Parkinson’s to Partner: a diagnosis may not be the end!

If your life were a book, what would be the title of a current chapter?

The first title that I had in mind was “Laughing @ Parkinson’s”. I thought that this was appropriate to convey the manner in which I have tried to live my life since my diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease seven years ago. Despite the seriousness of my condition, I have tried to maintain my sense of humour.

However, a few weeks ago, my son had a better suggestion: “From Parkinson’s to Partner”. It was the perfect title.

A diagnosis is always a defining moment in one’s life. Life lived to that point is usually bucketed into a “before” and an  “after”  and, in some cases, a negative change to a quality in life enjoyed to that point in time. In my case however, it has proved to be the opposite. I am enjoying a life more fulfilled after my diagnosis than before.

And, I have done so, by re-inventing myself, both mentally and physically.

Since I can remember I have always loved drumming.  As a kid, I banged my mom’s furniture to pieces, until she bought me a second hand drum set – but that didn’t last. Growing up in a small apartment  in South Africa was never the place for a drum set. Then life got busy: graduation, marriage, emigration – first to New Zealand and then to Canada – fatherhood, career building and getting to that 10,000-hour threshold. My exposure to drumming was limited to air drumming – it was certainly a lot quieter.

But after my diagnosis, based on my own research and in order to deal with the physicality of my condition – a resting tremor in my right hand, and also muscle rigidity and stiffness – I returned to drumming with more determination. I purchased an entry level electronic drum set, but soon progressed to hand drumming. My collection of instruments expanded to bongos, congas, timbales and incorporated other accessories like blocks, claves and – of course – cowbells. You gotta have more cowbells!

The more I played, the less my hand twitched, and the fluidity in my arms increased dramatically. I took Latin hand drumming lessons and, once I felt comfortable with my new drumming patterns, I ventured out to open mics in around town. Those efforts paid off, and I was invited to join a band and to play with them in the internationally renowned “Beaches International Jazz Festival”. I am now known as “Larry, the Conga Dude”. My mother would have been proud!

I also started exercising more regularly and vigorously. I started out slowly, VERY slow on the treadmill. But I began to notice that the more I ran the better my gait. I kept running – to the point of completing two half-marathons in two years.
The more I focused on the physicality of my condition, my thought patterns began to change in a positive way too. Mindfulness entered into my vocabulary and into my daily life.

Over time and with earnest practice, I became less reactive to negative thoughts. I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I stopped comparing myself to others. I was no longer consumed about what my future life might be. I started each day with a purpose — by making my bed – before engaging in a mindfulness session and my exercise routine. In the office, I again engaged with the staff and my team. My career continued to progress, reaching a professional milestone of partnership admission three years ago.

I have come to appreciate life as it unfolds in the present. I remember and enjoy the past, but I don’t try to predict and live my life in the future. Life will not show up as you predict.

If you are still reading this, then I will leave you with two suggestions: don’t wait for a diagnosis — live your life today like you received bad news yesterday.  And, take this from me — a diagnosis may not mean the beginning of the end – it could be the beginning of a new and positive chapter in your own book of life.

About the Author
Larry Linton is originally from South Africa. Lives in Canada for the past 25 years. Immigration lawyer. Married with two adult children.