Easy Like Sunday Morning

Exercise is never an option for someone living with Parkinson’s. It has been shown time and time again to ease a wide range of symptoms, improve mood and it is thought to slow progression of the disease down. It is the single biggest thing we can do to help ourselves. If a neurologist told me there was a pill which could do all of these things, then I’d do whatever it takes to get hold of this ‘wonder drug’.

Even with this knowledge, there are times when I might prefer to curl up on the sofa rather than get up and go. I rarely let my desire for the latter win but despite the rewards, it not always easy to maintain the motivation, day after day, month after month.

As well as developing a love of cycling, I’m lucky to have a large group of friends to cycle with. Exercising with others makes it fun, sociable and so much easier to do. Inevitably, I go further and faster when I’m out with others.

The same is true of the gym where I share a personal training session with a friend who also has Parkinson’s. Again this makes it more fun and we inevitably spend some time afterwards checking in with each other. Making that commitment to exercise with someone else means I’m much more likely to maintain that commitment to avoid letting anyone else down.

Sunday mornings have become a favourite fixture in my diary. Amongst our friends, there is a small, well established group who cycle every Sunday morning. When training for our Raid Alpine change we were invited to join them and since then, Sunday mornings have, whatever the weather, become physically challenging, socially rewarding and our knowledge of the best cake and coffee stops in Gloucestershire and beyond has become second to none.

Thank you to these wonderful friends for making it ‘Easy like Sunday Morning’.

Walk a mile…….

‘Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes’

For many years, a gentleman would walk past our house each day. He occasionally looked up but rarely smiled, waved or spoke. After a while I concluded, despite his relative young age, that he was a ‘grumpy old man’.

One day he stopped by our gate and asked me, rather abruptly, to cut back a branch from a tree in our garden that was overhanging the pavement. He looked unfriendly, stern even, he never smiled and our conversation was short. I cut back the offending branch later the same day. The gentleman continued to walk past our house each day, never smiling or speaking and rarely acknowledging me. As before, I would smile and wave and think of him as a ‘grumpy old man’.

Over the next few years the gentleman walked past our house less and less frequently and more and more slowly until eventually I didn’t see him walking past at all.

I saw him some time later and spoke to him and his wife. I had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s for a couple of years by this time. I remarked that I hadn’t seen him walk past for a long time. When he tried to reply, his speech was so poor that I couldn’t understand him. His wife explained that his Parkinson’s had progressed so much in recent years and after many falls, he rarely ventured out of his home.

In an instant I realised my assumptions about the ‘grumpy old man’ were entirely wrong. The ‘grumpy old man’ was fighting a battle every day to maintain his independence. His walk down our street was fraught with difficulties requiring all of his attention to navigate them safely. He was challenged by his poor balance, stiffness and uneven gait. The overhanging tree branch was just one more unnecessary obstacle to navigate.

His expressionless face was not that of a ‘grumpy old man’ but one where Parkinson’s had stolen his ability to smile. His lack of a wave was because he could not maintain his balance if he were to look up and raise his arm. He didn’t speak as he passed by because he was concentrating so hard on simply staying upright. His daily walks past our house were part of his exercise regime, aimed at keeping him mobile for as long as he could, until Parkinson’s made that impossible too.

The many challenges that people with Parkinson’s face every day when undertaking the simplest of tasks are often not visible to others. I hope by raising a little awareness of the nature of these challenges that I and others might avoid being labelled a ‘grumpy old man’!

‘Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes’

The Elephant in the Room

I’ve been pondering………

Parkinson’s can sometimes feel like the elephant in the room.

Image Source: rawpixel.com

Sometimes after meeting a friend, I realise that we have discussed life, the kids, the universe, my friend’s health, the health of our respective ageing parents but not my health. I sometimes wonder if I don’t make it easy for people to ask about my health or if the significance Parkinson’s as a progressive, degenerative condition makes it too uncomfortable for some people to acknowledge.

During my pondering, I wondered if some of the other reasons people might not ask me are:

  1. In case I have forgotten that I have Parkinson’s and the question might be an unwelcome reminder.

2. In case I might actually tell it how it is and that could take some time!

3. In case I break down and cry and that would just be plain awkward.

4. That I look well, it is easy to assume that all is well.

5. Because they have forgotten I have Parkinson’s or underestimate the significance of it.

6. Because they have asked my husband instead.

7. Because they may feel too embarrassed or awkward to ask.

8. Because they would rather not know.

9. Because they feel it is not the right time or place.

10. Because there are many more fun things to talk about!

I rarely talk about Parkinson’s unless asked. There are indeed many other more fun things to talk about but Parkinson’s is life changing. It is with me every second of every day and so, whether I like it or not, it has a major impact on my life.

I have lots of friends who ask regularly and I’m touched by their concern. Whether people ask or not, many show their concern, friendship and compassion in other ways. I completely respect that people may choose not to ask but I would urge people not to refrain from asking out of concern for any of the reasons above.

If the shoe were on the other foot, I might be concerned about any or all of the reasons above and avoid the question too. Indeed, I have done at times in the past. But now the shoe is on my foot, I would urge you, if you are interested, to simply ask me. There is rarely a bad time, you won’t be reminding me of something I’ve forgotten, I won’t dissolve into tears, I will try to keep it succinct and we can then move onto more fun topics! I don’t need you to ask every time we see each other but it need not be the elephant in the room either!

Image Source: rawpixel.com

Lessons Learned

I’ve learned that, understandably, many people can’t imagine what living with Parkinson’s is like, so this is my attempt at welcoming you to my world…..

I’ve had to learn to create lists for everything (sometimes multiple lists for the same thing) and yet discover it is still possible to forget things!

I’ve learned not to carry a glass of wine in my right hand if I want to keep any for drinking but my left hand manages fine!

I’ve learned that I have to reapply for my driving licence every three years and I can never assume it will be renewed.

I’ve learned to be patient, that many things take longer to do but I get there in the end!

I’ve learned the hard way that chopping vegetables can be a dangerous pastime for someone with Parkinson’s!

I’ve learned that I can only do one thing at a time and that multi tasking is a thing of the past.

I’ve learned to avoid buying shoes with laces or it can take me all day to tie them!

I’ve learned to survive on three hours sleep (and cat naps during the day)!

I’ve learned that every day (sometime every hour) is different. I never (thankfully) have all of the 40+ symptoms all of the time but I always have some of the symptoms all of the time. There appears to be no way of predicting which will occur, when. It’s a guessing game. The unpredictability adds another level of complexity to living with Parkinson’s.

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What’s New?

In the five years since my diagnosis of Parkinson’s I have learned a number of new skills to help me manage an ever changing range of symptoms associated with the condition. These new skills include:

Yoga

To combat the stiffness, rigidity and reduced range of movements.

Boxing

To improve my balance, co-ordination, response time and speed of movement.

Cycling

To improve my balance, cardiovascular fitness and my brain! There is evidence that cycling can help improve symptoms and may delay disease progression.

Mindfulness

Anxiety and depression are very common symptoms of Parkinson’s so I’ve learned and practice some of the basics of mindfulness to try to keep one step ahead.

‘You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf’ Jon Kabat Zinn

Playing Bridge

Learning a new skill is thought to be helpful in combatting cognitive problems associated with Parkinson’s such as problems with memory, concentration, inability to multi task, problems with decision making, thinking and planning. Learning to play Bridge was my new skill last year. I’m still learning this year and probably next year too!

Challenge? What Challenge?

Determined not to allow our hilly cycling to be thwarted by the cancellation of both our Alps challenge in June and our modified Alps challenge in August, we set off to conquer some UK based roads and hills instead.

This week was…

  • Not quite the Alpine challenge in terms of people. From the original group of 46 – we are now five!
  • Not quite the Alpine challenge in terms of the original 800km – we covered 400km.
  • Not quite the Alpine challenge in terms of hills, originally 19,000m of climb, we covered 5,000m of climb and trust me, that was enough!
  • Not quite the terrain our new aero road bikes were designed for!

The British late summertime brought heavy rain, flooded roads, a rare glimpse of sun and some strong winds. Add some interesting route planning, the rough off road terrain in some sections and getting lost and it’s safe to say, we still had a few challenging times!

Day 1 and Day 2 C2C

Travelling as a group of four for the first two days and taking it in turns to drive the camper van, we cycled our own route based loosely on the iconic Coast 2 Coast route. Amongst a number of hills, this saw us climb Whinlatter Pass and Hartside. Having cycled these two climbs twelve years ago, I was encouraged that they felt easier, faster and more fun than I remember them being. These climbs haven’t changed so despite getting older, I can only assume we have got fitter and faster.

Day 3

Meeting up with Ewan today, our first day cycling together was thwarted by torrential rain. Ewan and John managed an impressive 50km, I did a quick 12km and that was enough and the others, opted for the dry, warmth of our lovely, quirky accommodation at Bertie’s of Otterburn.

Day 4 Coast to Castles

Keen to cycle some of the beautifully scenic North East coast of England, we tackled some of the Coast to Castles route. An apparently stunning route, unfortunately, we had an overly ambitious distance to cover, we got lost, separated and found ourselves either alongside the A1, with no coast and no castles, or on a cliff edge track not compatible with anything other than the most robust mountain bike! Recurrent punctures on John W’s road bike were testament to the fact that these tracks were not road bike friendly!

We passed briefly by Alnwick, Bamburgh and Warkworth castles and enjoyed a brief stop on Holy Island having crossed the causeway. It was a great effort by everyone but ‘Hardly Any Coast to Hardly Any Castles’ is perhaps a better title!

A few learning points from today:

  • Plan a realistic route that allows time to stop and enjoy the experience
  • Plan a route that follows roads and paths, not mountain bike trails!
  • Follow the route!
  • Stay together!

Day 5 To the Pub!

A less ambitious plan today. A stunning route from our base to a local pub, making today’s cycle a real success. 25 miles of remote, unspoilt, virtually traffic free, rolling hills, a warm, wonderful pub lunch with local beers just as the rain started, and a quick 9 mile, predominantly downhill ride home. Perfect!

Day 6 The Borders

With Ewan heading north to home, we were four again. Some interesting, scenic, remote cycling today as we travelled from Otterburn to Eaglesfield, near Lockerbie, driving one leg of the journey each and cycling the rest. Crossing the border into Scotland for a brief period. Arriving at our last accommodation in time for a celebratory glass in the sunshine.

Day 7 A Relay Home

To facilitate some cycling on our route home, we split into pairs today, driving 25km and then cycling 25km. For my part, I cycled the most stunning route across remote undulating roads, encountering a waterfall, long downhill stretches and some very challenging uphill sections, more undulating countryside and flooded roads followed by a canal path and a well timed pub stop before the final drive home.

Local Legends

Cyclists love a bit of Strava and now there’s a little bit more to love with the introduction of ‘Local Legends’.

‘Local Legends’ are individuals who have cycled a stretch of road (segment) more times than any other Strava user in the previous 90 days. ‘Local Legends’ are awarded a golden crown for each segment they lead.

It’s not about speed, it’s about repetition. After the Raid Local, I figured I must be in with a chance of being a ‘Local Legend’ on Cleeve Hill at least.

Not so. Apparently there are others who have cycled it more times than I have in the last 90 days, although I doubt anyone has done it more times in a single day! However, my disappointment was short lived, and my excitement rekindled when I discovered that I was the ‘Local Legend’ for Harp and Ham Hills combined and for 25 other segments.

Just as I was beginning to enjoy my ‘Local Legend’ status, I received a message from Strava that my title had been taken from me and I was no longer the ‘Local Legend’ for one of my awarded segments.

I feel I like an olympic champion who has just been stripped of a gold medal, although, clearly I need to get some perspective. I’m not sure the short-lived elation is enough to withstand the disappointment whenever one is taken away from me!

All in the Mind (Or not..)

Recently, for the second time in as many weeks, I forgot I had arranged (less than 72 hours earlier) to play bridge with friends. Learning bridge was my way of protecting my slightly wonky brain, in particular, my memory, from the ravishes of Parkinson’s. The irony that it should be bridge games that I forget, is not lost on me.

I had the usual excuses ready: ‘I put the wrong date in my diary’ / ‘Old age’ / ‘The menopause’ / ‘Too many things to do, too little time’ / ‘I got distracted’. These excuses are usually accompanied by a shake of my head, raised eyebrows and some reference to the fact that I never used to forget anything.

I could blame lockdown. Life became simple. I didn’t go anywhere, I didn’t meet anyone, I didn’t have any appointments to keep and so I got out of the habit of checking my diary. I foolishly thought I could ease back into some degree of socialising without needed to diarise everything. Apparently I was wrong!

Image Source: verywellmind.com

‘Bear with me, I fear I’m losing my marbles’, would have summed it up more honestly. The day before, I had spent three hours being assessed by the neuropsychology team at North Bristol NHS Trust after highlighting my cognitive defecits to my neurologist during a routine review. ‘Do you use strategies to help you remember things?’ he asked. ‘Oh, yes, absolutely’ I said ‘I have it down to a fine art. No-one else would really notice. I have lists everywhere for everything. I set reminders, sometimes multiple times for the same event. I’m great at it!’

Not so, it seems!

As the owner of a slightly wonky brain, it’s easy to worry that my cognitive decline is Parkinson’s related. So, imagine my delight to find it’s not just me who has these problems. If I express concern to friends, without fail their response is ‘me too!’ and so we share stories, laughing until our sides hurt, about our experiences of ageing, the menopause and times when our memories have failed us. I’m always reassured by these conversations, that slightly wonky brains appear to be the ‘new norm’.

Image Source: Simonlucasbridgesupplies.co.uk

That day however, by suppertime however, I found myself seeking further reassurance by trying to gauge how well I had performed in my assessment the previous day. I asked my family if they would answer the same questions. After much hilarity at my suggestion that I might be able to remember any of the questions, the family placated me and embraced a suppertime assessment. Reassuringly, they couldn’t answer many of the questions either.

So, I came to the conclusion that if my slightly wonky brain is causing me to lose my marbles, I will never be alone. I’ll be in the company of not only many of my friends but the majority of my family too!

World Parkinson Congress 2022 Ambassador

World Parkinson Congress (WPC) Ambassador – Barcelona 2022

I am thrilled to be chosen as one of the fifteen Ambassadors for the World Parkinson Congress in Barcelona in 2022.

WPC Ambassador Announcement

It is a privilege to be working alongside these inspiring people from around the world, some of whom I had met at the last WPC in Kyoto last year.

Reflections from the WPC Kyoto 2019

Along with 2,600 people from 65 countries, I attended the 5th WPC in Kyoto last year. The WPC unites the global Parkinson community for a high-level, scientific, and educational program. Organised into four days of pre-congress courses, plenary sessions, workshops, and discussions, the WPC 2019 explored the most recent and cutting edge science and clinical research as well as advances in treatments designed to improve care and quality of life for people living with Parkinson’s.

The WPC’s mission is to ‘provide an international forum to learn about the latest scientific discoveries, medical practices, caregiver initiatives and advocacy work related to Parkinson’s disease. By bringing physicians, scientists, nurses, rehabilitation specialists, caregivers and people with Parkinson’s disease together, each Congress allows for a worldwide dialogue to help expedite the discovery of a cure and best treatment practices for this devastating disease.’

I found it hard initially to be surrounded by so many people with Parkinson’s, many at more advanced stages than myself. I very quickly realised though that I was part of an amazing community of people from all over the world who are truly inspirational. I met many people I had read about or corresponded with before and also many new people, some of whom I have enduring friendships with. The educational content of the meeting was phenomenal and I was pleased that I had spent many hours before the congress compiling my timetable of ‘must take part in’ sessions, presentations and workshops. There was so much to choose from and something for everyone.

The energy and enthusiasm created from this diverse group of people brought together by one common goal was incredible as we learned together, laughed together, shared insights, experiences and ideas. Witnessing first hand the commitment, expertise and energy that goes into finding better treatments and ultimately a cure for Parkinson’s was in itself uplifting. I knew well before the end of the congress, that I was part of something very special and I knew I wanted to become more involved in the next one.

Messages of Hope at the WPC Kyoto 2019

Coffee breaks and lunchtimes were another opportunity to meet people, to chat, to share our experiences, ideas and hopes. They were also an opportunity to try a range of experiences on offer including reiki and massage therapy. The renewal room provided individual areas where we could rest, relax and on occasion sleep as we needed throughout the day. The travel, the learning, the networking, the heat and of course Parkinson’s meant this was a much needed and valued facility for many of us. The organisers truly had thought of everything, except perhaps they might have underestimated the challenge for many of us of eating lunch with chopsticks!

I had looked forward to the congress but I had no idea that by the time I left, I would not only feel better educated, I would feel I had been involved in something very special and inspirational.

I had planned a couple of days before and after the congress so I had chance to see some of the sights, to sample the local cuisine, to travel to Osaka and Nara and, although I hadn’t imagined I would, I managed to spend a wonderful day cycling around Kyoto too!

For anyone with an interest in Parkinson’s if you can only attend one meeting, it is the World Parkinson Congress that will leave you better educated, better connected and better resourced whether you are living with Parkinson’s, caring for someone with Parkinson’s or whether your clinical practice or research is linked to Parkinson’s.

Plans are already well underway for the next WPC in Barcelona from 7th-10th June 2022 and I’m delighted to be playing a small part in it. For more information, please follow the links below get in touch should you wish to discuss anything.

World Parkinson Congress 2022

WPC 2022 on Facebook