A frustrated man sits at a table as the sun & moon rise and set around him

The Challenges of Celebrating Ramadan with Parkinson's

In Islam, there is a holy month - Ramadan. During Ramadan, all Muslims are to abstain from food and drink from sunrise until sunset - with exceptions. Those who are on their menstrual cycle, pregnant, poor, and sick do not have to fast.

Stigma around not fasting during Ramadan

There is a stigma in some Muslim cultures and communities that not fasting equals a sign of weakness. The logic being by not fasting one is saying they are not strong enough to participate. Toxic thinking like this and misinterpretation of the allowance are harmful and dangerous for many Muslims. Diabetics, for example, should most definitely not go 12+ hours without eating. People with Parkinson’s are another example of people who should not be fasting mainly because of the medication that needs to be taken every 4 or so hours.

The issue we are presented with is my father has been diabetic for over 20 years and he has never had any issue with fasting. He shouldn’t have done it but somehow, to ensure he got to participate in the holy month, he found a way around it. There was no arguing with him and if he wanted to, he was going to do it. In the end, he would be the one who felt the effects of fasting.

However, now with Parkinson’s - it is not simply a matter of not getting food or his blood sugar dropping too low. Now, if he fasts he misses his required dosage and all his symptoms are heightened - specifically his mood swings.

The downsides to fasting with Parkinson's

Last year was the toughest Ramadan our family experienced. He insisted on fasting and as a result, he was incredibly irritable and stubborn - and this always happened at 7pm, about an hour before it was time to break fast. The fact that he was having his tantrums at a specific time of day and after a specific number of hours of fasting only further proved what we knew - fasting was no longer an option for him or for us. What we suspected before was solidified - my father has Parkinson’s and his medication truly makes a big difference. We saw it in real time like clockwork. No medication equals no peace.

After several tantrums involving me and my mother calming him down, talking him down, and reminding him we are here with him every step of the way, my father now seems to understand. This year was his first year not fasting the whole month. It must’ve been very hard on him. I know this because there were one or two days he still tried it but for the most part he didn’t take part. I was careful not to ask him if he was fasting or not. I knew if he had to say it out loud to his daughter it would hurt more. Instead, I asked my mother when he wasn’t around.

It felt like for the first time he was having an out of body experience. Like he was standing in the corner and watching himself be sick and have these tantrums. With his medication, he could see who he became and how difficult it is for his family to see him that way. Maybe that’s what helped him see reason. Regardless, he’s coming around to understanding what his diagnosis means.

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