My name is Rob and I’ll be your barista for today

Espresso_Art_by_jorgenHarre
Espresso Art by jorgenHarre deviantart

One of the vices in my life is coffee. Every day I treasure my 2 cups of coffee. Good coffee I might add. Usually cappuccinos or espressos. Sometimes macchiatos. Flip through my back pages and you are likely to find many of the pages stained and tinted by this glorious brew. There’s probably enough material in there for my first book but, for today, I thought I’d serve up a few espresso-size servings of thoughts related to recent pieces about coffee and it’s relationship with Parkinson’s Disease.

Shot 1

First, let me set the table by taking you back to the late seventies, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario. For several years, I practically lived in the student centre, Hamilton Hall; working for the radio station, an information office, an arts newspaper, student politics, amongst others. Remarkably, for a student centre, there was no cafe per se but, fortunately, a neighbouring building, University Hall, housed a graduate student coffee shop that served up decent coffee for a ridiculously low price of something like 32 cents a cup. By my calculations, I consumed roughly 20 cups of coffee a day. This started a habit that continued beyond school and into my working life though, admittedly, my work schedule meant there wasn’t enough time in the day for that much coffee. I probably reduced it to 6-8 cups/day.

Fast forward to the Year 2000 and my puzzling diagnosis of Parkinson’s. Since little was known about the cause of Parkinson’s,  I was quick to seek out more information on what may have factored into my situation. One of the most startling findings was several research studies suggesting that caffeine had a positive impact on building up the body’s defenses against conditions like Parkinson’s. How could this be? Surely, consuming as much coffee as I had should have rendered me immune!

Now, 15 years later, we are really no better off in our understanding of what causes Parkinson’s. Nor is it definitive that caffeine has beneficial compounds that fend off Parkinson’s. Yet, in a recent article in the New York Times “More Consensus on Coffee’s Benefits Than You Might Think” (May 11/15), author Aaron E. Carroll, conducts a comprehensive review of research in this area and makes several conclusions. First, while many worry that caffeine may be hurting them, there’s almost no evidence for that at all. In fact, there is a suggestion that it could be good for your health and, most notably, offers a potential protective effect against neurological diseases life Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. He urges more double-blind research to confirm these findings

Shot 2

If there was some suggestion that caffeine in coffee might have protective effects, then this next story was inevitable. Someone would come up with a product that honed in on the essential chemical compound therein and market it. Sure enough, this week I received news on a new product that is made from “the bioactive molecules isolated from coffee”. Now you don’t need to go through the “trouble” of drinking coffee in voluminous quantities, you can buy Nerium’s EHT which “keeps neural connections strong, leading to more robust synaptic connections. The result – increased brain performance for a healthy, focused mind”. Mmmm, sounds delicious! Check it out at http://www.neriumeht.com.

Shot 3

Finally, this last story left a bitter taste in my mouth. In the Netherlands, the national Parkinson’s organisation, Parkinson Vereniging, have recently set up a number of “Parkinson’s Cafes”. Here, people with Parkinson’s gather to have to do what everyone else does at their neighbourhood cafe – socialize, read, catch-up on work and enjoy their favourite cuppa. These Parkinson’s cafes are suppose to ” help overcome the sense of isolation that often affects people with PD”. While the intent is honourable, frankly, it’s not for me. When I go out to a cafe, I’m looking for good coffee, good company and conversation, as well as an appealing ambiance. I’m not going to hang with a bunch of folks with PD. That’s not to say that there isn’t a time and place for such – some activities I’m involved in such as Dancing with Parkinson’s do in fact bring together people with Parkinson’s – in this case, to share dance and a coffee/tea social afterwards. As I’ve noted before, this combination has been very helpful for me. But a cafe for people with PD? I’ll pass on that, thanks! Should your tastes be different, you can find out more about these Dutch cafes here.

Cleanse Your Palate 

My favourite cafes all have a pitcher of water available to cleanse your palate after enjoying your beverage. It’s hard for me to extend the same courtesy on my blog! Let me substitute with my gratitude for your patronage of this site and invite you to visit again. Better yet, visit in person and we’ll share a cuppa together! I’m working on my crema and the perfect shot and I’d love the practise! Cheers!

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Get Happy!

Photo on 2015-05-09 at 5.25 PM (1)

Forget your troubles, come on get happy. Gotta chase all the blues away.

Always walk on the sunny side of the street.

You got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.

Don’t worry, be happy.

Just put  on a happy face.

 

In the last few years, I’ve spent more time in on-line support groups for people with Parkinson’s. I’m not sure if my observations hold true for others with a chronic disease but I suspect they do.  While the daily “rabble” may vary, there are certain consistencies – the motivational poster of the day, the prayer to a higher power, the pharmaceutical query and the ailment-of-the-day.

From time to time, there is a person who expresses despair or lashes out at their circumstances and this wicked condition called Parkinson’s. Yet, without a doubt, the overall emphasis or tone that is struck is to “be positive”. Don’t dwell on the negative. Seize the moment. Be active. Get outside. Come on, get happy!!

I can understand that. I realize that it’s important to our mental health to be positive. I get it.

But some days I don’t.

Some days I want to be angry. Some days I want to rail out against PD. Some days I wonder how I’m going to continue. Some days I can’t see my way past the pain. I don’t want to “get happy” – to placate my  condition or my feelings of hurt.  I don’t want to wallow in self-pity but I do need to acknowledge these feelings – even if I have no solution or resolution at hand.

So some days I do.

tiny dancer

                                                                              the_dance_by_mdivad, deviantart
                                                                                                                                         the dance, mdivad, deviantart

I’m not a dancer. I don’t know a demi pointe from a derrière, a piqué from a passé. I am slightly over-weight, lose my breath when climbing stairs, and have an aversion to wearing tight clothing of any description. You will not find me in spandex riding with the guys on Sundays. I won’t be at your local health club spinning or working on a treadmill. I am not athletic, I do not have graceful or flowing movements and have no desire for the perfect sculpted body.

Except on Tuesdays.

On Tuesdays I have a date. Every week, I wake up to my normal routine – take my medication, make coffee, get everyone set for school/work, walk the dog. But on Tuesday’s, it’s different. I have different affairs to attend to. It starts early as I think back to last Tuesday and remember fondly the music of that day. I try to remember the movements and new positions I learned. I linger a little longer at my closet trying to pick my wardrobe. I pack up everything I might need in a discrete bag and spirit off to the city for my “rendezvous”. As i draw closer to downtown, I feel an almost giddy excitement come on.

And then I am there. A beautifully modern six-storey glass and stainless steel structure accented by warm woods. It is snuggled up against a few century homes and older apartment buildings. Once inside, the building is teaming with young, healthy, toned bodies. The first time I entered here I felt very much out of place. Uncomfortable with what I was about to do. Though today I have no shame. I’m happy to be here.

Here, you see, is the Canada’s National Ballet School. I am here for my weekly class “Dancing with Parkinson’’s”. Each week 20-25 people with PD, of varying age and ability, gather with the support of 8-10 fabulous volunteers and 2-3 talented instructors to spend the morning dancing. We go through regular stretching, practice steps and maneuvers, dance in different configurations, to different (mostly live) music. We’re always trying something new too and, more often than not, I’m not the only one to awkwardly stumble through a routine. Yet – and here is one of the keys to the success of this program – never do you get the feeling of being embarrassed or looked down upon. It’s a supportive and reassuring group of people.

Yet there is more to it than this. I recall in my second class, we had a visiting instructor from NYC come to lead the class and we were divided into two groups on opposite sides of the stage. In our dance, we were to represent the two rival gangs of West Side Story, slowly moving towards each other – alternating between vicious, aggressive affrontations and the occasional fearful retreat. The aggression ends with a powerful assault aimed at the other gang and, as the music becomes more serene, each gang member slowly approaches a rival gang member, reaches out and gently we press each others hands together. Face to face and eye to eye, hands move slowly in unison in and around each others bodies – almost caressing, gentle and caring. Very peaceful. Very loving. Very moving.

For me, that dance points to one of the most beneficial aspects of dance. I can’t think of another group activity or leisure pursuit where you actually look at other people. Not just glance in the direction of another person, but look at someone with your eyes. Not only is this extremely positive for people with PD, many of whom live fairly isolated lives, but for we as humans. In an ever increasing technological world, we are becoming further removed from our fellow human beings. Dance helps bring that back to us.

Further, and somewhat related, I believe that what makes this program successful is that dance is something you rarely do alone. You have to do it with a partner. Or with a small group. Or with the entire group. In our “Dancing with Parkinson’s” class, we are dancing together with a shared challenge – a shared purpose. When each class ends, we gather holding hands in a large circle to bid one another adieu and, though this signifies the end of the morning’s activity, it only serves to cement the shared experience we’ve just been through. Yes, we’ve been dancing together and as we pack up our things, I’m sure many are already looking forward to reassembling next week. We’ll gather together briefly for coffee and socializing before heading home.

As I walk towards the exit, I pass a studio where young boys and girls are practicing their routines. I pass the library teaming with dance magazines, books and posters. Another group assembles in the cafeteria for lunch. The bulletin board is crowded with up-coming dance events across the city. In another studio, a group of young men dart and fly through air. I linger for a moment before moving on. I am struck by their talent, their energy, their heart. “They are dancers” I think to myself. But I’m a dancer too!

** Please note ** Later this month, I will be involved in 2 fundraising events supporting dance and PD. If you are able, I would appreciate your donation – however tiny it may be! For more info, click on the “Support PD” tab at the top right of the page.