Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Man Behind the Mask Pt 2

Sometimes I do things backwards. I have been known to make a major elecronics purchase, then return home to read Consumer Reports to see how I did.  And yes, it is true that my life sport has been rowing where we choose to travel backwards. Finally, yes, it is true that I started a blog without any mention of plans, goals, motivations etc. for the blog. How about we rectify that situation? Author authored Q & A format will be easiest...

Why are you blogging on such a personal topic?

They say to write about “what you know”. I know Parkinson’s. As such, I don't really find that personal, at least what I've offered you so far. I mean, seriously, you can get more perspective on this by going to the bio section in your local bookstore where you can find some pretty gut-wrenching personal stuff. Makes my stuff pretty dry :-)

Who do you hope to reach with this blog?

Of course, your first target is usually those with Parkinson’s - they are the ones that need the laughs the most. I'm thinking however, that there might be a tougher market to crack. (And maybe one more valuable to you). That is, your support group, and those just outside of your support group. The latter group would include your friends, coworkers, teammates etc., ones who would be rarely called upon for any specific support duties but who would benefit from having an understanding of your situation. They are also the ones who would be very unlikely to take it upon themselves to learn about your disease from the standard relatively depressing, medical site. However, if you dug up a blog entry of mine that you liked, and sent the link, you could say something like:

"check this out - this blog is from some dude who has Parkinson's. He's a bit out in left field but can  be pretty funny from time to time…"

The biggest plus in this situation is not that Blair gets another page view, but that you have given permission for someone in your circle to laugh at Parkinson's. That may open up another level of communication that you didn't have before. Give it a try!

It seems that many of your topics are, well, interesting, to say the least. Comment?
I think if people are going to stick around long enough to absorb your intended message, then providing a few humorous side adventures may help keep them engaged. As much as possible, I do like to start postings with the setting in the broader side of life. I.e., I prefer the stories did not start and end in the petri dish of Parkinson’s.

What do you hope to get out of this? (It looks to be a fair amount of work)
Honestly, in the beginning I wasn’t quite sure why I was doing it. I had an urge to do it but I couldn't clearly identify a reason.  As time goes on, I recognize the following fueling my writing:

It Keeps My Mental LEGO in Order

Parkinson’s or not, like your hard drive, your brain becomes sluggish and lethargic due to sloppy housekeeping and inefficient memory storage practices. The writing process does a wonderful job of re-filing those fleeting thoughts (red), Pulitzer quality blog drafts (yellow), and acceptance speeches (blue) etc.  into a tight lean, mean, blogging machine. Note that the above image and its associated color coding is from the author’s recent MRI.

Talk the Talk - Time To Walk the Walk

I’m no different than the rest of you.  I have this "LAZY" gene that sometimes rears its ugly head and prevents me from getting those "My Body Is a Temple" items done. And let me tell you, when you've got Parkinson's, your list of things that can make a difference is a rather long one. This makes my list more often than not, a "Temple of Doom" list. I’m thinking items like fitness, nutrition, social interaction...  Often I get tired of doing all those things that should be done to take care of Parkinson’s. My hopes are that the blog will keep me honest.

The Satisfaction of Sharing And Contributing

Hopefully readers will take away more than just a chuckle or two. I think there's something for everyone somewhere in my quasi-fictionary tales. You may have to look hard, sometimes reading between the lines - occasionally requiring a Waldo-rian search effort but it's there somewhere!

Are You Worried about being called a Naval-Gazer?

I had already assembled an elaborate defense against this hideous crime - call it a  preemptive strike against those that would throw rocks. Then I sat down and wondered - was this an awards show or a trial? I looked at all of the grayscale definitions and realized that I would be quite pleased to be accused of some half of their crimes of passion and the other half I didn’t really care about. So I suppose I’m resigning myself to a conviction in absentia. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up doing hard time - I hear the writing opportunities are good in the big house. And if I play my cards right, with bad behaviour and all, maybe I could get some solitary.

My editor is looking over my shoulder saying I need a conclusion to tie this entry together. I said it is wound as tight as a middle school teacher at report card time.

Honey? Honey???

Monday, 17 March 2014

Solitude, Cafe Moments, and Finding Your "Pocket Bliss"...

Summer of Love, 1967
Vineland, Ontario

 I sat up, rubbing the nightmares from my eyes. One, two, three, shazam! I squinted them open a  crack - damn! Still double bunked with three other brothers. I pledged to re-commit to my letter campaign to Children's  Services.

 I leapt  to the edge of the bed, put on my "sneaky slippers", and  played hopscotch in slo-mo to the door. I knew the floor like a musical instrument. Each piece of hardwood a key with its own pitch - its ability to creak, annoy, and wake up, or its silence - its ability to whisper, embrace stealth, and to keep a secret.

 The Mission? To make it downstairs to the TV unencumbered by Big Brother (any version). I grabbed Orr and the Bruins from the hockey card collection and locked the door to our second-floor bathroom. The door was secured shut by pulling out the drawer in front of it. It provided, I calculated, about 14 seconds of secured access until a scissors-armed sibling could  scratch and pry it open. With an active defense, one could keep the viking at bay for an unlimited period of blasphemy, threats, and well, pure juvenile entertainment. I have learned since however, that there is no such thing as an "idle" threat. It may be a week later, a year, or decades, but eventually, you will catch them pouring Red Bull in your IV line, or some such shenanigans.

At baseboard level behind the door was the heating register - that glorious provider of toe-warming, navel-gazing comfort. I settled in, back against the cupboard door, feet up against the register - And thought about, absolutely… Nothing.  I wondered, would I have time to do this when I grew up?

The furnace shut off; I got up. I always got up  slightly confused - was the brief period of bliss nullified by the more intense disappointment when the furnace turns off? I recognized these experiences many years later as what I called “coin massage regret”. In brief, the experience that the ending of the coin massage often brought more disappointment - enough to seemingly cancel out the joy experienced during the short massage.

I walked over to the stairs and perched myself on the top step. I could recognize my Mom’s perfume anywhere - I call it “Ode de Cafe”. It seemed like such an easy conclusion. For years as an early riser, the coffee smell - the smell of fresh ground coffee meant "mom was up". The absence of that gorgeous smell meant that mom was either on strike, working to rule, was testing our independence - or all three :-)

She proceeded to sit down in her easy chair and gaze out the window. Her fingers wrapped around the cup like it was Aladdin’s magic lamp.What was she wishing? One can only speculate: "If only all the boys were like Blair" (I repeat, just speculating).

She took the smallest of sips of the brown nectar, her head rose, looking towards the heavens as if to give thanks - then squeezed her eyes shut for a few seconds as if to lock in the sensation. I resisted the urge to check on her to see if she was okay, content that I had witnessed her in this altered state many times before and she had always come out of it okay, in time to make us pancakes.

As expected, Mom did "come out" of her caffeine induced elevated state and made us the most delicious batch of pancakes you can imagine.  I don't recall any specific instructives passed on to me  about "smelling the roses" , or anything relating to solitude by  Mom but there has been clear recognition on my part that I appreciate many of the same things that my mother does - and that many of these involve an inward looking approach that works well with many activities I enjoy.

Don't underestimate the power of the coffee ritual. In  mom's peak moments, she not just enjoys the equivalent of my dopamine moments, I have no doubt that in those moments of bliss in the early mornings, she was planning her battle strategy for the day, whilst enjoying the solitude as much as someone at the cabin lakeside.

Is that what this has been about? The coffee high? Not necessarily. Maybe it is more about the discovery and continual cultivation of those things in life that give us great pleasure and that we can call upon virtually anytime, anyplace. I want to  call this cultivating "pocket bliss". No, we didn't develop any skills nor provide you with any tools to do that, that is beyond the scope of this blog. What is within its scope,  is a reminder to discover those activities that give you great pleasure when you are by yourself, focusing on the activities that require little overhead. I.e., you can take with you when you go :-)

We like to ignore its  instructive reality, but having a neurodegenerative disease like Parkinson's is no different than the aging process on steroids. You are gradually going to have things taken away from you one by one. Your task now as a "pocket bliss" seeker is to seek out and cultivate activities that you can take with you wherever the Parkinson's adventure (or any other adventure for that matter) takes you.

Bon voyage,

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Just What the Hell Is Victoria's Secret Anyways?

Today,  I introduce the first of a few “themes” of blog entries that will be coming to you in the next few weeks. These themes will be accessible on the right side of your page as tags.They should help to provide more structure to the blog and will allow us to group together some common threads into themes such as Postcards From Siberia, BlairTellsTheUnvarnishedTruth, and Zero To Hero!

Zero to HERO! chronicles the public spectacle of a dopamine rush,  experienced  in all the  comedic glory that a public setting allows. Learn about a Hulkian transformation from the safety of your living  room. The dopamine rush.That wonderful chemical transformation from “Honey, can you open this jar for me”, to “I’m organizing our manhole cover collection -  by size, city, or date acquired?”  Dopamine… mmmmm. The dopamine replenishing process can be maddeningly unpredictable often leading to humorous results in public. :-) Enjoy!

On the tail end of a family visit, three of my brothers and I were strolling towards our respective gates. I was already guessing this flight was not going to proceed smoothly as I had asked one of my brothers to roll one of my carry-on bags for me. He must’ve thought that was such an odd request as it was on wheels. The issue is more one of not being able to swing your arms freely which makes it much more difficult to visualize and execute fluid and equally importantly, long strides.

 We parted ways at my gate in plenty of time for the customary triple crown of espresso/a good read/ movie.  However, all hell was about to break loose. My iPhone  was abuzz with alerts from Vinny in Risk Management indicating that my latest bio-data transmission  had put us in  code orange. In practical terms, that meant that the boarding process, while still doable, would likely pose significant risk. Risk of bruising, deflation, or worse, requiring long-term psychotherapy. The good news was that it could only be incurred by my sucky male ego with my permission. and that it was totally my choice as to what the extent of the damage would be, if any.

I reviewed my own list of best practices at the gate: Board last if possible, test your gait every few minutes, and if you are going to board in rough shape, you may as well get some drinks before the flight as many will think that you have been drinking anyways :-) (just kidding on this last one (SERIOUSLY just kidding!)  Don’t make things any more difficult than they already are.

Boarding call, lines formed, lines disappeared. One last text from Vinny -

 "fight or flight"  time buddy…  Vin

  I scanned the gate for anyone that might be involved if I elected for the former. I didn’t have any concerns with Ken and Barbie, the young, buff, twenty-something WestJet employees as I felt confident I could simply distract them with a pair of double half caf venti 3 pump vanilla 3 pump hazelnut soy extra hot no foam with whip and cinnamon sprinkles latte - then render them unconscious with a quad espresso. That would leave me free and clear to…  ummmhh… get on my flight   :-)

I got up and began to shuffle and stutter-step like a teenager towards the check-in. I wondered whether there  were any strategies I could use to distract myself from my obsession with my gait. I might be better off if I had something else to focus on and just left the gait happen. Let's see, word association usually comes up with something useful >>>  jet... Jet setter.’. Model... Jetway.. Runway.. Fashion show… Blair's Secret Fallback career choice...Victoria's Secret... Wife always said I could model workboots!  Hey! Do they have Victor's Secret? I could…

MR. RASMUSSEN! , You are the last to board. Please head down the runway - ummm, I mean jetway...

As I rounded the corner to the runway a voice started to echo down the tube as I walked

Sasha: Our final entrant in today's show is 1C Rasmussen. Blair is trying to work a two-piece ensemble of an unlaundered red "Calgary Rowing Club” t-shirt with what looks like a pair of Mom issued Walmart jeans with a small spaghetti stain accent and... ewww!

Fabio: You OK?

Sasha: I will be. I just find it so offensive!  I didn't  think anyone did that anymore - white tube socks with Clark├Ęs leather uppers. Fabio, what are your thoughts, do you think Blair can pull this off?

: Well, if anyone can it certainly will be Blair. With his superior conditioning and presence - I mean seriously, look at him! Trouble is, he's trying  to pull off that size medium shirt and it's just not going well for him. If you look carefully, you will notice that he's given up doing the top button on his jeans. (must have been a good visit ;) Judges will punish him severely for that transgression.

Sasha: You know, we’ve seen this exact situation bring down other talented individuals - if you are going to call yourself a medium, then  get yourself back to medium or, recalibrate your image to the new you. Right?

Fabio: I read his blog. If he only trained as much as his mother did his clothes would fit properly either in the overhead bin or under your seat. Thanks for your attention. If you have any questions, Sasha and Fabio will be coming through the cabin  shortly.

I struggled to make my way down the ramp. As I turned the corner inside the plane stage fright, I froze, I mean, like, Siberia-like. I was about 6 feet away from my seat, but as far as my current predicament was concerned, it might well have been 6 km.

I flopped into my seat with audible relief. My precious cargo! I had given my rolling carry-on and backpack to the flight attendants without any instruction. The contraband in those bags included 75 pounds of Olde English China. Imagining an impending disaster, I jumped off my seat, poked my head above the seat back, Shouted, “be careful! That’s my families good china, you know!” (They say, one can summon amazing powers of strength in emergency situations, and I totally agree. I would also like to add that just imagining having to tell your mother that you busted 60 years of Olde English China She just gave to you seems to give the same powers as well.)

I turned to greet my neighbor and her head snapped  back in the opposite direcion. This continued a few times until I audibly laughed. My assumption was that she thought I was drunk, and that was how she chose to deal with me. I suppose this could have been in opportunity for education, but I was in no mood to be generous to this woman. Before I could poke her with a few funnies [Blair coughs on his sleeve] don’t worry, they say Parkinson’s is only communicable for the first 72 hours - and were already at 60”.  She got up, walked over to the flight attendants and had a word with them. She proceeded to change seats, moving to  the opposite side of the aisle. Feeling like a leper, I bid my time until Ms. Dopamine arrived. In seconds, I had leapt to my feet and walked past her to the bathroom. The look on her face was priceless.

The gradual degenerative progression of Parkinson’s has many gears, but is seemingly relentless in its direction and intent. While we have a few tools to put the brakes on the disease, medication, exercise, nutrition, meditation, etc,  the target keeps moving. The mind can truly work wonders helping you adjust. Yet, it is also capable of incredible sleight-of-hand deception that may not be doing you any favors.

When I started writing this tale, my intent was that it would simply be another public Parkinson’s meltdown, but two seemingly innocuous lines tugged on me in a different direction,  The first was the rather absurd images of myself walking around in a pair of pants with the top button undone (hidden by overhanging T-shirt) and trying to make a size medium shirt work for me was sheer stupidity. I haven't been medium in years. I knew that. I know it's a simple observation, but it's pretty powerful for me. I know for some time that I wouldn't go out and take part in certain activities if I wasn't absolutely symptom-free. As in, if there was any hint, absolutely any shred of evidence that I had Parkinson's, I would stay home. Probably the most most telling example was the evening that I was sitting at home mulling about whether I should go or should not go to my Parkinson's support group meeting because I was feeling like I was not going to be on top of my game. Meaning,  essentially that didn't want to attend a Parkinson's support group meeting looking like someone who had Parkinson's. I still get a good chuckle when I think of that day. :-)

The long and short of it is, Parkinson's or not, be who you are today. And if you are going to "fake it until you make it" just be aware that that's the game you're playing