(Note: Martin has taken the place of a minister in my life for many years. He has had Parkinson's for 20 years, has lived in nursing care for over a dozen years, and still accomplishes more in a week than many people accomplish in a year. Those looking for my own thoughts on Robin Williams might refer to my 2007 piece on ADHD, "The Robin Williams In My Head." RIP.)
I mean no disrespect to the surviving family with this statement, nor do I seek to make light of another’s suffering. I’m simply recounting my experience.
In 1995, at the age of 45, and in the ascendancy of my life professionally, socially and spiritually, I was diagnosed with Idiopathic Parkinson’s Disease.
Today, nearly 20 years later, I look back in astonishment at the last two decades and wonder how I managed to not only survive, but to actually grow emotionally, creatively and spiritually. Make no mistake: Parkinson’s is as ruthless as it is cunning – always searching for weakened neurological conduits and components; taking every opportunity to enslave you psychologically; always making it more difficult to live with dignity and purpose. There were days it took an hour just to get out of bed. (I now sleep in a two-motor electric lift chair).
To what do I attribute my success? I decided to fight. I made a covenant with myself, vowing to never let Parkinson's get the upper hand.
And what is that upper hand? It's attitude. It's a focused resolve to live my life fully and joyfully, in service to my fellow man, regardless of how I might feel at any given moment. Does it always work? No. I fall down, literally and figuratively nearly every day. Yet, I don't compound the falls with self-punishment. I simply get up and continue the journey.
And what do I say about Mr. Williams? I say I can't possibly imagine what life would be like with this disease AND a difficult marriage, a substance abuse struggle, the stress of fame, and the battalion of demons that often follow genius.
Have I ever contemplated suicide?
I never had to.
Just knowing I could “opt-out” of the dark abyss of depression that is so often a component of Parkinson’s, was enough to prevent the act of suicide itself. Yet, don’t for a minute think I was able to side-step the abyss – 18 ECT or “shock treatments,” 6 years of cognitive therapy, and 233,000 pills later, I’m still struggling with PD and my loss of the activities of daily living. (I’ve always said the true test of humility is having to ask a perfect stranger to wipe your behind.)
The circle now complete, we find ourselves back where we started: suicide.
My vision of the Creator, as insignificant as it is, does not include a punitive and vindictive father.
I choose to believe that at this very moment, Mr. Williams is enjoying a " Peace that passeth all understanding."