Parkinson's Disease, Retirement

Living With Parkinson’s Disease: Quitting My Sedentary Job

Parkinson’s Disease was not the reason that I began to think about quitting my job. But once I began to take a long look at my life and my situation, I realized just how much my job was aggravating my disease.  It was quickly added to my long list of reasons why I needed to get my life in order and to a place where quitting my job would become a possibility.

For several years, I have blamed my medication for making me tired. I get tired to the point that I suffer from pseudo-narcolepsy, which means I sometimes fall asleep no matter where I’m at or what I’m doing. What I feel most days is not a normal “tired” but a deep need to sleep NOW no matter what is happening around me. Because the medication works so well otherwise, I’ve not been willing to give it up. And since this need for sleep occurs mostly in the evening, I was able to rearrange my work schedule so that I could leave the office by 4 p.m. putting me at home before the need to sleep hit me. Problem solved.

But it’s not always possible to adjust working conditions to solve every problem. My voice became one of my greatest challenges. It has become uneven, making it difficult for me to be understood if I need to talk loudly, say for example, when giving a group tour. So I stopped giving building tours and I make sure someone else gives the introductory welcome to visiting groups. But since my job is Director of Public Relations, well, giving up relating to the public has been both stressful and awkward.

Unfortunately, job stress has worn on me to the point that my body clock stopped following the 4:00 rule. More and more, I’ve found myself struggling to stay awake at my desk. I have gotten unbearably sleepy in the car as I’ve driven home. I’ve nodded off at traffic lights and while waiting for trains. Afraid that I was going to wipe out a mailbox or worse, another car, I’ve had to pull off the road into parking lots to nap. Even on days that I’m not particularly sleepy, I get home and often feel immobilized, unable to do anything except cry. I find myself crying over minor things — such as spilled milk. Depression can be a major symptom of Parkinson’s Disease. But…

During my last vacation I didn’t nap at all nor did I ever feel like crying. I found that both remarkable and eye opening. How is it I can stay awake all day in Wyoming when at home I’m struggling just to stay awake through dinner? Back at work, I made the discovery that, more often than not, I’m depressed on Monday through Thursday and not so much as time nears the weekend. And while medication does make me more tired, it hasn’t been the lone reason that I feel exhausted. So what was different in Wyoming? Exercise. When I’m on vacation or at home on the weekends I do a lot of walking and home chores. Exercise is what I need to beat the depression.

I need lots of exercise to keep my body flexible but my job has become so sedentary that it prevents me from getting almost any at all. Carrying my work load requires me to sit at my desk for hours each day. When I spend so many hours at my computer, my tremor worsens and my fingers and hand cramp making my work that much harder, sometimes impossible, to accomplish. My neck and back get stiff. When I finally get the chance to stand up, it hurts to stretch. It takes me several minutes to walk the kinks out and then, when I get so that I can walk normally again, I walk back to my office and sit back down at my desk! Even when I’m at home, I spend hours sitting at the computer finishing office jobs I couldn’t get done during the week. The lack of movement has caused me to gain weight and I’ve felt my body grow considerably weaker over the past couple of years. Thirty minutes on the treadmill each day doesn’t do it for me. I need to be moving throughout the day.

sitting-dangerA new study showed up in my news feed the other day from the Michael J. Fox Foundation. It claims that constant movement like cleaning the house and gardening  can have a bigger impact on preserving and improving motor skills than even vigorous exercise. That doesn’t surprise me. I feel better when my days are filled with cleaning, carrying laundry up and down stairs, grocery shopping and other household tasks that keep me on my feet all day. I hope, and expect, that quitting my job and having seven days a week to “putter” around the house and garden will improve my physical well-being. But its not just those with health issues who need to be concerned. After 12 years sitting at a desk five days a week, I’m convinced there are few things worse for a person, any person, than a sedentary desk job. For me, I believe that sitting any longer would be detrimental.

It’s time to move. And that’s one reason I’m getting out of my chair and moving on.

 

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