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A Sea of Troubles

Tuesday October 01, 2019

A Sea of Troubles

Warning: this post discusses suicide.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?”- Shakespeare, “Hamlet”


Let’s call him Mike. It’s not his name, but it’s common enough that he could be anyone. Anyone, that is, newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s. 

I hadn’t seen Mike in a couple of months and was worried about him. He took his diagnosis hard, and made no effort to disguise his fear of what the future holds for a not-yet elderly man with Parkinson's.

So I was relieved to see him recently, moving well and largely asymptomatic. We talked for a while, and I observed that he seemed to be doing better than the last time I saw him. “I want to kill myself” he instantly replied. No room for ambiguity there.

I have sympathy for the desire to control one’s own life, and one’s own death. To be slowly robbed of your ability to care for yourself and others, to lose the
capacity to do even simple, fundamental things, like feeding and dressing yourself, calls into question what it means to be human. Who are we to deny another person the right to forgo the slow slide into the Parkinson’s abyss, the opportunity to avoid becoming a burden to loved ones, the chance to make a clean getaway? 

Like Mike, these were things I asked myself when I was diagnosed and my answers seemed to point to agreement with him.   

But ambiguity looms over these question whether we like it or not. And that ambiguity should weigh heavily when the outcome in question is so final and irreversible. Who gets to truly see what is yet to come? How do you know for certain the troubles you have won’t be worth the effort to suffer through them? 

When I was contemplating killing myself, I was operating with insufficient knowledge of what lay ahead. 
As it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong about the future that seemed so certain, and so bleak. The nearly eighteen years that I have lived with Parkinson's since my diagnosis have been as rewarding as any period of my life. I am dismayed and remorseful to think of what I would have thrown away on an ignorant bet against the future. Add in the mysterious nature of Parkinson’s, the way it manifests differently in each of us, and you have ambiguity squared. But what of the cases where there seems to be little room for uncertainty?

In “Angels in America”, playwright Tony Kushner wrote “I've lived through such terrible times and there are people who live through much worse. But you see them living anyway. When they're more spirit than body, more sores than skin, when they're burned and in agony, when flies lay eggs in the corners of the eyes of their children - they live. Death usually has to take life away. I don't know if that's just the animal. I don't know if it's not braver to die, but I recognize the habit; the addiction to being alive. So we live past hope. If I can find hope anywhere, that's it, that's the best I can do. It's so much not enough. It's so inadequate. But still bless me anyway. I want more life.” 

Measure that against the reality of your everyday life
, this very moment. Is it so hard to endure? If you are getting competent care for your disease, I will wager the answer is no. I could be wrong about that, but consider what you can't know before you bet otherwise

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