Embrace the Shake
Let's get serious - deadly serious - for a moment. And sorry if the title isn't original. But it is so on point to my current life choices that I'm borrowing it for this post.
People get negative surprises all the time. That's part of the human condition. Relationships, jobs, family and health don't continue in stasis. They change. Sometimes for the better. Oftentimes for the worse. We age and become prone to physical issues. That's reality and we all have to deal with it. But mostly, unless we are deathly ill, we do have some degree of choice in how we react.
This hit home hard a year ago when I got the unfortunate news that I have early stage Parkinson's.
That kind of news sets many people into a depressive spiral. I've had family members really concerned about how I'm handling it. Thanks to hard earned cognitive and mindfulness based training (which I'll cover in another post), I'm handling it just fine, thank you. The Seneca quote above is my mantra on the subject. I'll save my suffering for when it truly becomes necessary.
During my mindfulness training, I discovered that for me, futurizing and catastrophizing had become my default thinking pattern. I'd become immobilized by anxiety and worry about things that hadn't happened yet. Through a lot of work, I learned to challenge that type of thinking and stay in the present.
Based on that fundamental lesson, I chose to reframe how to relate to a progressive disease.
The key to reframing my particular problem: progressive means that the decline is in the future. If I feel fairly well today...in this moment...that's a triumph and a miracle. I might not feel well in the next moment. But my job is to make the good moments count and do everything I can to to keep my body and mind as healthy as possible. Exercise, writing and art dominate my days as I fight to keep as mentally competent and physically healthy as possible. My motto is 'never give in-never give up-and never surrender'. Never mind that that quote is from Galaxy Quest - a sci fi parody from 1999. The quote may come from a movie spoof but it has seriousness to it if you actually internalize it. At some point, I'll have to surrender. But that time hasn't come yet.
In essence, I'm learning to 'embrace the shake' inherent in Parkinson's and make the most of my life while I can.
Embracing the shake has given me a real awakening. It's transformed my life. I now spend my days doing creative work instead of spending my days playing online poker. I exercise instead of watching TV. I stay mindful instead of ruminating about things that haven't happened yet.
Now I'm not a Pollyanna. Reframing serious illness into mindful action doesn't work for everybody.
But for many of us, we do have a chance to reframe the experience of serious illness into a call for action. Mindfulness. Appropriate nutrition. Exercise habits. Mental reframing. Using your remaining time to the fullest.
That's the best we can do.