Parkinson’s: Running on Empty

“I think everyone has the same question on their mind: Is the glass half-full or half-empty?” Oliver Stone

“Something has to matter. Otherwise, a person’s life will be miserable and empty.” Tim Sandlin

Introduction: When you think about Parkinson’s, it is a disorder where you balance your daily life with enough dopamine or run on empty. We go from hour to hour; well, for me, it’s a 4-hour time frame from replenishing our intake of Carbidopa-Levodopa. The Levodopa gets converted to the all-essential dopamine, the magical potent that returns things to a primarily normal state of existence.

In starting this series of blog posts regarding my favorite songs and their possible meaning to Parkinson’s, Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” was a potential candidate. However, this song joined the list when my friend Lisa Cox recommended it for my series.

“Lighten up while you still can, don’t even try to understand. Just find a place to make your stand, and take it easy.” Jackson Browne

Before Music, a Little Science: Parkinson’s results due to the death of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta in the mid-brain. The substantia nigra is part of the basal ganglia, which helps regulate movement by increasing and decreasing motor activity. This loss of dopamine-producing capacity in the brain results in the motor dysfunction that characterizes Parkinson’s.

Many are exploring a big question in their research laboratories and clinic settings: What is the cause of the loss of these critical neurons? Suffice it to say; there are several possibilities like neuroinflammation, dysregulation of the immune system, oxidative stress, genetic alterations, and those pathophysiological changes accompanying advanced aging. There is likely an individual cause that led to the loss of dopamine-producing neurons, but it is not a “one size fits all” disorder.

“Be yourself; everyone else is taken.” Oscar Wilde

Agony and Ecstasy of Dopamine: If you have Parkinson’s, likely you have such a story where you felt the highest-high and the lowest-low from dopamine during your everyday life? Here is one story for you. I was playing golf one-afternoon last spring on our campus golf course. I was playing well and could feel the peak of the dopamine starting to ebb away. At the furthest point from the clubhouse (it figures), the starter/superintendent drove by and said there was a lightning strike less than 2 miles from the golf course; his parting words were, “Get off the course, now!” And yes, I was walking and pushing my golf cart, not riding that afternoon. As we started walking, I could tell that I was bottoming out of my afternoon dose of Carbidopa-Levodopa. Now it was my willpower (aka, stubbornness) to get off the course before the rain hit (I was not that worried about the lightning). Walking, walking some more, hardly able to move quickly, let alone gracefully, I made it back and loaded the golf bag and cart into my car as the spring monsoon storm hit the golf course. There is no moral to the story. When running on empty, you truly appreciate the incredible human machinery and the intricacies and interplay between things like dopamine from the brain and movement from the body.

“Forget what life used to be, you are what you choose to be. It’s whatever it is you see that life will become.” Jackson Browne

Jackson Browne: According to Wikipedia, Jackson Browne is an American singer-songwriter. He rose to fame in the late 1960s writing such hits as “Take It Easy” (Along with some members of the Eagles) and my favorite song of his from the early 1970s, “Doctor My Eyes.” However, it was his live album in the late 1970s, “Running on Empty,” that struck the chord in the USA, and proved to be his most popular yet, and included songs like “Running on Empty,” and “The Load Out/Stay.”

“The best songwriters can create genius from even the most routine situations. It seems that Jackson Browne didn’t have far to go from his residence to the studio where he was making his 1976 album “The Pretender,” so he rarely stopped to gas up his car. ‘I was always driving around with no gas,’ Browne recalled to Rolling Stone. ‘I just never bothered to fill up the tank because — how far was it anyway? Just a few blocks.’” (click here to read the full story)

Parkinson’s, Running on Empty, the Song and Disorder: These lines strike home as we balance love, life, and living with Parkinson’s, “Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive / Trying not to confuse it, with what you do to survive.”

This reference to “running on empty” is excellent—the analogy of gas in the car and dopamine in your body. When you are running on empty, whether it is your car or your body, you can only go so far before you stop.

Running On Empty Song by Jackson Browne

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
Looking back at the years gone by like so many summer fields
’65, I was 17 and running up 101
I don’t know where I’m running now, I’m just running on

Running on (running on empty)
Running on (running blind)
Running on (running into the sun)
But I’m running behind

Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive
Trying not to confuse it, with what you do to survive
’69, I was 21 and I called the road my own
I don’t know when that road turned into the road I’m on

Running on (running on empty)
Running on (running blind)
Running on (running into the sun)
But I’m running behind

Everyone I know, everywhere I go
People need some reason to believe
I don’t know about anyone, but me
If it takes all night, that’ll be all right
If I can get you to smile before I leave

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don’t know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
Look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes, I see them running too

Running on (running on empty)
Running on (running blind)
Running on (running into the sun)
But I’m running behind

Honey, you really tempt me
You know the way you look so kind
I’d love to stick around, but I’m running behind
(Running on) You know I don’t even know what I’m hoping to find
(Running blind) Running into the sun, but I’m running behind

Thank you

Jackson Browne- Running on Empty

“It does seem to me that at least some of us have made an idol of exhaustion. The only time we know we have done enough is when we are running on empty and when the ones we love most are the ones we see the least.” Barbara Brown Taylor

Cover Photo Image by Pexels from Pixabay

4 Replies to “Parkinson’s: Running on Empty”

  1. I really enjoyed reading “Running on Empty” Thanks for that. I understand better about the exhaustion I get day after day. I wake up tired and groggy, probably because I sleep all nite without any dopamine! I’m glad you are writing and making your knowledge available to us!


  2. I have been told that I have Parkinsonism. I love your articles. For me it is more of what they call a pill roll although a scan did show somethings. The running on empty is what I feel a great deal so I could relate with your article and your Artist Choice. Not always sure what Parkinsonism means. Thanks


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: