Parkinson's and the Serenity Prayer

Recently I received a job offer that, while exciting, will lead me to have less time to work with people with Parkinson’s disease (PD). This development has put me in a reflective mood, thinking about what I’ve learned from folks with PD over the years.

Aside from simply a lot of fun memories, what comes to mind is the famous “Serenity Prayer” by Reinhold Niebuhr. The prayer exists in different versions, but I think of it like this:

God grant me the courage to change what I can change,
the grace to accept what can’t be changed,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

I find these words inspiring and applicable to anyone, yet somehow particularly applicable to people who have Parkinson’s disease.

Facing Parkinson's with courage

Grant me the courage to change what I can change

It takes a lot of courage to absorb a diagnosis of Parkinson’s and find a way to be proactive in living with the condition. Whether it’s their efforts with exercise, diet, mindfulness, getting enough sleep, volunteering, going to support groups, or simply just keeping up with a routine of doctor’s visits that in itself can seem like a part-time job.

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I so admire the many folks with Parkinson’s I’ve met who demonstrate the courage to change their lives in the ways needed to keep Parkinson’s at bay.

Learning to accept a diagnosis

The grace to accept what can’t be changed

Although I remain very hopeful that we’ll see advances in the treatment of PD, and perhaps even preventative methods or cures, in coming years and decades, for the time being Parkinson’s remains a progressive incurable disease. Acceptance—oomph!

Yet in this territory of acceptance, surrender, grace, or whatever you call it, I have seen people with Parkinson’s display remarkable serenity. Several people have even told me that accepting the reality of their disease has led to realizing a higher quality of life than they’d ever had before due to their growing ability to appreciate each moment.

At the end of a movement lesson I was teaching, one of my students with PD said, "I just need a new body - where can I sign up for that?!?" It was one of the countless examples I've seen in the Parkinson's community of the kind of acceptance that becomes livable through humor.

Understanding the symptoms

And the wisdom to know the difference

If only this wisdom were something we could learn and hold onto, like a special measuring tool that could be brought out at any time. But it doesn’t seem to be that way. Living with Parkinson’s requires an ongoing attunement of perspective.

Can this increase in tremor be reversed, or is it the new normal? Would my dystonia respond better to more exercise, different meds, more sleep, a combination of these, or none of the above? Does my cognition seem different because of PD, just cause I’m getting older, or am I just scaring myself in the first place?

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to these kinds of questions. Yet each person with Parkinson’s who does his or her best to face the disease with courage, acceptance, and discernment sets an example to others with Parkinson’s — and to everyone.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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