August 2023

PD and Selfishness, No Man is an Island

A friend undergoing chemotherapy recently wrote that the hardest part of his cancer treatment emotionally was the selfishness. When you have a catastrophic disease, everything gets filtered through your needs, your abilities, your strengths, and your weaknesses. Can you endure a plane trip, with its attendant hassles and stresses? What about a visit to the theater to see a movie? Attending a lecture? Going for a hike? Volunteering for your support group? Are you too symptomatic to do the shopping? With a serious disease, you are constantly reminded about you. In the words of Buckaroo Banzai, wherever you go, there you are. 

This is especially true with a disease like Parkinson’s, which affects so many different aspects of life. You can hear it when you speak, feel it when you walk, it is present in the pauses you make as you search for a word and in the shaking of your hands when they are at rest.

The reaction to this is often to hide. Many of us give up work, and socializing. Embarrassed by our symptoms, or disabled and daunted by the logistics of going out, we hole up, alone with ourselves and minimizing contact with others rather than exposing our vulnerability.  This compounds the emphasis on self that comes with the PD package. There is nothing to distract you from you.

There is even an argument that selfishness is a necessary tool in your PD toolbox, you must put your health before work, before family, before friends. The logic here: if you haven’t got your health, what benefit can these other goods be to you? Or you to them? If you are to cope with this ceaselessly demanding disease, all your energy needs to focus on dealing with your adversary. To preserve yourself, you must ignore “lesser issues,” they are distractions from attending to the main event. Or so the logic goes.

 But really, Parkinson’s is the distraction. Humans are social animals. We need each other to complete ourselves. Separation from the rest of humanity is how we lose ourselves. That is why solitary confinement is such a harsh a punishment and so hard on those who undergo it. Living inside your head can get mighty claustrophobic.

Psychologists have found that we get our self-image through feedback from others. We need each other to be our best selves. So, to curtail interaction with the rest of humanity is to diminish oneself. Selfishness turns out to be its own worst enemy. 

No man is an island.   

by Peter Dunlap-Shohl
NW Parkinson’s Blogger

“It is the work of the creative to be a prosthetic imagination for the distracted and the dull”
– Maxwell Hubert Maxwell, playwright, butterfly collector, amateur surgeon and snob.