I received an email a few days ago from a woman with Parkinson’s who is concerned about a decline in wanting to socialize. She feels that her personality has changed and she is finding it difficult to explain how she feels to family and friends. She points out that she is doing well, having had DBS in 2011 and exercising 3-5 times a week. But there is still that nagging feeling….
Probably all of us can identify with this woman. At one time or another, to one extent or another, we have felt the need to withdraw from social situations, have lacked the energy to get out and get moving or have just found we are . . . . apathetic, which is one of the hallmarks of PD. If these experiences have been fleeting and short term, that is one thing (everybody has them to some extent). But if they are persistent or long term, it is important that you reach out for professional help.
Some of this is understandably due to the symptoms we experience. Some Parkies withdraw because they get easily overwhelmed by social situations. Others say that they just need some time alone — because they just do. For others, speech problems, diskinesias or other physical manifestations of PD can make it difficult to socialize.
On the question of causation, Bev Ribaudo (Yuma Bev) just contributed a blog post on Apathy to the Michael J Fox website that is very informative.
She defines Apathy as:
1. Lack of passion, emotion, excitement
2. Lack of interest, a state of indifference
3. Lack of motivation
She goes on to explain how the changes in the brain of a person with PD can cause apathy. It is a short article and I recommend that you check it out if apathy is one of your symptoms.
On the question of what to do to combat the the “Mehs”, there are some experiential lessons that have helped me and others I have talked to:
- Learn something new. Learn a new language, take music lessons, find a new hobby that requires learning something different. In the process, you may increase your dopamine levels and feel better.
- If large social gatherings are intimidating, spend more time interacting with people in small groups. Having lunch or dinner out with just a couple of family members or friends may just be the boost you need.
- Create realistic goals for yourself, with rewards for achieving those goals. Learn a new piano piece or read a book on a new subject,and get yourself a new pair of shoes, a hot fudge sundae or whatever else may motivate you.
- Join an exercise class with other people with Parkinson’s. The camaraderie that ensues will give you a boost. And you don’t need to explain how you are feeling because everyone else in the class understands.
- Volunteer. They say that people who volunteer feel better and live longer. Even if you have limited mobility, there is always something you can do.
- Get dressed in the morning and get moving, even if it is difficult. You will feel better if you look better. Lying around in your pj’s all day just encourages you to do nothing and reinforces the blah’s.
- Don’t write off your friends and family because you think they won’t understand. Most of them do and are more than happy to help you whenever necessary. As one doctor said to me when I mentioned my friends would not let me quit playing tennis no matter how frustrated I was with how I was playing, “keep those friends!”
- Finally: Look in the mirror and SMILE You will be amazed at how much better it makes you feel.
None of these suggestions is a “cure” for apathy, but you might find some helpful for you.
We all have our down times, and we will have more in the future. It’s ok and maybe even unavoidable to to give in to the “mehs” for a short time every once in a while. Just don’t let it last too long. We all have too much to do to let apathy get in the way.
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