By Teresa Swartz Roberts
7. Copyright 2016
We don’t get any extra points for suffering. Pain is not a contest, and I don’t want to win if it is. I am enjoying a second chance after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the miracle of meds and therapies. I see no reason to be miserable unless I have no choice. I have a choice.
God doesn’t give us extra points for refusing help. I believe that. People might, but not God or Nature or the Universe or whatever version of life outside yourself you choose to believe in. Humans live largely in communities because people need to help each other. Why do I have so much trouble accepting help? We develop technologies to help us. If I refuse to wear my glasses, I might fall in a hole. Why should using my cane be much different?
People apologize to me for complaining, saying, “It’s nothing compared to what you’re going through.” My diagnosis does not make what’s happening to you any less painful. My worries do not need to outweigh your stress in order for me to be happy. I am interested in being who I am. I am not the disease; I am me with Parkinson’s. Even though I was not diagnosed until February of 2015, I have been me with Parkinson’s for a long time.
Back in 2010, I wrote a letter to my doctor because I tend to become forgetful during office visits. I ran across the letter two weeks ago. It is clear that I had Parkinson’s Disease back then. So many challenges began falling into place in my memory. I had blamed them on everything from a knee injury to The Change. It’s true that I tore my meniscus while building a flagstone patio in my back yard, and the patio did a number on my back as well. My ob/gyn took me off birth control pills two months before my 50th birthday, and I was a (literally) hot mess. I didn’t know that Parkinson’s was at the bottom of many of my symptoms. I just figured out how to live with what was happening to me.
In addition to a knee replacement and a surgery for “female problems,” I started pulling a luggage cart around the campus where I worked. I learned to tape my knee. When I couldn’t do Zumba anymore, I rode a recumbent exercise bike and did the arm movements during Zumba class. I started using a cart to carry laundry. Eventually, I had to seek accommodations at work. I began using a cane. I asked my doctor to write an order for a disability parking sticker. I started asking for help.
Asking for help is a tough one. I started going to the grocery store alone only about four months ago when my son began working nights. Now, when the bagger at Kroger offers to take my groceries out to the car, I say no, thanks. A year and a half ago, I couldn’t persuade my muscles to get me into and out of a chair. Someone at church offered to carry a chair the other day, and I said I’d do it myself. I heard a tiny toddler voice inside: “I do it my SEF!” Why do I behave that way? I suppose it’s because I want to do what I can. Someday I will not be able to do those tasks, but I find joy in that moment of reaching into the bottom of the cart and heaving the potatoes into the trunk. Nevertheless, I need to work on accepting help. We all do.
My husband thanked me the other day for letting him cook. I am that territorial, that stubborn, apparently, that I cannot gracefully accept help even from the person I have chosen to be my partner in life. I need to practice a more appropriate response to help: Thank you.