Older woman with short hair stares into space unable to emote while cathartic feelings scatter behind her

Parkinson's Catharsis: Letting It All Out

During COVID, it seems that the thing people do the second most is watch television (as a betting man, I’d put surfing the ‘net as number one). Recently, my wife and I added Electronic Battleship to the fun ways we pass the time list. That said, the television is usually our background noise.

Even if I’m reading on the couch, the television talks. When it comes to actually watching television, though, my wife and I recently watched Kevin Hart and Brian Cranston’s movie The Upside. Overall, it was entertaining, but more importantly, it made me realize that life owes one gigantic loud catharsis to everyone who has a cruddy diagnosis. And I never had one.

I got this incurable diagnosis, and I didn't get to scream or throw a tantrum. Heck, I didn't even get to hurl a baseball at half the speed of Pedro Martinez's fastball in front of a radar gun. I know I have laughed, and I've been creative, which do help, but sometimes, I just want a safe way to be a bull in a china shop.

Finding ways to let out emotion

I know I’ve been teary-eyed from Parkinson's, though. I did break down while watching It's a Wonderful Life the year pneumonia made me miss Christmas. Parkinson's anxiety, coupled with aspiration pneumonia, worries, and fear of mortality suck. Other than that, my Parkinson's emotional catharsis is still out there.

Not for lack of wanting to or trying, but I just can't do it. I've cried for other people, especially during COVID diagnosis times, but I can't cry for myself. I cried over the loss of artistic, faith-inspired beauty at Notre Dame, but it's Rubik's Cube difficult to cry for myself. Harold Kushner would understand why Notre Dame was tear-worthy. See his Nine Essential Things I've Learned About Life book.

About 20 years ago, I was really starting to feel my dopamine fluctuations. At this time, I would find myself completely dragged into the emotions of movies. This includes He Got Game then (and certain Jim and Pam Office episodes now). Sometimes, I would find myself seeking out tearjerkers to feel more "real." Here was the perfect catharsis, and it didn't hurt anyone. I had no idea what was wrong, but I knew I needed to let the emotion out. This seemed to work.

Additionally, while they don’t make me teary-eyed, images from books could still really affect me: Daisy’s pearls (Great Gatsby), John Andrews’ sheet music (Three Soldiers), and the narrator’s final remarks (White Nights). I wanted to write like that.

Becoming numb to my diagnosis

But if I think about it, I’ve always been too numb to have a “proper” Parkinson’s meltdown. Now I've let it get me down and stretched thin through bouts of depression, but I've never given it a proper obscene gesture.

Just like J. Alfred Prufrock, I felt unable to make that move. Perhaps another part of me always felt like, “What’s the point?” Maybe I learned something, somewhere while growing up. Maybe life taught me to be tougher and not show my feelings. Perhaps it was something I learned from Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet:

“He did not know how long it took, but later he looked back on this time of crying in the corner of the dark cave and thought of it as when he learned the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn't work. It wasn't just that it was wrong to do, or that it was considered incorrect. It was more than that--it didn't work.”1

Wherever it was, between the first time I noted how my head felt like it was “swimming” (autumn of 1995) and the time I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s (autumn 2016), something in me was learning to become numb to my circumstances. Nevertheless, since watching that movie, I feel like Parkinson's owes me a giant catharsis.

Controlled by fatigue

I completely understand why people would want to participate in Rock Steady Boxing. I think for every single one of us with Parkinson’s, there is a desire to pummel a kick bag. If we can get through the tremors and if our muscles feel strong enough (which sometimes feels like a big "if"), then it would be nice to take our vengeance out on the leather.

Sadly, when we feel the biggest need for catharsis, it often feels like sleep is the go-to option of choice. It doesn’t matter how much we know about the writer Fyodor Dostoevsky (Crime and Punishment) and his obsessive quest to make the most of every minute of his life after being released from a death sentence.

Many of our great plans end up in sleep and the frozen inability to move. If someone gave me a moment to live out that bucket list dream or to grasp those longed-for moments, would I be able to?

In some moments, just stealing time to write from the glitch in my system is a victory. You can’t believe the essays, novels, poems, short stories, and wordscapes that I’ve created in my mind. Even the simplicity of language in some of them would give Hemingway a run for his money. But sadly, even after internally brainstorming symphonies, the ideas dissipate into forgotten missives of what could have been.

Writing can be cathartic

So today, in the midst of a "cold November of the soul,” I find myself wandering through Walmart, the flat look on my face concealed by my Covid protection mask, talking silently to the voices in my head.

I’m thankful that they are letting me speak of catharsis right now, because yes, the act of writing like this is cathartic. Still, I push slowly through my tremors and rigidity to type. I fight the pull to play computer games on my Kindle. Instead, I keep typing. Forcing through the static.

Oh, I'm not plugging 80-plus words a minute into Word, but it’s still letters, words, and sentences. Neil Young and his acoustic guitar guide me home to the goal. I may not be rockin' in the free world, but something inside of me is still the ocean and the giant undertow.

Entitled to your emotions

I can't always be Kevin Hart, breaking objects to help Bryan Cranston achieve some screaming fit of rage. However, I am doing my best to get the negativity out of my head in order to be a better me.

Still, sometimes, I’d rather have a bat to smash inanimate objects. However, if I did that, someone would have to clean up the broken bits and pieces. I’m already conscious of making someone clean up my mess or having people sort through the knee-jerk reactions that Parkinson’s causes. I still feel like I need to bear my own burden and eat my own crap sandwich. I know it's not always healthy, but...yeah.

So, yes, we’re all entitled to our tears, screams, and personal actions of catharsis. Nevertheless, for as good as it feels to get them out, they don’t replace dopamine or rebuild neural pathways. That’s the bummer.

So as Neil Young sings, “Don’t let it bring you down; it’s only castles burning. Just find someone who’s turning, and you will come around.” What else is there to do? When it's all said and done, the only true answer is to be "all right" in the eyes of another. Love and appreciation beat absurdity every time.

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