Parkinson’s and Mental Health: Adding Therapy To My Regimen
I grew up with parents who disregarded and ridiculed any mention of mental issues that couldn’t be fixed by the Bible and our minister. My parents expected perfection from me in every aspect of life.
I am part of a generation that frequently did not accept the need for mental health therapy and looked down on those who admitted needing any psychological help. I served in the military at a time when any need for mental health help was viewed as being weak and brought ostracism.
My working life was in a major corporation where any expressions of need for mental health help were career killers.
My switch firmly set to off
My cultural and personal experiences had made mental therapy be viewed negatively and any budding need I felt was firmly locked away and buried deep in my psyche. Or so I thought. My daughter decided to follow a career as a clinical psychologist partially as a result of the impact of my behaviors.
Many, many years passed where my own expectations of self-perfection were not met, but my self-view of failure was hidden from others.
Life and old age
Then came old age, serious physical health issues, and, the icing on the cake, Parkinson’s disease (PD) with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and apathy. While admitting to having a little bit of those symptoms, I loudly professed to all that I was handling it.
A new program
During an appointment, my primary care physician at the VA casually mentioned that she thought I had a lot going on and, perhaps, my coping skills could use a tuneup. No words about the need for mental health care, just a coping skills tuneup.
Turns out the VA had a new program for coping skills that happened to be led by mental health therapists. I said okay. My assumption was a session or 2 to top up my coping skills and I’d be on my merry way.
Dipping my toe into therapy
On meeting my coping skills coach, I find myself with a clinical psychologist! Ironic? I think so. We’ve all had the experience of meeting someone who is easy to talk to. Dr K has that and more.
As part of the intake process, I tested as moderately depressed and with moderate anxiety. I’m a sucker for test results. Maybe I do need help. I won’t bore with details. My 1 or 2 sessions turned into about 16 spread over 8 months.
Homework was involved. One key element was recognizing how my quest for personal perfection was the cause of a great deal of "unhelpful thinking styles." A few examples:
- All or nothing thinking - "If I’m not perfect I have failed."
- Should/must thinking - Using critical words like should, must, or ought can make one feel failure or guilt.
- Labeling - I’m a loser. They are useless.
- Disqualifying of the positive - Discounting the good things that happen
I kept logs of my thoughts, practiced finding positives in those thoughts, and learned new coping, relaxation, and meditation skills. While my view of my parents' expectations of perfection is still lurking about in my brain, I now know how to mitigate the effects of those thoughts.
What does this have to do with PD?
No surprise here! Ameliorating negative thoughts, actively looking for positives, practicing relaxation and meditation techniques, and other coping techniques on a daily basis all have a positive impact on Parkinson’s related depression, anxiety and apathy.
Are those symptoms gone? No, but my new skills help lessen the impact. Admitting that I have mental health issues and that I am working on them is actually a mood elevator. I now have a mental health therapist as a member of my Parkinson’s team.
Even an old dog can learn new tricks!
Do you or a loved one use smartphone apps to help with PD management?