Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Living with Parkinsons

I have been living with Parkinsons for over ten years, diagnosed in my mid 50s. Despite this I lead a very full and joyful life within the parameters dictated by the disease.  But – now in my mid 60 s – I am also dealing with issues related to the aging process.  From time to time I butt heads with an event that highlights the limitations imposed by the combined forces of Parkinsons and Aging, and for a short while – often not more than a day – the impact hits home and I grieve the losses I face.  This is not for the faint at heart.

 Mirror mirror on the wall

Who’s the slowest of us all?

Mirror mirror please be kind

 I’m still quite young inside my mind

I Joined a Dance Class for People with Parkinsons

I’m standing in a large hall at the National Ballet School of Canada, waiting to begin a dance class – not just any dance class, but one specifically for people living with Parkinsons.  I am passionate about ballet, having danced for eight of my childhood years, and do not even mind the fact that it took me two hours to get here.

 A couple of years ago I enrolled in a regular beginners ballet class for adults. I enjoyed it immensely, felt proud to be facing – not avoiding –  challenges despite my disease, and was pleased with the image in the mirror that showed how my body remembered and executed the positions and steps expected of the class. And – well, I wasn’t half-bad! However – and much to my dismay – when the instructor introduced turns (“pirouettes”) I found that I could no longer participate because turns require balance, which is affected by Parkinsons.

When I heard that the National Ballet School of Canada was inviting people with Parkinsons to participate in a dance class I immediately registered for the program.  I knew that the participants would not be expected to execute movements such as pirouettes, and I therefore  eagerly anticipated the first class..

When I heard that the National Ballet School of Canada was inviting people with Parkinsons to participate in a dance class I immediately registered for the program.  I knew that the participants would not be expected to execute movements such as pirouettes, so it was with much delight  that I looked forward   to the first class.

Living with Parkinsons

So – here I stand, proudly poised to carry out the movements I love so much. I observe with curiosity that I am the only participant wearing ballet shoes. No matter – I have great expectations!

The class begins, led by two lithesome twentysomethings who illustrate the movements with enviable ease and fluidity. I do my best to follow, but the floor-to-ceiling mirrored wall beckons me, and I stare with bewilderment at the image before me. I do not recognize her. She looks tired, worn, clumsy – and old.  I avert my gaze and try to refocus my attention on learning the movements demonstrated by the instructors.

But something propels me to look in the mirror again – and once more I am horrified by what I see. Her unspoken words speak volumes, leaving me in a state of emotional distress. I am distracted by my thoughts and feelings, as I make halfhearted attempts to appear involved.

“Wondeerful!!”  the instructor enthuses as she  finishes a set. She has to say this, of course, but ‘wonderful’ doesn’t really describe the movements of people with Parkinsons. Our efforts may even be highly commendable, but ‘wonderful’ is a bit of a stretch

I Want to Go Home!

My own movements are shallow and stiff, and part of me wants to run out of the room, but shame,  guilt and embarrassment keep me here. I try to be inconspicuous by hiding behind people, and I pray that no one is looking at me and observing the hopeless inadequacy of my efforts.

The instructors move their bodies with magnificent abandon, and with a depth and breadth clearly in sync with their passion for leading this group towards enhanced movement. We are encouraged to make silly faces (I know that this is to exercise our stiffening facial muscles). Some of the participants are able to shed their inhibitions and respond –  but I am unable to let go. I feel horribly self-conscious, in part because of what I’m not doing, and in part because I’m acutely aware of the ungainly and awkward movements of the woman in the mirror. It’s as if she is watching and judging me – which of course she is, because she is in fact my inner critic, filling my mind with negative self-evaluative emotions.

Living with Parkinsons

As the instructors’ movements  become more elaborate and expansive, I find my own increasingly limited by my growing feelings of self-consciousness. I am not coping with this.

This Is Not What I Expected

As the session draws to a close, disappointment washes over me, for I now realize that this is not actually a ballet class, despite the fact that it is held at the National Ballet School.  It is a dance/movement class for people with Parkinsons – similar to those I have attended in the past. That is not to say that the class isn’t important and valuable. It is indeed an extremely important project, offered by a team of exceptionally caring and committed instructors and volunteers. But it is not what I was expecting  and not what I want.  I remember with longing the feeling of competence I experienced in the ballet class that I attended two years ago.

I also realize now that that I missed the earlier cues that indicated that this is not a ballet class.  I am the only one wearing ballet shoes, and there are several male participants of around my age (I’m not being sexist; these men didn’t look like would-be ballerinas any more than I did!). I am still puzzled  –  were  the other participants privy to information that was somehow not communicated  to me?

I feel somewhat lonely,  because (and I’m guessing here) I assume that the rest of the class of 20 does not struggle in this way.   And I feel deflated and disappointed, as I acknowledge that my ballet days are over.

Living with Parkinsons

Later the Same Day

As I made my way back home I had ample time to reflect on this emotional experience. I felt disappointed in myself for my inability to shed my inhibitions, thereby removing any possibility of enjoyment. And I feel sad about the image of the woman in the mirror – an image now printed indelibly in my mind’s eye.

I knew that pouring my feelings into a blog post would help me to feel calm again. And it has.

I also know that today was one of those days on which I revisited grief, and that by tomorrow morning I will have bounced back, ready to continue moving forward with all that gives me reason to be joyful.

 Mirror mirror disappear!

Perhaps return another year

Give me just one more reprieve

So I can still play make-believe

See my post What is Parkinsons Disease?


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