Mental Health Challenges

I wanted to write a bit about the more difficult of the Parkinson’s symptoms.  These are hard to talk about because of cultural influences.  But I think it’s important to bring it to light.  When I’ve said before that this Parkie is sympathetic to the difficulties that others face, I’m referring, in large part, to the cognitive problems that people face.  Specifically, the ones associated with Parkinson’s that I have experienced firsthand.  Problems such as in-attentiveness, mood swings, anxiety and depression, and fatigue. These are serious issues because they have a major effect on your own quality of life as well as the quality of life of those around you.  In Parkinson’s, similarly to the motor symptoms they come on slowly over time, gradually immersing the sufferer in a bewildering world of confusion, suffering, shame, and self-blame.  For many years, I fought an invisible mental battle with myself.  I couldn’t figure out why I would go through periods of laser focus, swinging unpredictably into disastrous periods where I could. not. pay. attention.   The mood swings, one-minute feeling ok, the next assaulted by waves of despair, became an expected part of my daily experience.  Again, what started out infrequent and mild, gradually became as predictable as they were onerous.  The anxiety may have been the worst of all.  Plagued by a disquieting feeling of unease.  The constant feeling that something was just not right.  I now understand how easy it is to take for granted the simple blessing of just feeling “good”.  All of these symptoms, motor or non-motor, became my bane, barely perceptible at first, but the worse they got the more I dreaded them.  The more I dreaded them, the worse they got, and so the cycle dragged me down bewildered and defeated.  The worst was when people would pick up on these problems and call me out on them.  Then I knew for certain, it was not just my imagination.  I was even teased for the way I spoke; how slow I was.  Others told me they could, in a conversation with me, identify the moment I zoned out.  Even though the comments and teasing may not have been mean spirited, the blow to one’s self-confidence when one literally can’t count on their own body, is significant.   

And all of this HAD to be my fault. Whose fault could it be?  I must be doing something wrong.  I must be lazy, or weak or even…inept.   But it didn’t make sense.  I was trying SO hard.  I KNEW I wasn’t actually inept.  Why then, was I gradually struggling more and more to do even the simple things (like walk)?

I now know these problems were caused by a deficiency of dopamine; an important neurotransmitter responsible for so much.  Parkinson’s Disease.  In Parkinson’s for reason’s still unknown, the part of the brain responsible for dopamine production, known as the Substantia nigra, begins to gradually stop producing dopamine.  This results in a vast array of potential symptoms both motor and non-motor.

But why did I need to suffer for so long? Why did I have to solider on until I basically needed a walker to get around and every single day was torture?  Culture and lack of awareness.  Our culture values keeping a stiff upper lip and pressing on.  But what if, just what if something is REALLY wrong.  Well then, my friend you have serious problems.  That is where awareness comes in.  As a society, I think we need to be more aware that there are people who are going through these things.  It’s not some weakness in character that causes this, but real chemical mechanisms that are beyond their control.  I will never claim to truly understand what another person experiences.  However, having experienced the anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems associated with Pd, I think I do have some idea of what sufferers of mental health problems experience.  And it’s not pretty.  Mental health issues are real and they can seriously mess up your life. 

In a way I count myself fortunate as my ailment gets wrapped into neat box with a bow and a title: “Parkinson’s Disease”.  I can take medication that, along with exercise and healthy living, does an excellent job of readjusting the chemical balance in my brain, effectively easing the stiffness, mobility problems, and most importantly, the cognitive problems.  The good news is this, most mental health problems that people face, are likely treatable.  They just need to ask for help. 

So, if you or you know someone who suffers from mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD get help.  Reach out to a friend or a mental health professional and just talk about it.  You deserve to feel “good”.  You are not weak.  In fact, if you have experienced these things as I have, you know that few understand the immense strength that it takes to continue on when being crushed by the weight of it all.  It’s like holding up the world.  Yet, as strong as you are, nobody can endure those conditions indefinitely.   You will be surprised by how nice it is to just feel “good” again.

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