So exclaims my Rock Steady Boxing coach as she throttles the bag I’m punching on.
“Jab Cross Jab Cross” “Upper Cut to the body…to the head” she implores us.
“We may have Parkinson’s ” she calls out, and we – in a chorus of 12-15 folks with PD – add quickly “but Parkinson’s doesn’t have us!”. An hour or so later, we’ll form a circle to conclude the day’s workout with a group cheer or chant.
“I don’t know what you’ve been told….Parkinson’s is getting old… We”ll fight and shout and punch it out..We’re getting stronger that’s no doubt!” “
I must admit it. At first, I was a bit apprehensive about these assertive affirmations and group protestations. It was a little too reminiscent of the Walmart chant employees are called upon to participate in each day. However, I quickly came to appreciate them in so far as they are positive and spirited gestures in the face of what is a horrible disease. When so much of our lives are tainted by PD, it’s easy to be negative – to feel beaten down or disparaged. These affirmations are one way we can be spirited and fight back!
Welcome to a new year. Time for a fresh start, to etch out some life on the blank slate before us. A time of new beginnings, deeper relationships, promising hopes and dreams. (Insert your favourite new year’s cliche here).
Still, this morning I find myself in somewhat of a reflective moment – reflecting on the year gone past. Given the relative void of posts from me last year, the opportunity to play a little catch-up is one I can’t ignore.
In my last post, I’m sorry, I shared some of the challenges i was facing of late. One that was particularly significant was this:
It seems to me that living with Parkinson’s presents some real conundrums. As my health declines, I find it increasingly harder to get the energy to go out and be active yet I am brutally aware of how important it is to be active. As my fitness level deteriorates, I feel less and less physically strong yet I know how key exercise is to slowing the progression of the disease.
I can’t say that this struggle is over. More than once, I’ve felt defeated by PD. Especially in this past year. I’ve felt myself dangerously perched on a precipice – worried about succumbing to one or another of my health challenges .
Yet, I have made some definite forays into more positive space.
In May, as our last of 3 children prepared to leave home for university, and in anticipation of an “empty nest”, we shed the burdens of our 1950’s bungalow (read high maintenance house) and moved into a newer condominium townhouse in a more pedestrian-friendly town about an hour away. We really miss the neighbours and the community but the increased walking and the perpetually parked car have been a boon for me!
In October, I started Rock Steady Boxing 3 times a week and find it to be a great workout, a cognitively challenging activity and a much-needed social support. I’m still trying to get my regular water-wings back into Aqua Therapy!
Throughout the fall, I’ve been able to reconnect with a few old friends from this area and to meet some new ones.
Finally, in December, all of our children arrived for Christmas and, for the better part of a week, we managed to live together in the tighter quarters of our new home without killing one another. Now that’s living on the edge! That’s living dangerously!
I received this tweet the other day from the Michael J Fox Foundation and I must admit that it left a bitter taste in my mouth. I am only vaguely familiar with the television program American Ninja – a show where contestants race through an insane obstacle course like human pinballs. Like many reality shows, it all seems a little pointless to me.
Having said that, I suppose for those individuals who take on this “challenge”, they probably have their reasons – be it to face and overcome Herculean barriers, perhaps to showcase olympian-like physical strength or dogged determinism, or the rangy warrior facing a flurry of foam foes and blows.
Still, I don’t get it.
Jimmy Choi probably does though. The 41 year old from Illinois was one of the contestants this week and what set him apart from others was that he happens to have Parkinson’s Disease. He was diagnosed 14 years ago so even the most cynical critic must give him credit for such extreme effort. Props, Jimmy!
However, the Michael J Fox Foundation gets no props on this one. Congratulations, Jimmy Choi! You’re our hero! Our hero? Really? What exactly makes a man who runs through foam a hero? Is there an inference here that People with Parkinson’s (PwP) should look to a person like Mr. Choi as some kind of role model? If so, this is fiercely off the mark. Most PwP have much more severe symptoms and limitations brought on by their disease than does Jimmy.
Might I suggest that if the Foundation is looking for heroes, they should look to the men and women who struggle to live with the day-to-day challenges they face in living with PD. They should look to those partners of PwP who give up so much of their own lives to help support and care for the PwP in their family. They should look to the advocates and activists in the Parkinson’s community who are working so hard to battle this disease. They should look to the members of the medical community who give so much ongoing support to PwP.
These “heroes” may not have raised $100,000 for MJFF. They might not have any PR cash coattails upon which to ride but it seems to me that most days when life gives these “heroes” lemons, they make proverbial lemonade. They are our heroes.
Virtually every week, from a variety of social media sites, I read of a few suggestions for therapy or treatments to help with Parkinson’s. Some are clearly bogus aimed at pushing a product or a program. Others are worthy of more investigation to see if their claims can be collaborated. Some can be dismissed as not relevant to me personally while others seem to be just common sense.
Recently, I came across one strategy that was particularly alluring. I was drawn to it in almost a primordial manner. Let me briefly highlight what the article in the Underground Health Reporter purported.
The authors suggested that when brain development or motor function is impaired, your nerve impulses become jumbled. When your nerve impulses are disorganized, so are your motor impulses and sensory impulses, endangering your overall health. They say that the “cross-crawl” technique is one of the easiest ways to activate your brain development and nervous system to give it the proper motor and sensory stimuli it needs to take control of your bodily functions—thereby preventing or rehabilitating health problems. The cross-pattern movement builds the bridge between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, allowing for electrical impulses and information to pass freely between the two.
These patterns are stored in the brain and are responsible for governing our nervous system, spinal muscles and coordination, and programming our bodily systems to work together as a team (no mention of that slacker dopamine on our PD team!). They go on to suggest that all of our bodily systems depend on cross-crawl integration, even cerebral activities, such as learning language, reading, hand-to-eye coordination and communication.
We’re encouraged to look to babies.
Until a baby learns to crawl she moves in a homolateral pattern. This means that the right hemisphere of the brain controls the right side of the body and the left hemisphere of the brain controls the left side of the body.If we failed to mature past this pattern of movement, our gait would be awkward and uncoordinated, with the right hand and right leg jutting forward at the same time. brain development
However, as soon as a baby begins to crawl, she activates the contra-lateral pattern of movement that is essential to her brain development and nervous system. She learns to reach out with her right arm as her left knee juts forward, and move her left arm forward as she picks up her right knee. We continue to learn this cross-crawl movement as we advance to walking, running and swimming.
The cross-pattern movement builds the bridge between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, allowing for electrical impulses and information to pass freely between the two.
They continue by pointing out some signs that your cross-pattern movements could use some sharpening including:
Lack of coordination and balance
Exhibiting learning disabilities, such as dyslexia
Saying things backwards
The suggestion is that you can reprogram your nervous system and strengthen the connection between the right and left sides of your brain using cross-crawl exercises They conclude with brief instructions on how to practise this exercise:
Stand with your spine erect and arms at your sides. On an inhale, raise your right arm up. At the same time you raise your right arm, lift your left leg, bending at the knee. On an exhale, lower both the right arm and left leg. On an inhale, raise your left arm up. At the same time, lift your right leg, bending at the knee. On an exhale, lower both the left arm and right leg. Full range of motion, not speed, is the most important component of this exercise. The higher you lift your arms and legs, the more you are energizing the brain development becomes, encouraging it to store new, more effective patterns of movement.
Use the breath to help you slow down the movements. Slower movements require more precise control, which delivers greater benefits, faster. Experts recommend 200 to 500 repetitions a day, but it is important to stop at the first sign of fatigue.
I don’t know about you but I can see that this might be helpful. I think I get it. I even tried to practise the exercise as described above (but 200 to 500 repetitions a day! Can’t see that happening!). If we want to make positive strides forward in brain conditioning and motor functioning, we’ve got to think and act like babies. Yes, babies. Perhaps not quite the cute and cuddly kind but babies all the same. Really. Big. Babies.
Post-script. I’m up to 4 repetitions today. Wwwaaaaaaaaaaa !!! 😦
Banana seat. Extension handlebars. Fat white walls. I was the coolest kid in my neighbourhood (at least I thought so).
Flash forward to University days. A one-speed clunker. Storage basket. Cruised across that city everywhere on my bike, ponytail blowing in the breeze. Cool.
Then a series of cars. Kids, and more cars. Two-wheel life was wedged out of my life until Parkinson’s came calling. “Exercise is so important” I was told at every turn. “Get outside – take a ride”. Yet would my balance problems permit me to return to my cycling days? Enter the adult tricycle – two wheels up-front, one in the back. A low rider that had me about a foot off the ground, sitting comfortably and garnering lots of attention wherever i rode! That was uber-cool.
Yet, after a series of too-close-for-comfort encounters with vehicles, and an improved balance from my new PD medications, I decided to part company with the trike. We’d visited Amsterdam around the same time and I was inspired by the way bikes are so integral to life in the city. I loved the cruiser-style bicycles that everyone seems to use to get around. That’s what I’d get – an Amsterdam special!
Well, I’m yet to make this acquisition but I feel like it’s immanent. Though my attention has been distracted by other objects of vehicular lust (have you seen those 3-wheeled Can-Am Spyder bikes? What about a Vespa scooter?), I remain committed to the Amsterdam bike. The exercise that is so important for someone with PD, as well as the slower pace of riding a bike, appeals. If I could only find one with a banana seat.