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Sage Sojourns September, 2021

As the body changes what is left is soul.

The Bloom of an Artichoke

I walk out into the cool, misty morning, unusual for late August in California. I turn the corner to walk down the short path to the golf cart with my wife, Sandy.  BAM! Out of the corner of my eye I glance over to see a flower, so unique and beautiful, that I fall under its spell. I practically leap over to this small patch of garden space. Behold, a purple bloom, 6 inches across with almost iridescent, lavender-blue, thistle like centers is emerging out of the head of an artichoke.

“Do you see this? I ask Sandy who is standing beside me.

“Yes, it’s beautiful,” she says, looking into the deep purple, unaware I am having an epiphany.

“I’ve never seen anything like this!” I say, examining the sharp, pointed edges of artichoke petals, that once hugged the plant like armor, but now has opened, in complete abandon, to its flowering destiny.

Artichokes remind me of Parkinson’s. The symptoms of stiffness, rigidity, and a closing into itself with smaller and smaller movements seem similar to the tightly wrapped artichoke. But artichokes are an exception in the garden.  When left unpicked the edible buds open into a spectacular flower.

There are people who blossom with Parkinson’s. They are called positive deviants. They can be observed in every community as certain individuals or groups that find better solutions to problems than their peers.      Dr. Laurie Mischley, naturopath, and researcher seeks an answer to this question: “Among those with Parkinson’s who are doing unusually well, what are they doing differently?”

I wonder, what accounts for Jimmy Choi’s remarkable prowess? He turned his early-onset Parkinson’s diagnosis at 27 into being a four-season veteran of American Nija Warrior and marathon runner.

Just like a powerful life force runs wild in the garden, God’s gallery of fruition, that invisible power shows up as the outliers of Parkinson’s. People are defying old expectations of PD. Transformation is possible. Flowering happens.

**

For more information on the   Pro PD study by Dr. Laurie Mischley, and learning more about how exercise, lifestyle, nutrition, and social support contributes to living well with Parkinson’s contact Dr. Laurie Mischley, naturopath doctor and researcher at Education is Medicine.

Bio

Sage Bennet, Ph.D lives in Laguna Woods with her wife, Sandy, and their two dogs, Chloe and Freddy. She teaches philosophy and world religions online and is the author of Wisdom Walk: Nine Practices for Creating Peace and Balance from the World’s Spiritual Traditions. Please send comments to sagebennet@aol.com.

 

Sage Sojourns August, 2021

As the body changes, what is left is soul.

Something Takes Over

by Sage Bennet

I love boxing. The smell of leather gloves, the pitter patter rhythm of the speed bag, learning the names of punches—Jab. Cross. Hook. Uppercut—all connect me with something familiar, yet elusive. Where does this joy come from, I wonder?

Memory transports me to childhood and I am a tomboy growing up in Brooklyn. Life is grand--playing stickball, running bases, boxing--until Norman moves in. He is twelve, straight, red hair and freckles, I am nine, short and wide, with curls I try to flatten every morning with  brush and water.  One day we are choosing sides for stickball.

Norman looks down at me and snarls: “I’m not playing with a girl.”  Then he swats me away like I’m an insignificant bug.

I step towards him and try to look menacing. It does not work well; he towers over me.

“Get outa here, runt,” he says sliding his glasses up the bridge of his nose.

I refuse to move.

Then he pushes me, his right hand shoving my left shoulder.  This is bad.  I know I have to hold my ground. But how? Then something takes over.

“Put up your dukes,” I say bringing my fists to my face, legs apart, shifting my weight, side to side. No one is more surprised than I am.

Norman laughs at me and looks away.  I do what I have to do.  I swing at his face with my left, closed fist, thrusting my whole body into it, as if my life depends on it. Jab, Cross. He is not expecting the punch, and he underestimates me.

Red-faced Norman goes down. Not only does he fall to the sidewalk, but he also lands in a puddle. While everyone is laughing at him, I am thanking God my life is spared. Call it a lucky punch, a supernatural power, grace; I cannot explain it.

Six decades later my life is good.  I have a job, family, and friends I love. Then out of nowhere a Parkinson’s diagnosis hits me by surprise.  Jab, Hook.  Stunned, disoriented, I stumble around. Then something takes over. I join a Parkinson’s support group; I hear a speaker on exercise as medicine. I join her gym, Rogue Physical Therapy and Wellness. I befriend others who have PD.

I am a make-love-not-war kind of gal, who accompanies spiders out the front door on a paper towel. But on those days when it feels like Parkinson’s towers over me--my arms feel like noodles, my feet feel like lead pipes clamped to the ground-- I know how to fight back. Exercise.  In boxing classes, I hit hard at Parkinson’s, throwing punches like my life depends on it.  Strength returns to my arms, lightness to my steps, my inner boxer comes alive, and I am playing to win.

I do not look away or underestimate the power of Parkinson’s. Neither do I underestimate the greater soul power behind my punches. I have Norman to thank for that.

Jab. Cross.

Jab. Cross. Uppercut.

Hook.

____________

Bio

Sage Bennet, Ph.D lives in Laguna Woods with her wife, Sandy, and their two dogs, Chloe and Freddy. She teaches philosophy and world religions online and is the author of Wisdom Walk: Nine Practices for Creating Peace and Balance from the World’s Spiritual Traditions.

 

Parkinson’s Got My Voice. Can I Get it Back Now?

by Peter Whyte

I have achieved a reasonable measure of success in my 40 plus years of business. I co-founded seven companies. I even started and sold a business in 18 months, and that was 6 years after my Parkinson’s diagnosis. As a business start-up guy I was always raising capital to start, operatec, grow or buy a company. I was always talking up a storm to one or more investors somewhere.

I learned a few lessons about pitching ideas, and one of them is to think of a voice as if it was a musical instrument. Pace or velocity changes, volume control, pitch and even ‘timber’ of one’s voice, the softness or coarseness that comes from the throat, can change the listener’s receptivity and willingness to listen longer and comprehend more.

I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2006. I had a DBS (deep brain stimulator) installed in 2010. My speech articulation was perfect in 2010, pre DBS. My symptoms improved marginally with a DBS installed, but I soon began to notice changes in my speech, that began in my jaw. It took years for it to really start a downward trend. In 2019 I really began to speak “slurganese,” some drooling started. I was adequately warned by my movement disorder doctor that a side effect of DBS is increased chance of speech impairment in time. I guess it was time.

I found a Big & Loud speech program at Mission Hospital and got hooked up with a Speech Therapist who spoke clearly and cared about her patients. But, I got sidetracked (translated, that means, I didn’t have the discipline to finish the program), and since I hadn’t ever met anybody who had completed and benefitted from the program, I wasn’t motivated enough to go back and finish the work. I now regret leaving early, because my voice is now at its worst ever. I rationalized not getting through this program because at the same time I was trying desperately to complete an album of my songs. Parkinson’s and I were in a race, me to finish my album and Parkinson’s to throw a monkey wrench into things. I got 11 or my 12 songs finished. The one that didn’t quite get finished was the most important to me though, a song I wrote for my Father.

My music making days were coming to an end. My prime singing range, or octave, was compressing slowly and my guitar playing fingers were no longer cooperating. In hindsight I thought singing every day held off the deterioration of my voice, so the program at Mission Hospital could wait. My voice and hands were losing ground to Parkinson’s. Slowly, but surely.

Another thing I loved, but lost because of my voice, was mentoring young adults in the ways and means of entrepreneurship. I called them my ‘Biz Kids.’ Mentoring allowed me to impart the experience and skills I had acquired over 4 decades of business life, and it was a great way to stay dialed in to the ever-moving technology sector where my interest lay. I loved sending a young person back to the streets armed with a new skill, tip or solution to their business problems. Many of those meetings were just me telling them a story, masking a lesson. Music and business building weren’t the only things I lost by letting my vocal capability erode.

The ability to communicate verbally was a big reason for any success I had, so losing my voice is devastating for me. Consider how many different situations benefit by having a good speaking voice. Negotiating an upgrade for a hotel room or airline tickets on your next vacation, public speaking engagements or asking questions in group meetings such as support group events. How about trying to get extra ketchup with your burger, or explaining what is wrong with your burger, or cheering for your favorite team, which might be your grandkid's soccer team. Don’t forget telling stories and jokes, and then there is talking to your dog. I know you talk to your dog.

The boost you feel when you get your hotel room upgraded to a suite, or when you get the extra package of ketchup, are all about the dopamine one can generate. Winning a game, or a bet, getting a present or remembering your anniversary day, and laughter, especially laughter, generates bursts of dopamine. We need dopamine.

Life is better when you can express yourself with your voice. Don’t lose your voice. It’s too important to allow it to slip away.

Listen to a clip of Peter's music here.

 

Sage Sojourns June, 2021

As the body changes, what is left is soul.

Rise Up

by Sage Bennet

I awake on Tuesday at 7:00 a.m., a day I will not be going to the gym. Morning light streams through the window. It’s another beautiful, southern California day. My meds have kicked in. Dopamine flows through my brain. I head toward the treadmill that is against the wall in my home office. A large print of sailboats with white sails, sandy beach, and palm trees hangs within view. I have a desire to mount this steed and ride like the wind. The promise of reducing my symptoms and slowing the progression of Parkinson’s is within reach if only I can get on the grey, steely machine and start stepping, one foot in front of the other, alternating long strides. I’ll feel better, less stiff, more mentally alert.  Get on the treadmill.  Instead, I’m pulled backwards in the opposite direction, into the inertia vortex of bradykinesia, slow movement, a common Parkinson’s symptom. How am I going to breakthrough to high intensity aerobic, exercise, 5-7 times a week, 60-80% of heart capacity, for 30 minutes or more, when I feel like I’m walking uphill through molasses?

Granted, it is hard to go from minus ten to 60, from bradykinesia to fast movement. Even if I have self-compassion instead blame for not breaking through to high intensity exercise, yet, I still need a solution. I need help. A prayer.

I sit at my desk writing this blog. I have repeated these Tuesday mornings all month. Even though I’ve gotten my heart rate up through circuit training and boxing, I don’t feel like I’ve broken through. I start to sink into discouragement. Then. From out of nowhere, I hear the lyrics by Andra Day:

And I’ll rise up. I’ll rise like the day. I’ll rise up. I’ll rise unafraid. I’ll rise up. And I’ll do it a thousand times again.”

 

I find a youtube and blast the song over and over until I am walking fast on my treadmill, past the cramps in my legs, the tightness in my chest, one long stride after another, carried by the soul behind the words.  “I’ll rise up. High like the waves. I’ll rise up In spite of the ache. I’ll rise up. And I’ll do it a thousand times again.”

            (Note to self: Make a playlist.)

“Sometimes people break through and don’t even know it,” my PT guru, Claire McLean at Rogue, said. This surprised me. She recounted working with a client on the treadmill consistently over a period of time. One day he was walking at a higher mph speed than he’d ever done before.  The breakthrough was unintentional and unplanned.  Something similar happened to me that very day. I was warming up on the treadmill and the machine jumped to a higher intensity than I had intended.  My friend, Ann, was on the treadmill next to me, jogging lightly and easily. My body followed suit and I started to jog. It was only for a few minutes but, undeniably, I was running.  When I got off the treadmill I exclaimed: “One day I hope to be able to jog.” Friends at the gym reminded me: “You already did it.”  My mind still had trouble grasping it. I hadn’t considered that breaking through pertains to beliefs about what is possible.

Another surprise I discovered was the positive power of anger. Not one, but two men I work out with, who have Parkinson’s, said: “Get angry –at being stuck, having Parkinson’s, the heat, or whatever. Just channel the anger into the propulsion to move forward.” I’ll try it.

Asking for help opened me to community.  Each and every person I spoke to said it was hard to exercise at high intensity, and they still did it anyway, reaping great benefits. I am inspired by my fellows. Glad we journey together.  “All we need, all we need is hope, and for that we have each other, for that for we have each other. And we will rise, we will rise, we’ll rise, oh, oh, we’ll rise….”

Bio

Sage Bennet, Ph.D lives in Laguna Woods with her wife, Sandy, and their two dogs, Chloe and Freddy. She teaches philosophy and world religions online and is the author of Wisdom Walk: Nine Practices for Creating Peace and Balance from the World’s Spiritual Traditions.

 

Sage Sojourns – May, 2021

As the body changes, what is left is soul.

Conversations with a Peppermint Tree

by Sage Bennett

sage bennettThis week I delighted in a post-COVID, late morning coffee with my friend, Marianne. Sitting on the outdoor patio of a coffee shop, we exchanged stories about how we wound up in Orange County, California.

I had been living in Marina del Rey, California, on a boat, a 35-foot motor yacht named Sophia with my wife and poodle-bichon mix dog. After receiving my Parkinson’s diagnosis, we knew that it would be better to live more stably on land, but I was reluctant to leave the westside. My friend nodded with understanding. “Sure, everybody likes it there. What finally changed so you could make the move?”

I explained my process. Over a few months we looked at properties at a 55 plus senior community in Laguna Woods. With every step I was stuck in resistance. I didn’t want to leave my old life. I didn’t want to accept that I had PD and may need other accommodations in the future. I didn’t want to confront the movie in my mind of a possible dim future because of PD.

“On one visit we had narrowed our house hunt to two properties, but I was still tangled in ambivalence,” I told my friend.

I walked outside to clear my mind and came upon a tall, peppermint tree. Drawn to its sprawling outreach of branches I felt welcomed by its beauty, shade, and peace. I leaned into the tree with an open palm, feeling its striated, dark brown trunk, warm and strong to my touch. Within a few timeless moments I felt assured this was a good place to lay my own roots and that all was well. I felt free to move forward.

I cannot explain my experience with this tree, but I do know I am not alone in recognizing the value of being in nature. In Taoism, intuitively following the flow of nature leads to a life of balance and right action. Native American spirituality offers the wisdom practice: let nature be your teacher; the sacred abides in every rock and leaf. The Japanese suggest forest bathing to attain inner peace and well-being.

I had not thought about that peppermint tree in many years until that recent conversation with my friend over coffee. But I remember that day deeply and it helps me see clearly. I don’t have to live in fear of a dim PD future. Although my future is unknown, a growing body of facts based in research now exist.  Studies show that exercise, plant-based eating, and positive social connections have a lot to do with the way PD progresses and many people live active, vital lives, despite having Parkinson’s for fifteen even twenty years. I can help create, and even transcend, my future. No matter how PD uniquely expresses in my life, the enchantment of nature and the secrets of the universe are ever present, waiting to reveal the mystery.  As Emerson muses: “We live in the lap of immense intelligence.…”

 

Bio

Sage Bennet, Ph.D lives in Laguna Woods with her wife, Sandy, and their two dogs, Chloe and Freddy. She teaches philosophy and world religions online and is the author of Wisdom Walk: Nine Practices for Creating Peace and Balance from the World’s Spiritual Traditions.

Sage Sojourns – February, 2021

You're Only One Swim Away from a Good Mood

by Sage Bennett

 

I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, PD, five years ago around Valentine’s Day.  I am still coming to terms with what that means. Each day is a little excursion into the question: how can I live well with PD?

Before taking meds and exercising daily, I experienced limitations I do not have today.  Shortly after diagnosis, I decided to swim a few laps after a water aerobics class.  To my chagrin, instead of swimming without effort as I had done since childhood, I was a tangle of arms and legs awkwardly trying to coordinate a swimming stroke. It was as if my brain had forgotten  how to swim. swimAs I kept trying to swim, I breathed in water instead of air and coughed my way out of the pool, dejected and embarrassed.

Soon after I heeded my doctor’s advice: “Try this medication and follow these three best practices-- Exercise. Exercise. Exercise.”  This prescription and the support of others in the PD community have helped me live more fully. Yesterday I enjoyed 45 minutes of carefree swimming. Even though the outside air was chilly the water was warm as I glided back and forth from one end of the pool to the other in effortless strokes of crawl, side, and then back stroke. I swam past pine trees on the left, palm trees on the right. Overhead a baby, blue sky held cumulus puffs of white. A brushstroke of long strands of cirrus clouds swept across the sky, as a rainbow of blue, green, and purple faintly appeared in its center, then disappeared. In the water my movements are fluid. Feeling at one with clouds, sky, and trees, I am grateful for these moments --and living well with PD.

Sage BennettBio

Sage Bennet, Ph.D lives in Laguna Woods with her wife, Sandy, and their two dogs, Chloe and Freddy. She teaches philosophy and world religions online and is the author of Wisdom Walk: Nine Practices for Creating Peace and Balance from the World’s Spiritual Traditions.

 

Time to Speak Up

by Lauren Simmons

People with Parkinson's are often told to speak louder or speak with intention.  This is of course because Parkinson's can wreak havoc with our voices and make them soft and hoarse.  Maybe it is time for people with Parkinson's to get loud for another reason. Over 200 years ago, James Parkinson wrote his essay called  Shaking Palsy where he described Parkinson's.  Yes, scientists have been documenting and studying Parkinson's for a very long time.  We have been waiting too long for a cure or at the very least, a treatment that will slow this beast down or stop it in its tracks.  No one seems to know why it is taking so long. Other diseases have received more funding and attention and have gotten results faster.  No one is saying that the people with those diseases aren't deserving of treatments.  We all want health and healing.  I do wonder why funding for Parkinson's from the NIH is going down each year while the number of people being diagnosed is going up. In the book Ending Parkinson's Disease, the authors note that "by 2030, there will be a 10% higher risk of a forty-five year old individual eventually developing Parkinson's disease than there is today."

Dr. Ray Dorsey said, "We know how to prevent Parkinson's. We just aren't doing it."  Are you ok with the status quo?   If not, YOU should be doing something about it. Don’t wait for someone else to take care of it. They might be waiting for you to take care of it.  It isn’t hard to be an advocate and doesn’t need to take a lot of time.  If we all join together, we can make big things happen.

Here are a few things you can do to get started in being an advocate:

  • Read the book Ending Parkinson's Disease and then put into practice some of the suggestions in the book.  This book is a quick read and a fascinating historical account of how others took action to curb pandemics like Polio, HIV, and breast cancer.  (All proceeds from the book go to PD charities).
  • Join the PD Avengers and then attend their online meetings and volunteer to help!  The PD Avengers is a grass roots organization run by people with Parkinson’s who are tired of waiting.  “We are a global alliance of people with Parkinson’s, our partners and friends, standing together to demand change in how the disease is seen and treated.”
  • Download the Parkinson’s Advocacy Toolkit from the Fox Foundation.  The folks at the Fox Foundation will keep you
    updated on policy changes that need to be made in Washington.  They even make it a simple process to write to your representatives.  Change won’t happen if the policy makers hear from hundreds or even thousands of people. They need
    to hear from hundreds of thousands or more.  If every person affected by PD (patients, family members, friends) sent a letter, they would get millions.
  • Share information about Parkinson’s with others.  You can tell friends, neighbors, share on social media or whatever way you feel comfortable but get the word out.  Most people think that Parkinson’s is a disease that old men get that makes them shake.  We know it is so much more.

Together we can make a difference.  It is time to speak up.

 

                            Ending Parkinson's Disease: A prescription for action             PD Avengers      michael j fox advocacy

 

 

Meet the Coaches at Rock Steady Irvine

Coach Nel and Coach Timi are a mother/daughter dynamic duo who run I Am Movement/Rock Steady Boxing Irvine.  They went to Rock Steady Indianapolis to get trained, got all ready for their grand opening, and then...COVID.  Need I say more?  The global pandemic that shut down our world closed their doors but only temporarily. They have been offering virtual classes on Zoom and are now back in business at the gym although doing things differently than they anticipated.  Small classes, distancing, and lots of disinfecting are now the norm.  Check out their video  above.  You can find more information on their program here.

One Day or Day One

By Lauren Simmons and Tom Sheppard

We did it! We made it through 2020, and a new year has finally come. The beginning of the year is traditionally a time for resolutions, to set new goals, and form new habits. Given the last nine months, we think it might be time to go back to the basics. I often hear people say that they are going to make changes "one day."  Let's turn it around and make those changes on DAY ONE.
Think SMART when making your resolutions. The SMART tool for meeting a resolution helps in doing the things needed to better our Parkinson's lives. Here are some tips for setting yourself up for success:

Make your resolution SPECIFIC instead of general:
General: "I'm going to be more social."
SPECIFIC: "I'm going to call a friend two times a week." 
Answer your what, when, why, who, and where questions.

Make it MEASURABLE. The result has to be measured.
How do you keep track of your progress and know you have arrived?

Make your goal ACHIEVABLE. Working up to walking a few miles a day may be more attainable than planning to run a marathon by June. If you are already exercising, think about what you can do to step it up a notch. Think realistically about what your situation is right now, and then challenge yourself.

Is it RELEVANT? As a person with Parkinson's, what is relevant to maintaining our best health? What is important to you, and is this the right time?

TIME: set an "I did it" date.
Make a schedule. A schedule will help you make that target date. Are you planning to exercise three times a week? Choose the days and times and put them on your calendar. Want to learn a new skill? Mark off time on your calendar specifically for that activity.

START MOVING - IT'S DAY ONE

Reflecting on 2020

by Lauren Simmons

Forgive me for the lengthy post;  when looking back at this year, I guess I have a lot to say.

When 2020 started, I was very excited about the things going on in the Parkinson’s community in Orange County. There were multiple support groups meeting every week and the number of fitness classes was growing from one end of the county to the other. Educational events and outings were filling our calendars. Our small group at PD Buzz was busy trying to reach people with PD and keep them connected to all that was happening.

And then came COVID and put a screeching halt to almost everything...at least for a little while. It didn’t take long for the leaders in the PD community worldwide to jump into action. Knowing how detrimental isolation and a sedimentary lifestyle can be for those with Parkinson’s, these professionals quickly adapted and started holding groups and classes online. We all learned a new meaning to the word “zoom.” Our living rooms and garages quickly became gyms and we welcomed support groups, specialists and doctors into our homes via the internet.

Silver Linings
There are some silver linings to this pandemic. Telemedicine has been brought to the forefront and hopefully will continue long after the pandemic is over. Many of us, out of necessity, have overcome technical challenges and figured out how to stay in touch online. Hopefully many of us used our time at home wisely and took the opportunity to work on longstanding projects or to learn a new hobby or skill.
Being stuck at home has given me the time to expand my personal reach into the Parkinson’s community. I have used my time to learn more about web design and figure out better ways to connect people with PD to resources they need to live well. We have had some great accomplishments this past year. PD Buzz has grown and is now offering the same service to people with Parkinson’s in the greater Springfield, Illinois area. In April, we hosted a webinar with Dr. Ray Dorsey, co-author of the book, Ending Parkinson’s Disease. This past week, we partnered with Claire McLean at Rogue PT & Wellness for our first ever Jump Start seminar for those newly diagnosed. We have  wanted a program like this in Orange County for years, and pandemic or not, we made it happen. Our recent partnership with the Parkinson’s Wellness Fund will enable us to reach even further. Together, we can connect more people with resources and help them live well today

Looking Forward to 2021

As I write this, the news is breaking about people throughout the country getting vaccinated. It will still take some time for the vaccines to get to everyone but I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. I pray that we will be singing “Happy days are here again” by the spring or summer. Until then, we need to maintain our safety protocols and wait a bit longer.

We still may have many months at home before things return to our new normal. I encourage you to keep moving. Exercise is medicine. You wouldn’t skip taking your medicine so please don’t neglect your training. If you haven’t been part of a group online yet, give it a try. On PDBuzz.com you can find online exercise classes, support groups, dancing classes, singing groups and more. I urge each of you to step outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself with something new.

Beyond 2021

Looking at the future of the Parkinson’s community is difficult to do without considering the past. It has been over 200 years, and we still have no cure. Although new treatments and medications are hitting the market, Parkinson’s continues to grow in the population. It is the fastest growing neurological disease. Something needs to change and change does not happen without action. On that note, I am asking each and every one of you to join the PD Avengers. There is power in numbers and by joining together, we can demand change in the Parkinson’s world. It is the goal of PD Avengers to unite 50 million voices to end Parkinson's.  If you have PD, love someone with PD, care for someone with PD, are related to someone with PD,  or know someone with PD, please join. It is not a charity.  They will not ask for money. We need to stand together to build a sense of urgency to end Parkinson's.

“The PD Avengers are a global alliance of people with Parkinson’s, their partners and friends, standing together to demand change on how the disease is seen and treated…Our mandate is to use our combined effort, influence and skills to prove Parkinson’s matters and to build a sense of real urgency to end the disease.”