Parkinson’s and Stress - A YOPD Perspective

When I was at my lowest point in life, I was forced to do a pushup. This was the hardest pushup of my life. It wasn’t for a grade, or a strength competition, but doing that pushup gave me the most rewarding prize of all: I was able to see how blessed I am, and how when you stumble, or even fall flat on your face, being low to the ground allows you the momentum to rise.

The Fall

In today’s society, we all feel stress. Whether it’s in traffic, or a meeting at work, raising teenagers, or adjusting to a new diagnosis, we are all too familiar with stress. I now wear stress like a beaming light. A shaky, flashing, beaming light that may make you think you’re having a seizure or at a nightclub. Rest assured, you are not. It’s just me and my Parkinson’s. 

I am not new to the world of Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s Disease is an incurable neurodegenerative condition that is progressive. I noticed my first symptoms 14 years ago in my early 30s.

I will never forget that day, although the exact date has escaped me. It was sometime around my daughter’s birth. I was in my kitchen at the time, filling a pot with water to make coffee. My left hand and arm began shaking profusely. I remember trying to think it to stop. As I stood there in front of the sink confused as to why my arm wasn’t listening to my brain, I finally grabbed my left wrist with my right hand and physically made it stop.

It was a long four-and-a-half years later of stressful events before I was finally diagnosed. December 31, 2014 – I will never forget that date, nor that day. “Yes, you do have Parkinson’s Disease,” my neurologist said.

“How is this possible? I’m only 37 years old. I just got a divorce. Who would want me now with all of this baggage? What about my baby? Who is going to raise her? How long will I live? What is the prognosis for the time I am living?” My head scrambled. A single tear fell.

In the five months before my diagnosis, I painted over my daughter’s room mural. I sold my home. I gave away half of my and my daughter’s possessions. I lost more than 20 pounds, not reaching 100 pounds with clothes on. I was left without a car. I moved into my father’s home. I had no job. My daughter began to tell everyone, “All Mommy ever does is cry.”

Stress was my constant companion. It was literally written all over my face – I had cystic acne to the point it hurt to sleep. The movement I wanted, I could not make myself do. The movement I didn’t want, I couldn’t stop. My shaking left arm flailed like a fish out of water, whereas the forcible movement required to cut my daughter’s meat became impossible. Even attempting to put on a coat, I needed assistance. I drug my left foot. I slurred my speech. I spoke in a whisper and choked on food, water, even air.

A Change in Perspective

It wasn’t until the diagnosis on that New Year’s Eve that I finally realized this was all too much for me. I had to have faith in God to steer me in the direction I needed to be in. By doing so, I began the dramatic reformation of myself. 

The next day signaled a new day, a new year, a new diagnosis, but also a new plan. I stopped grieving the end of a toxic marriage and began focusing on a new beginning as a single mom and a new mission in life. I began writing about my journey, connecting to people all over the world who were experiencing similar “symptoms” of life as I was. 

My new neurologist, specializing in Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders, is the number one in the world for Parkinson’s. He gave me a treatment plan that relieved my symptoms. Along with medication, I was prescribed exercise. Exercise is one of the only things that appears to slow the progression of PD. I began watching the type of foods I was consuming and educating myself on stress and its effects. Exercise also helped me to “burn up” the stress I couldn’t avoid.

I believe that what your brain consumes, like TV, movies, news, books and articles, and social media can add needless stress to your life. At this time, I gave up watching TV, watching movies, and reading fashion magazines and limited my social media activity. I was imagining my life through all of these meaningless outlets that weren’t serving my mental health. Instead, I began focusing on creating art, filling my time with entrepreneurial aspirations, and advocating for others.

As my stress healed, so did my cystic acne. The more I moved, the more I could move, and the better I felt, the more I wanted to move. 

Stress & Parkinson’s Disease

I believe stress is our number one enemy, in life and with Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s is the fastest-growing neurological condition in the world. For me and many others, I feel the two, stress and Parkinson’s, are deeply connected. I believe if we can mitigate our stress levels, we will begin seeing people healed in all sorts of ways and find the cure to all that ails us. 

I carried a lifetime of stress in my body from the time I was a young child. I was diagnosed with my first stomach ulcer at 10. By the age of 32, when my tremor started, the results became obvious. Stress is a known catalyst creating many health problems, and it’s believed to exacerbate Parkinson’s, creating a barrier that medicine and exercise can not relieve. It is still a battle, but a battle I’m willing to fight due to all the benefits I’ve seen controlling stress the last ten years. 

The Pushup

As I got more into exercise, I also began writing a blog, which was like a diary for me. I was able to release all the inner battles I was fighting, and “push up” out of the pit I was in when I first received my Parkinson’s diagnosis. The more I wrote, the larger the following I began to collect. I began competing in physical competitions, allowing me the opportunity to compete on a TV show called “American Ninja Warrior” in 2016 and 2017. I began speaking to people, motivating them to do their own “pushup.” 

I think the one thing that prevents most of us from pushing up and out of that pit of despair we land in from time to time is we forget this is temporary. Life, circumstances – everything is temporary. If you can remember that, be mindful of what your brain is consuming, exercise, look for joy, count your blessings, and be thankful for even the pits of life, you will suddenly find the strength to push yourself up.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Bened Life.

About the author:

Allison Toepperwein, a person with Parkinson’s Disease is married to Steven Eury who was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. The couple write about their experiences as #InLoveWithParkinsons. Allison is a mother of three teenagers (a prayer request, not just a statement), a former American Ninja Warrior, blogger, and advocate for anyone needing to be #LitWithin.

 Recommended reading:

Parkinson’s Disease as a Dynamic Disability

Which Probiotics are Best for Parkinson's?

What to Expect in Your First Month Taking Neuralli MP


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