Shaking with Debra Magid

We need to live in the moment. Enjoy it while you can

Debra Magid
Debra Magid with Farrel Levy

Several months ago I attended a Fox Foundation fundraiser which was a film screening about artist and designer, Debra Magid, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2012. The film, Shake With Me, was directed and produced by Debra’s son, Zack Grant. My Parkie friends and I really enjoyed the film. Watching it almost felt like the camera had been on us. We thought it gave a very feminine point of view of living with Parkinson’s.

For background on the film, here is the description from Zack: 

What started in 2016 as an exploration of Debra’s growth as an artist in the face of Parkinson’s Disease grew into a larger story of creativity, health, family and the will to cope.  Spanning two years of filming, Shake With Me takes viewers on an emotional and physical journey through the many facets of Debra’s day to day life.  Time and the unfolding realities of a degenerative disease dictate Debra’s constantly evolving views on her diagnosis.  Whether she is creating art in her studio, taking a boxing class specifically for PD patients, or talking about how PD has impacted her friends and family, Shake With Me presents a truly raw and honest look at what it’s like to live, endure and succeed despite a life changing diagnosis and a future that is entirely unknown. 
The film is making it’s rounds on the festival circuit and will screen August 8th – 17th at the HollyShorts Film Festival in Hollywood, California. For more information on screenings and and to watch the film’s trailer please visit www.shakewithmefilm.com.

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I had the opportunity to interview Debra a couple of weeks later. What follows are the highlights of that interview.

Twitchy Woman (TW): I was there with several Parkinson’s friends. We loved the film. It was lovely what your son did for you.

Debra Magid (DM): Wasn’t it? I was just amazed.

TW: We all thought it gave more of a female point of view. Did you feel that it was that way?

DM: I never thought about it that way. I can’t wallow, I just have to move forward and do the best with what I have. I guess that’s a feminist point of view.

TW: I don’t think men would be as forthcoming with how they feel on film.

DM: My son made the film over several years and he was quite secretive about it initially. I kept asking if he would show me something and he kept saying “it’s a work in progress. It’s not ready.” So it was a real leap of faith for me. For my birthday he gave me the 3 minute trailer and I was just blown away. The first time I watched it, I cried. I thought it was so beautiful. He gave me the chance to speak openly and honestly about PD in a way I hadn’t done before

TW: We are the caregivers, we are not used to having them take care of us.

DM: Luckily, so far, that hasn’t been needed. You get the diagnosis and you figure out a way to live with it. My attitude about my Parkinson’s is if you ask me a question, I will answer it but I am not going to say “this is what I am thinking about. This is what I am afraid of.”  That doesn’t do anything for me. If I have to  freak-out I know enough Parkinson’s people who I can go to. My best friends will always listen to me, but they can’t understand.

When I first told my son I have Parkinson’s, I think it hit him out of left field. He had no idea what to make of it. He had no way to process it…. He had not even noticed the shaking.

When I first told my son I have Parkinson’s, I think it hit him out of left field.

TW: How many years after you were diagnosed did he approach you to do the film?

DM: I was diagnosed in 2012. I didn’t tell him for probably a year. In 2016, he was  taking a continuing education class in the city. He came to me and said he was doing a documentary for the class project and would like to make a short film about me. He said he had been thinking about it for a while.  What started as a 5 minute class project grew into a full documentary

TW: If someone else had asked you about filming you, would you have been as open?

DM: I don’t think I would have been interested. It was my son. He would come to the house on Sunday afternoons, put a mike on me and follow me around with a camera. I don’t think I would have been as open with a stranger.

TW: How does your family feel about all of the publicity you are getting?

DM: They are all very excited. My son is thrilled. He sees it through two lenses. One as a producer and one as my son celebrating with me. He is hoping this will turn his career towards being a director. Things are really happening for him now because of it, so we are both thrilled.

TW: How does your daughter feel about this?

DM: She has been away in Australia for most of the past year, so she hasn’t been to one of these public screenings yet. She is very supportive. My husband is also very supportive.

TW: It’s hard for our kids to realize that Mom isn’t always 100% . They expect you to be like you always were.

DM: It is hard for the children to acknowledge that I have Parkinson’s and I am slowing down in some ways. Or is it just that I’m in my 60’s and am slowing down anyway? We’ll never know.

Maybe I am in denial, but I just can’t envision that I am going to end up in a wheelchair. If it happens, I will deal with it then. I see  no point in spending the next 10 years worrying about it.

TW: You were diagnosed in 2012? How long before that did you start noticing symptoms.

DM: I first noticed my left hand shaking in March, 2012 and ignored it, hoping it would go away. By the end of summer,  it didn’t  stop and I started seeing doctors. I saw three doctors before I was prepared to accept the diagnosis.  I still have symptoms only on my left side after 7 years. I see people who tell me that, after 15 years it is still only on one side. That inspires me.

TW: Are you still working?

DM: Yes. I am a designer. It wasn’t till about a month ago when Shake With Me was in the ReelAbilities film festival and the local NBC News station interviewed us, when I came totally out of the closet. I had only told friends and family, not clients, until that point.

TW: What accommodations do you use?

DM: I have difficulty controlling my left hand when typing, so I use a voice system for emails  and texts. For the most part I don’t have to make accommodations.

TW: How long ago did you start your artwork again?

DM: You have to find someway to handle this terrible diagnosis. When my youngest child went to college, I needed to do something, so I went back to making art. The moment I walked into the studio I wondered why I haven’t been doing this for the last 30 years. It felt so natural. It took a while to get artistically back to where I was comfortable. I think it is what keeps me grounded and  happy.

TW: Do you find it is off-time for PD when you are painting?

DM: Yes. I don’t think about anything when I am painting. It is the only time where I am free. If I shake, I don’t even notice it.

TW: What advice would you give other people with Parkinson’s about living well with Parkinson’s?

DM: You have to find something that makes you happy. You have to live in the moment because there is such huge uncertainty. You don’t know what tomorrow brings, so we had better enjoy today. I think PD, like any serious illness, makes you stop and evaluate your life. Parkinson’s makes you ask questions. I feel really lucky because I have a mild case and can do most of what I want to do. I know it won’t be that way forever. I see no point in obsessing now about a future possible decline

TW: What came across in the film to me is the positive attitude that you have. “We need to live in the moment. Enjoy it while you can. ”

Watch the trailer by clicking on the image below.

To see more of Debra’s artwork go to http://www.debramagid.com

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