Searching for Silver Linings: How to Stay Positive with Parkinson's
Since I was diagnosed I have tried to stay positive. It’s often tough to see the good in difficult situations but I really believe it’s got me through the last 6 years. My body might be getting more angular and awkward every day but it’s my smile people comment on. I get up most mornings full of excitement to see what the day brings which might seem odd to some people. But positivity is by far the best treatment I have in my arsenal.
Listed below are my 10 tips on how I stay positive.
I surround myself with people who are my cheerleaders
Over the years I've learnt who I need around me and at what times. It's incredibly important to make sure you have an army of people who will build you up when you're struggling. But also try to balance that with people who challenge you as well. Just because we are the ones living with the health condition doesn't mean we are always right when making decisions about it.
I regularly push myself out of my comfort zone and try new things
Because things I've always been good at are harder to do than they once were, it's very tempting to stop trying to do anything. But I find by trying new things I find stuff all the time that I'm surprisingly good at and it feels amazing when I do. If I don't nail it first time I either make the decision to try again and see what happens or I just move on.
I try not to dwell on the past
It would be very easy to look back at the past when things were easier and wish that I'd done more. More exercise. More spending time with friends. More work. More fun. But actually I think I do more now than I ever did before and I'm actually pretty content with my life. So by not looking back at the past and thinking of the things I can do rather than things I can't, I feel happier.
I practice gratitude
My friend Sarah is a psychologist and encourages me to meditate and look after my mental health. One of the things she has taught me is to practice gratitude. She suggests coming up with three great things that have happened every day and it really makes you look at the day and try to find silver linings. Even after the worst day there is always something to learn from it that can be seen as a positive.
I make an effort to meet other people with Parkinson’s who express it the way I want to
A few months after diagnosis I was encouraged to go to a patient group to meet other people with Parkinson's. I knew they would have had the condition longer than me and I wasn't ready to see my future so I didn't go. I built it up in my head as a massive thing and got really scared about it, deliberately avoiding gatherings with other people with it. One day I felt braver and joined a Google Hangout with other young people with the condition and have never looked back. My friends with Parkinson's are some of the most amazing people I've ever met and I don't know what I'd do without them in my life. They totally understand what I'm going through and help boost my positivity with their own.
I wear bright colors
When I was first diagnosed it was tempting to try and hide away. I felt a lot smaller in my physicality. Like overnight I suddenly occupied a different amount of space in the world. And it was tempting to stay like that, to dress in dark colors and stop worrying about make-up.
But I've always loved color and I realized by wearing a bright jacket or a sequin dress I felt like I was bigger in the world again. Dressed like that I couldn't hide and this was a good, if not completely uncomfortable for the first few times, thing.
I break frustrations down
Sometimes Parkinson's itself, or the everyday annoyances that come with it, can seem too huge to overcome. That's because they often are. I have found over the years that if I break bigger problems down into chunks they are a lot more manageable. For example, getting to work every day might be a big challenge. But if I break it down into:
- Leaving the house
- Walking to the bus stop
- Getting on the bus
- Traveling to work
- Getting off the bus
- Walking to my office
- Starting work
they suddenly seem like things I can fix individually. I can set coping mechanisms for each of them and celebrate them each as small wins.
I dance like a fool every morning
When my alarm goes off I full-body dance to the playlist for 5 minutes. How can a bad day start like that? Not only is it fun but it wakes up my sleepy muscles.
I don’t stress if I can’t sleep
For the last couple of years since I've been living on my own I haven't slept well. I’ve gotten really good at functioning on a really tiny amount of sleep and sometimes my Parkinson's behaves better with less rest. I try not to stress too much, choosing to do gentle activities when insomnia kicks in. Rather than lying in bed worrying about it. Doing something creative or cleaning the bathroom usually works. Anything that physically or mentally tires me without being in front of a screen. By not stressing about it and letting the activity make me sleepy rather than frustrated I tend to wake feeling fairly refreshed in the morning.
I allow myself time to be sad and am honest about my emotions
I think I was perhaps a little over-positive in the early days, it happens to all of us. You get told you have Parkinson’s and you think ‘it’s not that bad. I can pretty much do most things I used to do, why does everyone make such a fuss!’ And then the symptoms start getting steadily worse and the penny drops. Ahhh THIS is Parkinson’s. This is hard. So nowadays I make sure whether I’m talking to a friend or giving a lecture on a stage in front of 500 people I’m telling it like it is. With my sunny slant to help others to understand. Or as I like to call it ‘positive realism’.
Do you live with any sleep disorders (eg. insomnia, RLS, sleep apnea) in addition to PD?