In his role as Marty McFly, in the 1985 hit movie ‘Back to the Future’, Michael J. Fox travelled between the past and the future. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s, in 1991, at the age of 29. I feel it is reasonable to assume therefore that he is something of an expert, on the past, the future and living with Parkinson’s. If further evidence of his expertise were needed, this quote is widely attributed to him. Such words of wisdom only serve to reinforce my view.
‘Don’t spend a lot of time imagining the worst-case scenario. It rarely goes down as you imagine it will, and if by some fluke it does, you will have lived it twice.’Michael J. Fox
This summer saw the 5th anniversary of my diagnosis with Parkinson’s. It is a day I would choose to forget but the date and time is inked in my memory. I’m never quite sure whether to ‘celebrate’, curl up in bed for the day feeling sorry for myself or just try to carry on as though it were any other day. This year, I tried to carry on as though it were any other day but found myself reflecting more than usual.
I thought back to a glorious sunny day a couple of weeks after diagnosis. I drove my eldest son to Bath to look around the University. He was excited, as he should be, about the future, and was full of enthusiasm and energy. It should have been a joyful day for both of us. However, my overriding memory was one of feeling distraught at the thought that when the time came for him to leave home, I might not be able to drive him to his university of choice or to help him move his belongings into his new accommodation as he started out on a new chapter of his life. I remember my thoughts spiralling out of control. ‘If I couldn’t do this for him, then I certainly couldn’t do any of this for my other sons, what else might I not be able to do……….’ My enjoyment of that day was marred by such thoughts.
In the weeks after diagnosis, I was riddled with anxiety about my future and how things might be. None of us (except perhaps Marty McFly) know what the future holds but worrying about it can certainly get in the way of enjoying the present. The anxiety associated with diagnosis was overwhelming. I seemed to lose any control of my emotional on/off switch. I started to catastrophise and found I was very good at it!
I instinctively knew that I needed to do something to look after my mental health. Time is a great healer and I am lucky to have the support of family and friends too. I knew however, that in addition to this, I needed to learn some strategies that would help me at the time and in the future. Since then, I have worked hard at developing a range of coping strategies, mainly mindfulness based. I attended a series of mindfulness courses and immersed myself in the associated home practice. It wasn’t easy and has required a dedication and determination. I have invested time and energy in learning these new skills and as with exercise, practising them daily reaps huge rewards. As a result, I have been able to regain some control and anxiety is no longer the problem it once was.
I have since made a number of trips to the University of Bath, helped my eldest son move into and out of various accommodations and thoroughly enjoyed doing so. I have done the same for my middle son, now in his third year at the University of Exeter and I have no doubt I will do the same for my youngest son when he leaves home in the next couple of years.
Our mental health is just as important as our physical health and we need to respect it and nurture it in the same way we do our physical health. Those of us living with Parkinson’s often look to those further into their journey for inspiration, advice and guidance. I found each of these in the words of Michael J. Fox which only confirms to me that it was indeed reasonable to assume that he is something of an expert, on the past, the future and living with Parkinson’s!