When I was close to my 60th year I held out my hands for my (late) husband to pull me up off the beach blanket. Not because I couldn’t get up on my own, but because I thought I’m almost 60 and this is how old ladies get up off the beach.
Shortly thereafter, I took up yoga and learned that if you don’t make the effort, you don’t get the grace. In short, I learned to kick my own butt and connect with my breath. I am younger in spirit and body now and grateful that I did not succumb to impending old age. That's lesson one.
Ten years ago my husband got a prostate cancer diagnosis. We both spent so much emotional energy worrying and forecasting his coming illness and demise. Neither happened. He died healthy and doing what was his passion - scuba diving. This was a reminder that we don’t know what the future holds, so don’t spend energy thinking about it. That's lesson two.
Now I am no longer in my early 60's, but in my early 70's. Now I have a Parkinson's diagnosis and I am applying those two lessons in my coping and dealing. I do not know how my disease (I like to call it a condition) will progress, but I am being proactive in my fight to stay well. For example, I joined Ping Pong Parkinson. I LOVE ping pong! It is so much fun! The fact that it helps my brain build new neural pathways added to my cross referencing with others affected by Parkinson’s at our sessions, is icing on the cake. I could have joined a support group and sat in a circle talking about how sad we are. Instead I’m playing ping pong!
Swimming: I don’t understand the how or why of it, but in the water the stiffness that Parkinson's causes disappears. I use a snorkel to keep my head in the water and exist in a weightless realm where my limbs are fluid and beautifully at my command.
Yoga: Provides a mind body connection and breath awareness. Also aids in strength and balance.
So in a funny way, Parkinson's is giving me my best self. Even if my condition deteriorates I feel good in the moment. And the moment is all we have.
The other day a young guy seated behind the curtains and waiting to play, asked me what my table tennis rating was. I wasn’t sure, but I said "2021" anyway. The guy cocked his head and looked at me skeptically. And then, possibly swayed by my white hair, he said straight out that he thought maybe that I was either exaggerating or confusing the year with my rating. I tried to hide the socially awkward situation I was in by chuckling defensively, and meekly admitted to a lower rating, one more consistent with Columbus’ arrival in the New World. Well, so what was I to tell him, that my Alzheimer’s was kicking in? C’mon, it’s a senior moment. Sometimes I may not immediately recall my zip code, either. Does that mean I’m senile or presenile? No. Emphatically no! What about a phone number or a close friend or family member whose name that you suddenly can’t come up with? Same thing. What about keys that you can’t find, or words that are suddenly illusive or names of actors that are so familiar but yet beyond immediate identification? Same. Stuff happens like that, but it’s not really abnormal or an indication that you have dementia if you eventually remember all these things, albeit with some lag time. None of us, those with Parkinson’s and so-called normal aging people, are as sharp as we were in our 20’s. That’s the way it goes. We’re slower and have to recognize and admit to it. It shouldn’t be embarrassing, but it can be.
Of course, some of us will inevitably decline and have memory problems leading to real intellectual deficits and a diagnosis of dementia (Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia – to name a few). Can we do anything to prevent this cognitive loss? Maybe. I’ve gone to an NIH (National Institute of Health) internet site to get an honest, researched answer to this question that confronts all of us when we get old. Here is what they say (verbatim) at preventing our brains from deteriorating:
“A recent review of research looked carefully at the evidence on ways to prevent or delay Alzheimer's dementia or age-related cognitive decline. Led by a committee of experts from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), the review found "encouraging but inconclusive" evidence for three types of interventions:
So, bottom line: Stay active, live a healthy lifestyle. Have medical check-ups. Challenge yourself (learn new things). Play ping pong. Lao Du
When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in July of 2014, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I looked at my neurologist and asked him, “Is this a death sentence?”
He replied, “No, it’s what you make of it.”
I took a deep breath, trying to figure out what the hell that exactly means. He told me that Parkinson’s effects everyone differently – and assured me that millions of people with PD lead normal, active lives.
What instantly came to mind were things like shaking, stumbling, and Michael J. Fox – but what I mostly thought of was, this plain sucks!
Well, after living with it for seven years, I can tell you having Parkinson’s is what you make of it. Along with the love and support of my family and friends, I chose to make the best of it and not to let PD get me down, but build me up.
Here are 7 ways I’ve benefited from my seven-year Parkinson’s journey:
7. I’m meeting some very cool people
Through a community of Parkinson’s brothers and sisters, I’ve made some very good friends who I have a special bond with – that will last a lifetime.
6. I’m exercising like never before
One of the most effective ways to fight PD is with exercise. It’s great for the mind, body, and soul and really loosens you up. Walk, bike, play, just get off your butt and move!
5. I’m beating the crap out of Parkinson’s
Of all the activities that make me feel better, boxing is a winner. Whether it’s hitting the heavy bag or speed bag, putting on the gloves knocks Parkinson’s out like nothing else.
4. I’m playing ping pong while improving my life
Ping pong is a favorite past time of mine. Who would have thought that playing it would be an effective way to improve the symptoms of PD and feel good while having fun.
3. I’m eating healthier and feeling good
Because of my PD meds, I’ve been motivated to change my diet to live healthier by eating mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, plant-based protein and more nutritious foods.
2. I’m benefiting from music in an exciting new way
Music has always been an important part of my life. As someone with Parkinson’s, music is helping me discover a better quality of life through its own special rhythm.
And the #1 reason that having Parkinson’s doesn’t totally suck is …
1. I’m feeling positive about my future
With everything Parkinson’s has brought to my life, I’m motivated to staying positive today, while keeping my spirits set high, so I can have a better life tomorrow.
It is often said that Parkinson’s Disease slowly diminishes one’s world by gradually taking away the ability to actively engage in activities. The progressive nature of this neurological disease can become debilitating to the point where a person can no longer perform what was once automatic and fluid. Everyone’s course of the disease is different; some progress at a rapid rate while other’s course is slow and gradual. I was diagnosed with PD approximately 10 years ago at the age of 48 and have been fortunate enough to have been able to maintain my lifestyle with very few modifications. This is due in part to my commitment to daily exercise. It’s only recently that I found myself needing to make a decision to give up playing tennis which had been a major part of my life and identity.
I began playing tennis at the age of 7, just over 50 years ago! I played with family, friends and on competitive teams throughout my childhood. I also played in college and as an adult on USTA teams. It’s a social sport which connected me to people throughout my entire life. I met some of my closest friends on tennis teams and social games. When COVID hit, the whole tennis community went into “hibernation”, a natural break where we all gave up our indoor tennis games in order to remain safe by maintaining social distancing. The timing of this was impeccably convenient for me to subtly transition away from tennis as it was becoming clear that it was unsafe for me to play. At the time, when COVID was immobilizing the world, Parkinson’s was immobilizing my feet. They had begun to freeze in the middle of a point; my brain would tell my feet to move yet they remained cemented to the court. The result was that my body would thrust forward without my feet and I would fall down for the slightest moment and then bounce back up, almost in time to get to the ball and remain in the point. If I was lucky enough my doubles partner would get to the ball and make the shot, but inevitably the other players on the court would stop the point to make sure I was ok. This placed too much attention on me which made me feel uncomfortable. Plus, I started to realize that I was at risk for becoming injured which potentially could have led to a cascade of negative ramifications if I was unable to exercise -a downward spiral that I did not want to experience.
As our world starts to open up again with COVID cases declining, I have decided to put all of my energy into playing table tennis, a sport that I revisited 3 years ago when I walked into the Westchester Table Tennis Center and learned about the Ping Pong Parkinson program. After 3 years of playing both sports and constantly having to adjust my stroke, I have made a conscious decision to solely play ping pong. I have yet to freeze or lose my footing when I play since it uses a different brain circuitry system and it’s a smaller space for my feet to cover. It almost feels reflexive, so there is no time for my feet to freeze in a response to initiate movement.
1: Question: If I lose the first game in a match, I inevitably become nauseous. Why?
Lao Du: You’re probably pregnant.
Questioner: But I’m a man!
Lao Du: That’s what you think, but you’re no expert. I’m answering the questions here.
2: Question: What is the greatest threat to our planet?
Answer: Jeese, what in blazes kind of existential question is this for a Q and A relating to ping pong? Okay, I’ll answer it anyway. The sponge/squishee paddle is by far the greatest known threat. Stephen Hawkins, the great (and late) physicist, considered an asteroid collision to be the largest “threat to the planet”. Well, I don’t know about that. Maybe he’s wrong. Maybe only 100 % wrong.
3: Question: What is man’s greatest overall evolutionary achievement?
Answer: I dunno , but it aint Long Pips … unless you consider its use to clean dishes. And it’s a dumb question – probably the same guy who asked number 2.
Occasionally you come across a player using a very unorthodox style, and you say: How the heck can anyone play like that! There are a few players in the club, for example, who have adopted a particularly bizarre strategy of retreating 15 feet from the table, hitting a few defensive shots and then creaming the ball while on the run returning toward the table. These players are entertaining to watch (I can’t help laughing), but this whole enterprise is devoid of any brain engagement, and these guys usually lose to anyone hitting the ball back 3 times.
But once in a while, there comes along that rare exception who is able to conquer using the most unconventional, oddball style. This is what happened when Danny Seemiller became the US Nationals Singles champion 5 times using his eponymous grip (the Seemiller Grip) in the 70’s and 80’s. Believe me, this grip is more than weird – it’s freaky. It’s a strange thing to behold a guy hitting the forehand and backhand on the same side of the racket, but that’s what this is about. Yet … he did it … and successfully.