our heads, space in our timetables, space away from duty and phone calls, space away from the rat race. We have split open everything we ever were on the surface and are being the real us that we always were anyway – before we stopped lying.

And I do believe silence is a lie.

Other people use lies to survive, I get that. People need to ignore the truth in order to cope. Some people’s very existence depends on being as unaware of their true selves as possible.  But we’re using the truth to live by. The painful truth and the honest truth and the comfortable truth.

The hurdles to getting to that truth are huge though. We have a list as long as our arms of things we need to achieve and throw off, to finalise and to tolerate for a while, and we’re only down to our elbows so far.

We are exhausted. Richard’s tremor is awful. I feel sick regularly. I run out of peopling energy regularly. We are absolutely pig sick of eating out, of microwaving, of being uncomfortable. I don’t usually eat bread but I have had to for the last few months and I have a constant bread belly pain. We don’t sleep well at night, we get up early each day in case the builders/plumbers/electricians are here. We are unnerved by the inconsistency of life on a building site and of never knowing when noises will stop and start or if today the builders will come or they won’t come, of who wants to discuss what and what we have to answer. The days of nothing are as bad as the noisy days because the uncertainty is traumatic.

The concrete dust and insulation dust are bad for Richard’s asthma, and the decision-making and constant change is bad for his tremor.

I have had to try to forget I have an Asperger’s diagnosis and chronic anxiety. Noises, smells, newness, being surrounded by people, disruption are all excruciating and I am holding on to my big internal Mamma who is telling me I can cope and I will cope and I can collapse when this is all over. Internalising isn’t great though. It gives me mystery pains and nausea. I want to explain to everyone that anxiety is the most inexplicably exhausting thing to deal with and that I can’t live normally. I have periods of insomnia, periods of sleepiness and periods of illness. I can’t say that. Instead I rock up in the space we will one day call our home and sway weirdly from exhaustion, talk less than I should, indulge in fewer social niceties than I should and struggle massively to answer questions amidst the chaos and the noise and the dust. Loud noises make me freeze until they have passed. I can feel myself underperforming and it’s absolutely bloody horrid. I can barely function. And yet I do. Simple things like having a shower and drying my hair before the electricity is turned off this morning and trying to dish out dinner from the slow cooker on a desk in the hall last night are no longer feeling like an adventure but a nightmare.

The list is being ticked off though. And that’s why I’m writing this. We need a reminder of just what we’ve done, what we’ve gone through, what we’ve achieved. I keep visualising the future and feeling impatient that we aren’t there yet, and I need to visualise the past too. Because, hell, we’ve done really well so far.

We’ve processed a life-changing diagnosis, sold a house, bought a house, dealt with the appointments, emails, phone calls and stress involved in those things. I coped with the excruciating anxiety of house viewings that only a perfectionist with crippling anxiety can comprehend. We’ve closed the business and put the building up for sale and dealt with the tirade of communications involved in that; we’ve planned massive house alterations, communicated our needs, tolerated 7 weeks of utter chaos and lack of space, lived without a kitchen, a sofa or a place to eat; we’ve kept up with Richard’s meds and appointments. We’ve put up with incompetence, planning regulations, disappointment and frustration. We have taken on board an enormous amount of heartache and processed some difficult truths too. I’m not going to pretend our lives are in any way perfect right now.

So for now we are busy being not OK. It’s perfectly reasonable that we are not OK. We know how to be okay though and are working on that.

Tick

Tick

Tick

Tick

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The Power to Rearrange

Recent events have taught me many things. Importantly, though, they have taught me that the future is not just ten years away, one year away, one month away, one week away. The future is our next breath, our next step, what we’re having for dinner. Tomorrow is the future – not just sometime; not just some other time down the line.

We can’t put off what we want to do, what we need to do, and pretend there is still time.

Old age is not a certainty. A healthy old age is most definitely not a certainty for us. We (as a couple) know now that our old age – if we are lucky enough to have one – will come with some big challenges. And we don’t know which ones.

A Parkinson’s diagnosis shouts “Uncertain shit ahead!” in a way we’ve forgotten to look out for. Life is all about uncertain shit ahead for each and every one of us. We have Richard’s dopamine receptors to thank for that nudge. I find myself wanting to tell other people “Don’t wait for your nudge!” “Don’t have regrets!”

Remember how you nearly weren’t born. Remember how it was nearly a different sperm, a different egg. How lucky are you to be here?! Life is full of accidents and butterfly wings and chains of events that we can control some of and we can’t control a lot of.

Our simple existence is a random chance to spin around the sun a few times and catch a few summers that we are so bloody lucky to experience. It’s so very precious and so very short and so very precarious.

I’m a very straightforward thinker (believe it or not!)

I don’t believe in meant to be.

I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason.

I don’t believe in any greater plan, and I really really don’t believe in destiny.

I’ve seen too much senseless pain to believe any of it happened for a reason. I’ve seen too much destructive greed and excruciatingly difficult lives to believe it was meant to be.

I’ve seen paths of equally good people go such different ways I can’t believe it was fate.

I believe that life is a series of events that could have been changed if we knew, that can be changed based on our tools, and that can’t be controlled totally because of our genes and our circumstances.

I even believe our power to make the best of situations is partly ours to control and partly impossible to control simply because of our genetic makeup and past experiences.

You can choose happiness but you can’t make it choose you.

This wasn’t “meant to be”. I wasn’t meant to walk behind my husband watching his muscles waste and his right side seize up and those beautiful muscly surfer’s shoulders I fell in love with shrink. Iwasn’t meant to look forward to spending our whole lives frightened of what’s next and wondering if he’ll ever be able to hold his grandchildren when they come along. I wasn’t meant to spend every day trying not to pity a man who can no longer sign his name or write without a huge struggle. He’s in pain when he wakes and slow to get out of bed before he’s even old. How can that be some kind of plan? I wasn’t meant to lose the freedom usually brought by middle age and big kids who no longer need care 24/7 to a disease that forced us to rapidly and drastically change our lives before we were ready. Just as I don’t think our baby sister was meant to die of neuroblastoma or our father of leukaemia.

I believe in atoms and free radicals and chances and missed chances and metabolic cravings and the effects of greedy men on our lives.

I believe in power. I believe in self-power being easier to harness in some of us over others, and however much some of us want life to be better we can’t make it happen.

Being able to harness what you have is a big separator. Whatever the individual components that made me are useful tools in spotting the good in life, in making choices towards happiness, in seeing and feeling the good around me. My chances are better because the series of events that made me who I am today make me better able to choose happiness.

A house full of books, a childhood learning music, much free time for thinking, a home in a beautiful area, educated parents, some fairly untypical opportunities at a young age to be forced consider others and to realise I was lucky to be alive ????? I don’t know? Some of that? All of that? Other stuff? My biological makeup? My fussy guts? My good bacteria? My bad bacteria?

I know I have the power to be happy. I know I do and I know I’m lucky in that.

I know that’s partly because happiness chose me – and that’s not fate or destiny or meant or be. It happened for reasons. But not a reason. And this is why we can rearrange our lives and make it work and be happy. This doesn’t make us better than anyone else. It makes us lucky.

I’m sad about what’s happening to my husband but we will cope and we will find ways around it because we have the power to. But I don’t for a second think it was meant to be. Another kind of nudge would have been kinder.

ALL CHANGE: From Autism Awareness Month to Parkinson’s Awareness Month

It’s April again. This year is very different. We have a new diagnosis to deal with, and here, in our family – in our relationship as a couple at least – this new diagnosis has overshadowed the old ones, and probably always will.

April has been marked by autism charities as Autism Awareness Month. April is also marked by Parkinson’s charities as Parkinson’s Awareness Month – with Parkinson’s Awareness Day in 2018 being held on 11th April.

My husband has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease this year. This, as much as my anxiety and my Aspergers, affects each individual differently. And it is different each and every day too.

We are slowly reading a few pages of Michael J. Fox’s first Parkinson’s memoir: Lucky Man, each night, and I am recognising in my husband the same early rejection of the possibility of Parkinson’s, the same denial, and the same desire to not let it define or dominate his life, and I am hoping his progression from now will be much the same too. Michael J. Fox, as far as the book goes, doesn’t suffer with dementia or sleep problems or depression or gut problems or incontinence. He has remained active and positive and eventually become very public and very vocal about the disease. But at first, he, like my husband, was very quiet about it. Understandably. It’s a lot to take in. And it’s not who he is. It hasn’t taken his identity. He is still him.

But no one knows what will happen. No one knows how the next ten years will be, the next twenty or even the next day. Some days Richard tremors a little, some days he tremors a lot. Some days he just seems “wrong”, closed off, not himself. Some days I think he might be depressed and then he bounces back suddenly. When he wakes in the morning, I wonder, ‘What will we get today?’ There might be hours in each day when everything seems just how it used to be and nothing reminds us. And there are other times that are all about reducing the stress and anxiety and telling him to stop and to breathe and try to distract himself from something that’s upset him. Something upset him enormously recently and I could see how it now plays out in a much more physical way. Physical consistency has become an issue, which in turn means consistency in general has become an issue.

Kind people, with family experience of Parkinson’s, want to tell us it’ll all be okay – or at least okay-ish, or that they’re overwhelmingly sad or sorry, or that a certain drug regimen works wonders – based on their own experiences. But it’s not that simple. It’s a waiting game and it’s a lucky dip. The symptoms vary enormously from person to person and the reaction to medication varies enormously too.

Just like autism and anxiety it’s not a straightforward thing. As a Parkinson’s brain ditches the dopamine in its own very individual way, so it cherry picks the symptoms and delivers sets of struggles unique to each patient.
I understand this very well. And I understand the well-meaning people with their preconceived ideas and own observations and experiences.

Michael J. Fox said in an interview I watched recently that in a million people with Parkinson’s there will be a million different experiences. They are all valid. And we are genuinely grateful for the camaraderie and support given. I am grateful that I see so much love for my husband from inside and outside the family.
But there is no known trajectory. It just will be what it will be. His version.

Parkinson’s has made it into the U.K. media recently with reports of Parkinson’s patients being treated with ignorant unkindness and impatience in public places. It seems that people don’t know enough about it to recognise it and they fear difference or behaviour they can’t make sense of. Similar to a stroke patient after a significant stroke, a person with progressive Parkinson’s can’t get their body to do at the same speed what their brain is ready to do now, and there is often weakness and stiffness on one side compounding that inertia. It must be infuriating.

So it’s clear there’s a long way to go to understanding this disease and getting the public to understand it.

I’ve had to become more aware, more educated. I was researching privately and quietly before Richard’s scan and began to make myself ready for what was beginning to look inevitable.
We saw Richard’s brain scan at his follow on appointment and Richard knew I was more interested and ready to deal with it than him and he pushed me to get up and come forward and take a look. I saw inside his brain for the very first time. That brain that holds all his memories and instincts and desires and the very essence of who he is.
Wow.
Unlike a stroke, where brain damage is visible, in Parkinson’s it is only the dopamine transporters that are damaged. A DaTscan lights up the healthy dopamine brain cells remaining but Richard has dark areas where dopamine should show and yet there is already a chunk missing (I don’t believe “chunk” is a neurological term!). It will have been going on for years before we suspected anything. It’s strange to think he’s had Parkinson’s all these years as we lived life normally and unawares.

Our life and our future is still almost as uncertain and as much of a guessing game as it ever was. Only now we have something we have to live around, to accommodate, to make allowances for.
And I do mean “we”.
Although of course, this is first and foremost my husband’s struggle, it is our struggle. Life is about how we don’t let this control us, about how we implement change, about how we invent workarounds and how we are always looking forward.

From now on life is different. And how I live it will be different because this is our diagnosis, our motivation for change, our family, our past, our future, our partnership.

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