From Guest Contributor, Dwight Roth - Parkinson's Opportunity: Embracing Fear

from guest contributor, Dwight Roth, a new PD Fighter at the Parkinson's Exercise and Wellness Center.

Parkinson's Opportunity: Embracing Fear

Parkinson’s is a hideous, horrific disease. Symptoms can include tremor, gait problems, memory loss, and, sometimes, wanting too much of a good thing. The effects of Parkinson’s keep me, in two words, ­off balance in many areas.

Despite this, P.D. gives me the opportunity to grow in positive ways. This growth has granted me entry into positive realms unknown before I was diagnosed. I may experientially know what Shakespeare meant when he wrote about “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” This is good fortune if I can turn my Parkinson’s fear and related suffering into compassion for all the pain existing in humanity.

I label my diagnosis as “Parkinson’s Opportunity” (P.O.). P.O. gives me a chance to better understand my fear of what loss of control means to me. The word “disease” implies negativity. The word disease was created long ago by someone who did not know my situation. I prefer to call my medical condition “opportunity” instead of disease. The use of the word “opportunity” vis-à-vis disease is important because what is defined as real is often real because of its consequences. I would rather endure the consequences of opportunity—again to embrace my fears.

When I say I choose to embrace fear, I refer to my attempt to positively accept what Parkinson’s brings to my life. I would not choose to have this problematic health situation. Since I have Parkinson’s, I can be its victim or I can be its student. I can use what it teaches me to become more responsible–I can be a caregiver along with being a care recipient.

Hard-wired into the brain, fear is an emotion that all people experience. Fear in 2021 is especially ubiquitous, fueled by the flames of COVID-19 and political and social tensions. Adding this to the fears that are inherent to Parkinson’s makes for a scary situation.

Fear, as with all emotions, is information that offers us guardrails against threats to our wellbeing. This informs us to take action before we are pushed past these guardrails. As part of this, we experience stress and anxiety. Fear, anxiety, and stress are typically seen as being negative in character. Handled well these emotions may have positive results.

Whereas fear relates to a known, real threat, anxiety is correlated to an unknown, circuitous peril. Stress refers to a state of emotional strain resulting from adverse conditions.

How do I embrace my P.O. fear? Sometimes I do not. I complain, get angry, go through stages of grieving what I have lost. When I embrace my Parkinson’s fear, I acknowledge both that I have Parkinson’s and that I fear it. I confide in trusted others. Being a student of my malady, I find the Internet to be a library that is most helpful. Along with this, I find interesting people and support teams.

I feel that the Parkinson’s Exercise and Wellness Center (PEWC) is a part of my team. I have just recently joined this amazing group. While the motor and nonmotor skills I work on during Parkinson’s—Art of Expression (a drama-based program known as PARTE™) are important, the most vital aspect of my involvement with this group is socio-spiritual. Parkinson’s and COVID-19 keep people at a social distance. PARTE™ exercises help lessen pandemic loss and loneliness. Each PEWC staff member has their unique way of affirming me, and I am grateful for this.

I find logotherapy, as developed by Victor Frankl, to be helpful in embracing my Parkinson’s fears. In Man’s Search for Meaning, based upon his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps, Frankl states that humans can endure profound suffering if they can find meaning it. When I get depressed about my Parkinson’s, I recall this quote from Man’s Search for Meaning, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

The most helpful tool for me in embracing Parkinson’s fear is the work of Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., a Stanford University neurobiologist and ophthalmologist. His work focuses on breathing, vision, and levels of emotion, or what he calls “states of arousal.” The two states of arousal he focuses on are stress and calm. Dr. Huberman says that the areas of the brain where breathing and emotion originate are connected in a way that allows them to communicate quickly with each other. Exhaling is associated with being calm and relaxed while inhaling increases a state of arousal including fear, anxiety, and stress. According to Huberman, specific types of breathing are useful dependent upon the state of arousal. A breathing technique referred to as the “physiological sigh” helps people relax. This sigh involves doing two consecutive inhales followed by one exhale. We do this unconsciously during the day to balance the level of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our bodies. This can be done consciously to bring about calm–to reduce fear, anxiety, and stress. I find doing sets of four or five at a time throughout the day or night to be relaxing.

A second breathing technique is deliberate hyperventilation. This is used by the person to bring about more energy. Also known as “box breathing,” this involves a certain number of inhales chosen by the individual, holding your breath, exhaling, and holding your breath. Then, this breath cycle is repeated. Box breathing aims to return breathing to its normal rhythm, which may help to clear the mind, relax the body, and improve focus.

There are other tools I employ to utilize the opportunity that Parkinson’s presents. These tools include dancing, laughter, the vast amount of material online, along with physical and cognitive exercise, being imaginative in creating my own exercise program, and meditation. I choose to embrace the fear Parkinson’s brings. This embrace takes energy and discipline, but the alternative would take much more. While Parkinson’s knocks me off balance, my challenge is to bring myself into a state of equilibrium.