My brother died in 2011 - March 17th, to be exact. My legs began to shake, or chatter, knees knocking in the middle. It’s stress, I told myself, not something to worry about. The chatter became twitches in my legs, glutes, and shoulder. “It’s the fight-or-flight response,” my doctor said in August 2011. She prescribed an antidepressant. For the remainder of the year my symptoms began to accumulate.
“Hey man! Where’s the off switch?” I thought through the shakes.
By April 2012, I was feeling better. I asked my doctor if I could taper off the antidepressant. “Not a good idea,” was her answer. We’ll see about that, I thought to myself, walking away. I’ll find someone else. Big mistake.
May through June 2012 I was swimming and hiking, preparing to climb Yosemite’s Half Dome. I noticed while swimming I would have twitches in the back of my left arm, and my hands would shake lightly as I gripped the side of the pool. On July 4th we climbed to the top of Half Dome. What an amazing adventure!
In August 2012 I found a different doctor to take me off the antidepressant. So stubborn and bullheaded was I. “My tremor is better, see?” as I stretched out my left arm. Convinced, he took me off the medication. Another big mistake.
Late in November I saw a neurologist, and she prescribed Primidone for benign essential tremor, and told me to return in a month. On this medication I developed dark and crippling depression, a miserable side effect. Electricity, that’s the best way to describe it, was coursing down my left shoulder into my hand. I was unable to fall asleep and stay asleep, waking up with nightmares of dying that would startle me straight up in bed, terrified.
My depression had gotten worse, so I began seeing a psychiatrist in December 2012. Thankfully, he took me off Primidone and prescribed an antidepressant, which I couldn’t get fast enough, sleep meds, and another essential tremor med.
The plan was, I would return to the neurologist in 2013, but fear, more like panic, kept me away until 2015. On appointment day, the neurologist walked into the exam room, took one look at me and said, “You have Parkinson’s.” Shock rendered me silent and still. I quietly began to cry.
“What?” she said curtly. “Just live your life.”
Initially, I found her comment off-putting, but over time I looked at it with a different perspective, and surprisingly I found comfort and reassurance. For me it means to live life, because life is so rich. Her comment helped me understand this is not a death sentence, that I can still live my life, fully and completely.
In the Summer of 2015 we moved to Las Vegas to be near my aging parents. I sought a second opinion at Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, and my diagnosis was confirmed. Anger overwhelmed me for about six months. My self-loathing at an all-time high, I began swimming and working out at home and eating clean. This resulted in a 50-pound weight loss. I continued my routine for two years until an unfortunate incident happened and convinced me I actually needed to increase the intensity of my exercise regimen.
A Pilates class was my first step. Then, after watching a television segment about PD and Rock Steady Boxing, my second step was finding RSB Green Valley in 2018.
My third step is ongoing. This step includes a positive attitude, perspective, consistency, humor, and never-ending faith. “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase,” Dr. Martin Luther King said.
It’s been an eight-year journey, a roller coaster. I’ve never liked roller coasters, but with PD I’ve been put on one and told to simply hold on. You learn over time you never truly conquer the coaster, but you keep trying and fighting back. I’ll continue this battle, holding on tightly with faith and a good right cross. That’s the plan.
— Written by Teresa