Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Encounter with the supreme identity thief

Remember the "Me Decade"? That's what writer Tom Wolfe christened the 1970's . It was fashionable at that time to attempt to "find yourself". This was a common pursuit of the day, and a weird one. It conjures the idea of some tragic mix-up in the maternity ward in which your true self went home with the wrong family and then moved across the country without leaving a forwarding address.

Eventually it would fall to the strong and the brave to go out and track their fugitive self down, like an escaped con. As with any great quest, this one was fraught with difficulties. It's a given that your real self would be found somewhere more exciting and exotic than wherever you were at the time, but where? And how would you know when you found your true self? What if you found somebody else's true self and mistook it for your own? You might live the rest of your life as someone else, and never know. Which for some might not be a bad idea.

Most people gave up or got over it by the mid eighties. And it was never much of a problem for me. I always defined myself as an Alaskan, and a cartoonist, and later expanded into husband and father. For the most part, what I did was who I was.

Then came Parkinson's Disease, the identity thief supreme. I was a guitar player who didn't play the guitar, a cartoonist who was struggling to draw, a father who was too tired to cook or to even stay up and share a movie, a husband who was cranky and listless. (See my pal, the ogre here)

"Finding yourself" seems like a foolish game. Losing yourself is terrifying.

Eventually diagnosis and medication restored much of my original drive and personality. But Parkinson's is a moving target, and medication only approximates what my friend Dr. David Heydrick calls "The exquisite precision" of the dopamine controls of the human brain. And as we know too well, the medication eventually becomes as problematic as the disease.

But, for now, the person I think of as the real me, does glint out occasionally and briefly, from between the manic, nattering chatterbox I am at the crest of my dose and the semi-paralyzed zombie I become at the ebb. Like a canny performer, he always disappears before wearing out his welcome, leaving Chatterbox and Zombie Man in a state of anticipation about the next appearance .

The question isn't "Who am I?" or "Where am I?" It's "When am I?"

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