A Philosophy for Living with Parkinson’s: Finding Meaning in Life
As a writer, one of my main interests is to look at the deeper meanings of life and how we live it. In no small part, this was something that drew me into becoming an English and writing teacher for 17 years before switching paths. During that time, I really enjoyed helping students tackle deeper meanings in philosophy or ethics for the first time. Personally, I find it very empowering to be able to help ourselves to understand things such as “Who am I?”, “Why am I here?”, and “What is the meaning of life?”. There are also the questions of what to do through toughness and absurd situations that we may encounter in life… something just like a Parkinson’s diagnosis.
Newly diagnosed people will wrestle with that moment, just as anyone will confront the hand he or she is dealt when things to go the wrong way. It might be a relationship, vehicle problems, job, health condition, or something more serious. With so much on the line mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially, this is no small bag of potatoes.
The reality is we need to prepare ahead of time because when “the game begins,” it’s too late to add anything new. That said; we have the technology and resources. We can do this.
Knowing we have quality relationships for these times is important. The questions we ask ourselves can be modified to get help from others. Discussions don’t need to be academic, but being open to understanding what people value and want from friends, significant others, and family is important. Not everyone might want touchy-feely sympathy or intense philosophy. Some people might just be okay you’re there or you called. However, we don’t know unless we communicate how we get through rough seas. We’ve all heard the “I was there for them, but they weren’t there for me!” discussion. Sometimes communicating in advance prevents this. Other times, it might lead to eliminating superficial relationships in favor of a few quality friendships.
The key is being with people who raise us up instead of making us worse.
Seeing other paths walked
If we’re prone to emotional stress or struggle through it, it’s good to create a solid philosophy for problems while things are good. Depression is brutal, especially for people with diagnoses of chronic conditions. Don’t play it tough. Get help when you need it. The myth of the stoic man is just that. Stoic is good at first, but then we need hugs, guidance, help, and somewhere down the line, a person to run the show. We need to mentally prepare for those moments.
While many of us are familiar with therapy and medicines, personally or peripherally, we need to know we are the architect of our mindset, and sometimes, we are entitled to get some help for our tough moments.
Books can be therapists too
Not everyone feels comfortable talking to a stranger. That’s okay. There are other ways to get help and directive.
In my opinion, two of the best philosophy books for getting through are Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Despite being born in dark places, both books examine how to find place and purpose in time. They’re not for everyone, but they’re frequently utilized for situations like the one we Parkies are now in. I recommend any book on resilience or strength in the face of adversity since they both reinforce clarity.
Hopefully, we find some author or speaker who helps us with this. I know I have many favorites.
Eventually we should find an in-person someone
Even with Parkinson’s, you can enjoy life. Your life’s meaning may be different, but it’s still there. You might not be directing planes to land at JFK, but you can still see, hear, touch, feel, taste, smell, and perceive. Parkinson’s may change your limits, and you might give up things, but you’re you.
Nevertheless, talking through our problems and coming to new conclusions is important. During those times we might need help, especially in the later stages.
Unfortunately, in our culture, politicians corrupted end-of-life planning as “death panels.” By rebranding this into something it never was, they intentionally scared people away from much-needed therapeutic help. It’s time to take back the meaning now. In this, Katy Butler of the San Francisco Chronicle writes about this issue very well.
Journal your thoughts
In following Socrates’ philosophy that “the un-examined life isn’t worth living,” I spent a good chunk of my adult life thinking about the questions of meaning. Who gets it? Who is missing a part of the whole? I was writing about this for years, as I feel other people should do, and I never thought of it as more than just “deep conversation.”
Then one day, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and I had to make sense of the new normal.
This made me think back to experiences like my undergraduate thesis on crisis of faith, written largely from having consumed many existential philosophers, as well as some faith-based writers. These aren’t topics that most people choose to want to read, let alone read for fun, which is what I was originally doing when I read about their impact on Chris McCandless in Into the Wild. However, it turned out that many things I learned that term came back to benefit me later on.
It’s almost like I was being prepared for something. Hmm…
Free or determined
Philosophy seeks to answer the question of whether we’re free or determined. I’m not sure. I have seen things that felt “meant for me,” and I have had the opportunity to make completely stupid decisions on my own. However, I’d like to believe that we’re free to live our lives and enjoy them. There’s no time limit. We’re our own determiners, for the most part. We can choose to find a way through the toughness to better days. This leads us to the concept of choosing to throw away artificial timelines like how long it took Bill or Mary to get to stage 3. We could be faster or slower. We might not develop Jose or Luz’s symptoms.
Until it comes, you’ve got time to live, so while you’re understanding how to find perspective and meaning don’t forget to stop and smell the Parkinson’s Awareness tulips. Someday, you’ll be an old man or woman with your memories. Will they be good ones or will they be filled with regrets?
The choice is up to you. I wish you the best days possible.
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