'Exercise helps me manage my Parkinson's Disease'
David Walsh has suffered from Parkinson's Disease for over 10 years and believes that implementing a daily routine is key for Parkinson's sufferers.
3am. Mind is open. Eyes are not yet open. I am almost afraid to open my eyes because I know the day begins and the complications of Parkinson's begin.
No matter how hard I try to stabilise the body and stop the shaking and the tremor, starting in my gut, I know the second I open my eyes, it will get significantly worse. It is at this stage that I have to face the fact that I have to get up and face the day. Pushing myself slowly up from the bed, I can barely feel my feet, coupled with my hamstrings and calves not giving 100pc. I generally hold on to the bed side table until I am vertical - 'ish'.
The biggest problem here now is that I cannot take medication which would alleviate the symptoms for the short term. The reason being is that I cannot be medicated while I am in the gym because it has an uncomfortable side effect when I exert too much effort combined with the meds, called dyskinesia. These are the symptoms that Michael J Fox suffers from with his erratic movements, which can be hugely uncomfortable as your muscles involuntarily flex in opposite directions, giving you huge cramps and you sweat profusely.
To avoid this and to ultimately feel better or, indeed normal, I get to the gym early in the morning, but always reminded that I need to get there before the other aspects of Parkinson's kick in. That is when you have zero medication in your system and even a short walk can deplete your natural dopamine reserves, making it almost impossible to get to the gym without taking some form of meds.
But I know that if I just continue and as tired as I am when I get there - incapable of walking properly even at this stage - I forget about even conversing with somebody, because my cognitive awareness has diminished to the extent that it is very hard to even understand simple requests. But it is all worth it as I have reached the gym, my sanctuary, within 30 minutes of high intensity weight-lifting, some cardio exercises, the impossible happens. My brain seems to be producing either dopamine or vast amounts of adrenaline to kick in and make me appear to be like anyone else in the gym.
On occasions, I find that if I rest too much between sets, I can feel the symptoms of Parkinson's creeping back in again, so that is my key to work harder for longer. Benching over 100kg and 60kg farmer's walks and various other strength and conditioning exercises taught me by the Bective Rangers rugby coach Olin Savage, who just seems to understand that everything done slowly and meticulously has better effects, and results in less injuries.
I am blessed that I was given a key by Bective Rangers rugby club in Donnybrook to their gym, which allows me to come and go as I please, giving me a very comfortable environment to work out in.
There is this misconception that when you have Parkinson's you just shake. Well, you do, when you are at rest. But the truth is that for me at least the worst symptoms are massive fatigue and lacking the ability to move at all. Of course this becomes really distressing because this can happen anywhere at anytime when your medication wears off and you can't take medication at that particular moment.
Again, I am not saying I have the magic pill, pardon the pun, but it is very important to involve exercise of some sort into your daily routine, but it must be a daily routine and it must be somewhat intense, so that you suffer as little as possible, keeping your daily illness as much at bay as you can.
When visiting family down in Cork, just to get away from the nonsense of Dublin and work, my biggest worry was being able to find a suitable gym to continue with my system, being that Crosshaven is such a small town. But low and behold, I stumble upon an amazing gym called Catalyst in Carrigaline. It may seem that I am simplifying this by saying that you just lift weights and you will be okay.
It is really not like that at all. It is an all-encompassing illness. It affects your physical movements, your mental thoughts, your moods and your ability to deal with people and situations. It wouldn't be fair to say that somebody suffering from Parkinson's is suffering because they have a disability. It is more to do with the fact that a part of your brain has essentially died and as a result your moods change, your ability to maintain relationships diminishes and you become quite apathetic; not really caring too much about anybody or anything and ultimately losing friends and possibly family.
I have noticed that over the course of this illness since my diagnosis that my physical abilities changed possibly to suit the illness. Three years ago I cycled from San Diego to New York over the course of six weeks, using minimal medication and more or less sleeping on the side of the road. I just found it was completely stress-free due to the fact that I put no time restraints on myself. I used to love cycling back then, but to be honest, I couldn't cycle to the end of the street now.
But for some reason, I am able to run better than I had before, showing very little signs of Parkinson's when I jog. It seems that as the illness progresses, different things are required to help combat the symptoms. My hope is in the next couple of months- if I can get a sponsor - is to scale Kilimanjaro. My attitude is 'you get me there and I will do the rest'.
I can't speak for everybody, but I would say that it is very important to surround yourself with helpful and understanding people and to a large extent I have managed to do just that, both in my personal and work life. And working for this company for so many years, The Dawson Group, I have been lucky because they have moved some boundaries for me to accommodate my position and time there.
Again, I must reiterate that you must keep a routine when involving Parkinson's, but it must be your routine, not somebody else's. So get to the gym, get out running, get out playing basketball- just get out. Because the worst thing that can happen to you, and I speak from experience, it that you become isolated and ultimately depression kicks in. The way I treat mine is get up, get to the front garden, get out, get to the gym, get as far as you can. Hit it hard. Hit it often.
I speak entirely for myself because nobody else with Parkinson's can relate to mine, the same way I can't relate to theirs because it is different in everybody. But I do know that exercise with proper control of your medication is the key.
Parkinson's Association of Ireland: 01 - 8722234
Move 4 Parkinson's: 01 - 295 0060
Health & Living