It’s Labour Day weekend and time for the back-to-school special edition of my blog. This story dates back some 15 years ago to when I started a new career as a teacher and a new life living with Parkinson’s. The following article first appeared in the April 2015 edition of On the Move, a UK publication by and for people with Parkinson’s.
Parkinson’s Disease is a brutal condition. Just when medications seem to have offered some control, along comes another symptom to challenge you. Just when you feel you are coping reasonably well, another issue surfaces to steal away just another part of your life.
It takes away your control. It takes away your independence. It takes away your confidence. It takes away so many of the things that bring you pleasure and joy. It takes a lot.
Yet, it also gives as well. And give to me it did!
When I was initially diagnosed with Parkinson’s some 15 years ago, I had just embarked on a new career as a primary school teacher. I was 42 years old, had three young children, a good wife and a decent home. By all indications, you’d likely say I was leading a “successful” life. Just three weeks into my new job, my doctor delivered the news – I had “normal or regular” Parkinson’s.
At first, I knew little about this condition. I knew enough to be concerned, but the more I read in the next few days, the more dis-spirited I became. Crushed. Devastated. Defeated. It didn’t help that I was reading mostly about end-stage Parkinson’s at the time. I was a mess. My principal suggested I take a few days off to digest the news – right after, that is, I prepared lesson plans for those days to leave for the supply teacher. So there I was on a Wednesday evening after school, in my classroom alone, weeping and preparing lesson plans so I could have a few days off. When I returned the following week, my students were of course happy to see me and it was good to be around 8 and 9 year olds so full of life and energy. Yet I remained mired in a state of depression and self-pity. Why had this happened to me? What will this mean for my family? Will I even live to see my children grow up? These questions (and more) were foremost on my mind as I went about my daily routines as a teacher.
One such routine was yard duty. Many of my colleagues hated this but I always loved it. Even on bitter winter days, I loved being outside with the kids in the fresh air. Granted, that first week back, in the dreary state of mind I found myself in, yard duty was not the first choice I would have made. The bell rang. I put on my jacket, my hat and my bundle of self-pity and headed out to the yard. There is always a crowd of kids who want to walk with the teacher and on this particular day, one of the young boys – a particularly chatty kid – took hold of my hand and loudly declared “I want to walk with you today Mr. Kendrick!” I mumbled some form of consent and off we walked with him telling me about his day, about his family, about his friends…it was all a bit blurry though as he talked ad infinitive and my thoughts drifted elsewhere. Why has this happened to me? Why Parkinson’s? Why?
Suddenly, I became acutely aware of my arm shaking. This wasn’t my normal tremor but a vigorous shaking. I looked down and indeed my arm was violently shaking. But it wasn’t me that was shaking. It was this young 8 year old boy. His tremors were worse than mine. In fact, the tremors were but one of several challenges he faced in his life. He had been diagnosed with numerous physical and mental health disabilities at an early age and would have them for all of his life. Yet, he was this bubbly, vivacious, chatty boy who was happy just to be walking with me that day.
There’s a lesson I wouldn’t have learned without Parkinson’s. I quickly came to value the 40+ years that I had lived to date with good fortune and good health. Hopefully, there would be many more to come – even if they were more limited in a way. I was, as Michael J Fox says, a “lucky man”! Parkinson’s gave me a chance to be a better person – to be more appreciative for the people and things I have in my life. It gave me the ability to see out of a shadowy world of self-pity. It gave me the chance to live life more fully. It just took an 8 year old boy to shake me up a little!