Person holds juicy watermelon slice with bite marks in it.

A Personal Reflection on Watermelon, Parkinson’s, & Chaos

I remember the title of a book from junior high only because it always made me grin, Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle...and other modern verse.1 I do not remember the poems, having read them over five decades ago. Goodness, sometimes I do not remember the three words for the Mini-Mental Status Exam from one neurologist appointment to the next unless I write them down.

Reflecting on the book of poems

Friends were visiting recently (we maintained appropriate social distancing), and I cut into a cool watermelon to enjoy on that hot afternoon. I have no idea why, but it made me think of that book from long ago. After they left, I pulled my copy from the shelf and re-read the poem.

The poet addressed the innocence of summers when watermelons were plentiful, hunger-stopping, and entertaining (seed spitting). The poem made me pause and reflect on the good times we shared that afternoon and living well with Parkinson’s, which permeates most moments of my day.

Art pens, paper, and a book titled Reflection on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle.

Thinking of Parkinson’s as body confusion

I did not invite Parkinson’s disease into my life. I felt a strong disruption to my normal routine and physical ability due to a shaky left hand, lots of missteps to my left, and general left side weakness. These symptoms began at different times and slowly increased over the course of several years. I started falling to the left, had an awful time typing with my left hand, and my left arm did not swing any more when I walked. I did not tie these various things together until I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Does that sound familiar?

I think of Parkinson’s as body confusion. Sometimes my confidence wanes because I stumble unexpectedly when I do not focus on walking or I drop something because I did not take time to get a good grip on it. It is frustrating not to be able to trust my body and watch/feel it “doing its own thing.” Good news, at least for me, has been that applying positive interventions via medicine and regular exercise helps a lot but there are still times when my Parkinson’s turns any control I think I have into chaos.

Confusion & disorder with Parkinson's

Two things come to mind when I think of chaos: confusion and disorder. Both of those pop up when I reflect on how Parkinson’s affected me in the beginning. I was confused because no one in my family history was ever diagnosed with PD. I was confused by the fact I have no genetic markers for it. I was very confused by the fact that my lifetime of wellness habits failed to prevent this. I like the term “neuro-protective” when applied to regular exercise as a Parkinson’s prevention but I learned it is not a failsafe concept.

I see disorder when I don’t time medicine and foods very well and definitely when I don’t sleep. My lack of sleep causes fatigue and is not kind to orderly thinking. One of the most disorderly things is the randomness of when and how intensely symptoms appear.

I ran the term 'chaos' through an online search engine. Did you know there is actually a Chaos Theory? I honestly laughed out loud when I read that “chaos is the science of surprises, of the nonlinear and the unpredictable. It teaches us to expect the unexpected.”2 What if I change a few words with Parkinson’s in mind? “Parkinson’s is the disease of surprises, of the nonlinear and the unpredictable. It teaches us to expect the unexpected.” How is the unexpected going for you these days? Join me in reflecting on what can go right while living with Parkinson’s.

A personal reflection on living well with Parkinson's

My Parkinson’s “tool kit” includes a good movement disorder specialist, exercise, diet, and medicine.

Other tools that help me are art endeavors, support groups, conferences, and brain exercises. One mental challenge that I like to do is forced associations. If someone asked me to find an association between watermelon, Parkinson’s, and chaos, I would probably give them a funny look and then laugh. Seriously? But here I am doing exactly that because I re-read a poem that holds a place in my history.

The poem, Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity, opens with these lines:3

“During that summer,
When unicorns were still possible...”

Unicorns? When I was a child, I thought unicorns were mythical and magical. I do not recall exactly when I knew they were not real, but I still hold on to their wonder. Now when my friend with PD tells me she sees a unicorn I smile and ask what it looks like instead of telling her she must be hallucinating. Perhaps Parkinson’s creates a season for her when unicorns are still possible.

Next, the poet adds:

“When the purpose of knees
Was to be skinned...”

Really? When it comes to the purpose of knees, I have always thought that they let us sit, stand, walk, etc. I now have a greater appreciation for PD-related falls because they help my knees serve their true purpose (tongue in cheek). I may have to quote these lines in the future to deflect undue concern if/when I fall and skin my knees. I firmly believe a little humor goes a long way in tolerating unpleasant events in life. I may need to move humor higher up on the list of things in my PD tool kit.

These lines near the end of the poem remind me of the contrast between living carefree as a child (as it should be) and wishing I did not know as much as I do as an adult.

“It was the summer of limitless bites,
...The bites are fewer now.
Each one is savored lingeringly,
Swallowed reluctantly.”

I like to think the innocence of summers past can be claimed and enjoyed in a mindful way today. For example, I am so glad coloring books for adults became a “thing” because I had been coloring in kid's books or drawing my own pictures for years. Some people might say coloring is a mindless activity, but it can be mindful, too. I recognize that my activity options will become fewer as time goes on. Savoring the things I can do now helps me appreciate living well with Parkinson’s in every possible way.

It is summertime! Invite friends over (with proper social distancing). Enjoy shared moments spent with watermelon, or another fruit of choice, on your plate. Feel the sticky juices when you take a bite and pause to enjoy its deliciousness. Savoring time with family and friends is good. Living well with Parkinson’s while you can is great.

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