In September last year I took the bold step of embarking on a three year BA in English and History at our local college which is an affiliated college campus of two universities. I left school at 15 years of age to train as an apprentice engineer in a local company. Although I attended college on a day release basis, for the next 7 years I did not reach degree standard, which is something that I have always regretted. Then, at 22 years of age, my career in management started, and for the next 25 years involved long hours and a fair amount of travel. This was always my excuse for not pursuing a degree level qualification - I was too busy being 'important' and travelling the world!
I had stopped travelling and feeling important prior to the diagnosis of Parkinson's disease (PD), although on reflection I am fairly sure I already had PD at least 3 years before this. But I was now far too busy becoming a world expert in PD, or so I thought. I set up a PD internet forum for sufferers, organised ‘Get-Togethers’, became an advocate for a national PD charity, bought and read every publication I could find and researched PD on the Internet every day. As my PD progressed and I became unable to pursue physical activities like golf and swimming, I devoted more and more of my time to PD. By this time last year my life seemed to totally revolve around the subject. This was not good; my mood was spiralling downwards and urgent action was needed to find something non-PD to engage me.
A chance meeting with the wife of one of our pub quiz team members, who is a senior history lecturer at our local college, resulted in my wife and I attending an open day at the local college.. We spent all morning at the college and I decided to take the plunge by enrolling on a combination BA degree in Sociology and History (I later transferred to English and History). I have just finished the first year and I received my results last week. I am pleased to report that I passed and will embark on year two at the end of September.
Most of the first year was assignment based, but I felt hugely intimidated by the prospect of the two examinations that I had to sit. One was poetry (Thomas Hardy) and the other was on Political Philosophers. I had done fairly well on all the assignments up until then, but felt sure the exams would expose me as a fraud. I had not sat a higher education exam for 37 years! Due to PD induced micrographia I was allowed to use a laptop and given an extra half an hour. In the end, however, I stubbornly took advantage of neither. I was lucky that a group of six of us had bonded really well, and we revised together over the period leading up to the exams. All the same, my confidence was very low and I was dreading both exams.
I am pleased to report that I worried unnecessarily and that I passed both exams and amazingly got a first for Political Philosophers. Throughout the year I achieved 4 firsts, but this was my highlight by a long way. I almost felt like I belonged!! I re-read the paper that I wrote, in the exam, yesterday and the positive comments that it contained from the marker and I still cannot believe I wrote it. Maybe I was in some kind of PD induced trance!!
Although I still have the PD forum, my obsessive PD research has stopped and my general mood has improved significantly. I have a purpose in life again; I had proved to myself that I can perform at this acedemic level, something that I had always secretly doubted. The impact of this on my self-respect has been immense. The next 2 years will be quite a battle, thanks to PD, but I will give it everything I have got. So if you are reading this and your life has been significantly narrowed by PD, it is never too late to educate!
I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in February 2004 at the age of 51 having experienced undiagnosed symptoms for at least 4 years prior to that. My wife and I have five adult children and three grandchildren. We are fortunate in that we live in a lovely rural part of the east of England, with King’s Forest situated nearby for my much needed, therapeutic dog walks. I spent most of my working life involved in electronic, mechanical manufacturing management within the Worldwide Broadcasting industry and I am extremely lucky to have travelled extensively through my work. Since I was diagnosed I have dedicated much of my time to researching all aspects of PD and trying to both support others with this illness and raise the profile of PD. As well as writing a blog on this website, I administer an internet patient forum for people with PD which I set up in September 2008 and it currently has over 150 members. I also administer the forum’s Facebook, Friends Reunited and Twitter pages. My younger son recently ran in a half marathon race to raise funds for the Cure Parkinson’s Trust. I am currently studying for a BA (Hons) in English and History as a mature student.