Better Living Through Denial

Better living through denial – whenever I look at the printed coaster on my desk I smile, thinking of the client who gifted it to me. She had been a master of denial until she decided to remove its wall brick by brick.

It has become increasingly difficult to deny my awareness of a change of Parkinson’s symptoms. I have subsequently felt an undercurrent of depression and anxiety, and a diminishing of hope. I read what I had written two years ago after I received the PD diagnosis and reflected on a quote by Thomas Merton. “You do not need to know precisely what is happening or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.”

At the time this quote was inspiring, motivating, and helped me stay grounded. But now I sometimes question if I really believed it.

Parkinson's denial

I believed it cognitively and I remember a depth of feeling in my heart. But was it really based on courage, faith, and hope or just denial? Oh, I didn’t totally wall myself in with denial and negate the reality of Parkinson’s disease. I took the medication as prescribed and I faithfully participated in Rock Steady, a boxing class for people with Parkinson’s disease. But I suppressed any thoughts of a future PD reality. I convinced myself that I hoped for a slow progression, but in reality, I was hoping for no progression. I let a thin veil of denial descend and surround any sign of progression.

I increased my exercise routine while simultaneously attempting to ignore the slow increase of rigidity. I took my meds regularly but did not allow any acknowledgement that my right hand and fingers moved more slowly. It takes so much energy to not look beyond that veil of denial and keep secrets from myself. I am great at keeping secrets, but my body is not. I scheduled an appointment with a neurologist who specializes in Parkinson’s and told myself this was a good idea just in case the symptoms worsened. It was like straddling a fence. One foot on the side marked No Progression and the other foot on the side of progression which acknowledges that the symptoms have inched forward. Until one chooses a side there is a very tenuous sense of balance.

I kept the appointment with Dr. R. Her thoroughness, detailed questions, and kindness poked holes in my veil of denial. She assessed my present state and made recommendations for improved management that would provide a better present and future. My veil of denial was torn, and the hope of no progression dashed, raising my anxiety. Could I resurrect hope without my denial intact?

Hope, faith, and courage

I am uncertain that hope can fully exist without faith. Not the faith of magical thinking – pray and you’ll get what you want. I believe faith is a matter of trust both cognitively and in our heart. For me that requires a trust in God as I see Him/Her. Not a God who orchestrates the show, deciding who gets PD, who is abused as a kid and who has an abundance of health, wealth, and good fortune, but a God who brought the universe into existence and sustains it with a life force that is never ending. A belief in the interconnectedness of all that surrounds me. Faith requires the grace and openness to respond to life with gratitude, wonder, and compassion for ourselves as well as others.

Hope and faith requires the courage to accept the reality of what is possible and what is not, but to nevertheless live and participate in life to the fullest of our ability. Periodically there will be the inevitable anger and fear of the known or unknown. But courage is not a lack of fear, but the determination to be open to life’s opportunities despite any fear.

Better living through denial? Sometimes we need a degree of denial until our mind can embrace the full truth, but ultimately hope, faith, and courage require us to be real and honest with ourselves. I will continue to grapple with the acceptance of a new and more realistic hope – a slow progression of my Parkinson’s disease and more improved treatments. But with faith, hope and courage perhaps I can again accept Thomas Merton’s words and embrace the possibilities of the present.

-Ann Lehwald

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