6 Personal Strengths for Living Decisively with Parkinson’s

“How are they going to see me — as the colleague as I have always been, or as the patient I always will be? That was the beginning of my transition.” Alice Lazzarini (a Parkinson’s researcher who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s)

Précis: After successfully hitting a golf ball out of a sand trap and onto the putting green, I was recently asked to compare living with Parkinson’s to the obstacles presented by a sand trap on a golf course.

Strength is within each of us: We use various personal strengths to optimize our lives.  However, I believe certain personal strengths can provide a template to help you continue to live a valued life in the presence of Parkinson’s (with or without golf’s sand traps). Some of these personal strengths were beautifully summarized by Barbara Seelig, “The Heart of a Warrior: Persistence in the face of adversity; courage to face the unknown; purposeful intent to live wholeheartedly; courageous exploration of one’s weaknesses and strengths within the context of personal integration and consistent evolution toward personal growth.”  Let me describe some personal strengths of character that are important for living with Parkinson’s and also for hitting golf balls from sand traps.

“We aren’t victims, we are strong, amazing people who just happen to have a crummy disease, and we want a cure to that disease”  Kate Matheson

“It took me seventeen years to get three thousand hits in baseball. It took one afternoon on the golf course.” Hank Aaron

Personal strengths for Parkinson’s and golf’s sand traps:
Getting the diagnosis of Parkinson’s reminded me of the time I was a young boy playing organized football and had the wind knocked out of me. Hearing my Neurologist say the words “you have Parkinson’s Disease” left me gasping for a breath; I wanted to repeat the words to acknowledge my new life challenge but there was no air to form the words.

Since hearing those words, life and living have substantially changed; in reality, the majority of changes have been positive.  Some of these life-changes are centered around mindfulness and wholeheartedness; other changes revolve around Parkinson’s education/outreach.

Simply acknowledging the existence of the disorder mandates a new life inventory and re-organizing your personal priorities. Maintaining comparable quality life-experiences with the ever-present and progressive burden of Parkinson’s takes perseverance, courage, positivity, curiosity, resilience, and hope.

Golf is a wonderful sport for many reasons.  Playing and practicing golf is especially beneficial for someone with Parkinson’s (as described here previously).  Physical activity (most sports) is good for many aspects of this disorder.  Golf begins when you hit the ball off the tee aiming for the green; however simple that sounds there are usually obstacles ahead before reaching the green and putting the ball to finish. Thus, navigating these golf obstacles is similar to adapting to the daily annoyances of Parkinson’s.

There are usually 3 types of golf hazards: rough (the thick grass around/adjacent to the fairway); water (lakes, ponds, creeks) and sand traps. Sand traps exist for you to avoid them. Likewise, sand traps  are designed to capture your golf ball. Thus, occasionally, we find ourselves in a sand trap.   Getting out of the sand trap takes perseverance, positivity, resilience, and hope.

“We may each have our own individual Parkinson’s, but we all share one thing in common. Hope” Michael J. Fox

“If there is one thing I have learned during my years as a professional, it is that the only thing constant about golf is its inconstancy.” Jack Nicklaus

Living decisively with Parkinson’s and managing golf’s sand traps: Living with Parkinson’s is somewhat analogous to the challenges of hitting your golf ball out of the sand trap.  Sometimes you blast the ball out of the sand trap toward the golf green and the hole/flag.  At other times, you sacrifice a stroke to hit the ball laterally just to escape a daunting and deep sand trap.

Likewise, each minute of each hour living with Parkinson’s can present one a changing landscape; moving from physically feeling close to normal to challenges with even the most routine tasks/events (like buckling your car seat belt, getting a credit card out of your wallet, a smile being confused for a frown, a soft statement just not being heard in a noisy room,  etc.).  The goal of living decisively with Parkinson’s is to successfully accomplish all the day-to-day tasks that were once a seamless part of our lives.  Living daily with Parkinson’s is like walking into that sand trap, subtle resistance between feet and sand, with a slightly unsteady balance.

Living with Parkinson’s requires several personal strengths to bolster our daily dealing with its subtle but substantial life-changes:
•Perseverance- you need steadfastness in everything you do to counter the challenges of the disorder;
•Courage- your own strength provides the fulcrum where resistance resides to confront the effects of the disorder;
•Positivity- staying positive provides the fuel that starts each life-day with Parkinson’s;
Curiosity- learn all you can about Parkinson’s and you gain clarity on you, especially as your life moves forward;
•Resilience (with acceptance of your disorder)- you need the capacity to both adapt to and recover from difficulties;  and it starts by accepting your disorder. And please remember, Parkinson’s is neither a weakness nor a failure on your part;
•Hope- we must remain hopeful as it provides the foundation that you with your loved-ones, family, friends, colleagues and healthcare team are making a difference dealing with your Parkinson’s.

Our new journey began the moment we heard the words “you have Parkinson’s Disease”; however, your journey can still be fully lived with your sustained effort. Your core values and personal strengths of character are the framework for your new life’s journey. Live decisively with Parkinson’s:  “Stay strong. Stay hopeful. Stay educated. Stay determined. Stay persistent. Stay courageous. Stay positive. Stay wholehearted. Stay mindful. Stay happy. Stay you.”

“Sometimes the best journeys are those, that start when we do not plan, continue how we do not expect and are taking us places we do not know.” Aisha Mirza

“As you walk down the fairway of life you must smell the roses, for you only get to play one round.”  Ben Hogan

Cover photo credit: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/B9xG7WmQ37g/maxresdefault.jpg

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