Nov 24, 2022 • By Matthew Moore
That’s the title of one of Michael J Fox’s books about his battle with Parkinson’s Disease. He claims he is thankful for getting the disease because it set him on a new and better course in life.
I’m not buying it.
I was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s disease at the age of 49 in 2019. I read the book, of course, because that’s what one does when one has PD.
But it made me feel resentful, not hopeful. And especially not thankful.
Michael J Fox’s fame as an eternal optimistic puts pressure on Parkinson’s patients to feel the same. At least, it did me. Optimism is the sign that you are dealing well with your disease. You’re leaning in, you’re facing things head-on, you’re going to beat this thing. You’re no loser.
But the reality of the day-to-day is not optimism because optimism and degeneration are contrarian bedfellows. What rules the day for those with PD is a ridiculous menagerie of symptoms from the obvious tremor to depression with a host of other issues besides.
(I was baffled when I read that the side effects of my medication were both somnolence and insomnia. Are you kidding? I’m going to be tired AND not able to sleep? Very unfunny.)
I had a pretty good life going. There’s no way I’m thankful for Parkinson’s.
In the meantime, what I’ve learned is that, in many ways, Parkinson’s disease is a matter of focus. Michael J Fox calls it mental whack-a-mole. I can make my hands stop tremoring, but then I don’t walk straight. I can think about walking straight, but then my arm doesn’t swing. And so it goes.
Mindfulness is probably the right and most popular term.
So every once in a while I focus. I whack a mole worth whacking. Maybe because of the calendar or because I was asked to write a blog. Regardless, I cut through the catastrophizing, and I bring attention and focus to the things that make my life worth living. They are the typical things: a Bernadoodle puppy, stuffing with gravy, my team winning the toss, my family, sin’s stain made white snow. Typical and wondrous.
I don’t feel lucky, and I’ll never be thankful for PD. I will tell you that it has made thankfulness a difficult state of mind to achieve. But, because it’s difficult and fleeting, it’s also precious and restorative. Worthy of a whack.