When I was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s, my foundation for living well was exercise. As a professional athlete, that’s what I knew and it was my bedrock. More than 17 years into this journey with Parkinson’s, though, the role exercise plays in my view of living well has changed. Now, it’s as an important part of my day, rather than the focus of it. I do it for the physical benefits, as well as what it facilitates — better sleep, more energy, appetite and positive mood.
The one thing that has remained constant for me in my approach to Parkinson’s is my philosophy: celebrate the little victories. I say this with conviction — not only to you, but often, to myself — because this disease so frequently can dampen your enthusiasm for life. It’s vital to be able to acknowledge when you’ve experienced something good. You’ve got to stop to really see it, to “chalk it up.” I don’t mark those occasions by raising my arms up in victory like I did when I was a cyclist, but I do make a point of pausing long enough to recognize it. I try to be conscious of those moments — even something as simple as taking joy in reading a funny essay, or feeling the warmth in a hug from my wife, or watching one of my kids compete in a sporting event — and celebrate them.
Before Parkinson’s, I spent a good amount of my day thinking about the past or things yet to come, obscuring the present moment. Today, I’m much better at bringing myself back to the moment at hand and letting worries or fears pass by. When I do, I’m able to appreciate and celebrate my moments of victory as they unfold.
I make a conscious point of not dwelling in negative thoughts. For me, anxiety is best managed by being present in my thoughts and actions as much as I possibly can, throughout the day. Instead of lamenting what I can’t do or how things have changed, this approach frees me to see and savor the joy that occurs in so many ways throughout the day. Put my socks on while standing up? That’s a victory. Rode my bike for coffee with friends? Another victory. Got in a few ski runs on fresh powder? Definitely a victory. The occasions may not themselves be momentous, but living with Parkinson’s, I firmly believe that every victory counts!
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