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.