I have been an artist for more than 40 years, using an industrial lathe as well as grinders and chisels to make large geometric sculptures. In 2010, I was sitting at my drafting table and the little finger on my left hand began to shake. It continued off and on for a few weeks and was annoying enough that I eventually went to see a neurologist.
He diagnosed the problem as "essential tremor" and said to call him if it got worse. It did get worse — my entire left arm and hand began a continuous tremor, got stiff, and my balance became precarious. I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease (PD).
I eventually realized I could no longer use the industrial power tools that had been so necessary to the creation of my work. Standing in my empty studio some months later as my son drove away with a truck full of the tools I had assembled over 40 years was a painful and sad moment, but one I couldn't deny. What was my next move?
I originally trained as a painter at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY while working on my Master’s degree, and over the years had painted and drawn, but always considered sculpting my main medium. As the tremor worsened, it was clear that the condo my husband and I lived in was not safe with its 37 steps.
We sold the condo and moved to a Mobile Home Park where I could manage the six stairs. The breakfast room became my studio, my medication was finally adjusted so that the tremor was reduced, and I began work on a series of “Parkinson's Paintings.”
Art for me has always been a passion and part of my daily existence. What I've now found is that it has become major Parkinson's therapy.
I've learned there are many things I can do to lessen the impacts of the disease: keeping a positive attitude, not being afraid, exercising (my husband and I do Tai Chi every afternoon) and finding a spiritual path. Parkinson’s Foundation resources have also helped me find professional resources and more importantly, in understanding how my life with Parkinson's can be improved and enhanced. The most important though is doing that which gives me joy, my art.
There are still many anxious and depressing moments, but the painting and drawing I do every day always bring me fulfillment and satisfaction. I know doing the art definitely reduces the impacts of Parkinson's.
I believe each of us, with this difficult disease, has something similar in their lives. Finding that something will create the courage and strength needed to live well with Parkinson’s.