Once upon a time I used to go to the local swimming pool at 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning and swim 40 lengths non-stop. Afterwards, Sundays were spent madly multi-tasking: cooking a roast dinner while supervising violin practice and cleaning out the hamster. My life was governed by principles, targets and deadlines. My favourite sayings were: “Time waits for no man (woman)”, “She who hesitates is lost”, and “The early bird gets the worm”. I was always prepared and one step ahead of the game because I was Superwoman – until my untimely diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease (PD) killed that identity. For a while, I didn’t know who I was.
It was shattering to be diagnosed with PD. I was in my forties with a job to hold down and children to support, but it should not have come as a surprise because I had already experienced typical symptoms for years. Slowness of movement and fumbling (bradykinesia) had become noticeable. My writing shrank in size (micrographia), and it was an effort to write for any length of time without developing cramp (dystonia). Slowly and reluctantly, I came to accept that these impairments were a way of life, and I had to abandon the notion that anything was achievable. I was discovering the limits of my capabilities and learning to live with them long-term.
I continued to teach for six years post-diagnosis, but it was a struggle to keep the pace at times. In order to maintain standards or even improve my students’ exam grades, I had to give up my weekends and abandon my leisure activities. Work began to encroach upon my sleep and I became exhausted. Retirement became inevitable and necessary.
After years of work and child-rearing, I have tried to look on the positive side and to regard retirement as an opportunity to revive old hobbies and develop new ones. I have taken up photography and am enjoying creative writing. I am also growing vegetables so that this year we will be self-sufficient.
PD has forced me to slow down, but this has given me time to think, listen, reflect, and appreciate those things that had once just passed me by. The priorities that drove me during my Superwoman years, such as progress, promotion and success, had been stress-inducing and no guarantee of happiness. The earliest benefit of retirement was a reduction of my medication and the chance to take more exercise and relax when I needed to. I was also very fortunate in having a supportive husband, family and friends around me.
My days are very different now and no longer driven by the clock; I can do things at my leisure. This afternoon I was sitting in the garden, closely observing my tortoise. She is huge, and I suspect she is pregnant, but her shell gets somewhat in the way. I am looking for other signs such as sniffing the ground and digging holes so that eventually I can detect where her nest is. Her afternoon was spent sunbathing, enjoying a strawberry or two, and then sleeping it off beneath the lavender bush. I admire her laid-back attitude to life and just watching her (in)activity is a form of therapy for me.
Tortoises make perfect pets for PwPs (people with PD) because they move at our pace, hibernate as we are less active during the winter, need no walking, grooming or vaccinating, and are generally very accommodating.
The moral "Slow and steady wins the race" reflects my outlook on life these days. I am happy to be at the end of the Post Office queue, last off the bus, and to spend hours at the doctor’s waiting room. PD has taught me to be a patient patient.
I experienced the symptoms of Parkinson's disease (PD) during my 40s and was diagnosed in 2000 at the age of 47. At the time I worked as a lecturer in a further education college where I was in charge of geography and environmental sciences, and was Senior Tutor to 250 students. I also held the post of Deputy Chief Examiner in geography for the International Baccalaureate and ran training courses for teachers in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. I worked with PD for 6 years and finally retired in 2006. Since retiring, I have setup a support group for those with young onset Parkinson's in the Reading area. I write in my spare time and have published three geography textbooks.
I have three grown-up children who have all left home and I live with my husband, two fat cats and five tortoises. My hobbies are photography, gardening and breeding tortoises and my philosophy is: "there's no time like the present".