Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Parkinson's and creativity: What Choice do You Have?

Not long ago there was a burst of items on the Web reporting a link between the start of dopamine therapy for Parkinon's Disease and a flowering of creative energy. This interested me because of the "creative roll" that I have been on since my diagnosis ten years ago.

As this streak continued to unfold I began to wonder if it was an artifact of the treatment. If so, was the treatment merely bringing me up to my baseline creativity, or was I being "artificially enhanced", like a ballplayer hopped up on steroids? I worried and wondered for awhile, and then it hit me: What difference does it make? What is important is what you can and do accomplish. The other stuff just isn't measurable.

Parkinson's is at work in our bodies long before the first tremor betrays its presence. When that first tremor does show, it means that 70-80% of the dopamine-brewing cells in your substantia nigra are no longer in the dopamine manufacturing biz. The fact that one can skate so long with such impairment is truly amazing, and I have grown to find it comforting. But again I pondered, what had Parkinson's stolen from me before we caught it red-handed? It is the inverse of the first question, and just as useless to worry over.

Parkinson's Disease itself is fiendishly creative. It reshapes personalities, habits and even physical characteristics. It demands a creative response. One has to rethink how life can be approached, from the simple act of walking to the complexity of spousal relationships. And because Parkinson's Disease is always on the move, we must stay on the alert for new ways to cope as old strategies lose their efficacy. As our capabilities diminish, we must incorporate new ideas of who we are into our notions of ourselves.

This is a form of creativity that can't be measured in the number of drawings executed or the number of sonnets written. It is the process of building meaning from the pile of jackstraws that we become following the diagnosis of PD.  It entails loss and bereavement. It's hard to accept. But to go on, you have to re-imagine yourself in ways you never would have without the challenge of this disease. This is the creativity demanded of all of us who have Parkinson's Disease. So far, it remains unmeasured.


Adele said...

It is a testament to the plasticity of the human brain and personality that something like Parkinson's can remove every skill you thought was important and you can still find ways to communicate, to relate, and to create. I think it's not something Parkinson's gives us so much as it is something Parkinson's reveals. People are amazing. We often are too busy to notice until something makes us STOP.

Adele said...

Your post is one of the best I have ever read about Parkinson's and living with Parkinsons.

Peter Dunlap-Shohl said...

Thanks, Adele. There are studies that show how we adapt even our ideas of what constitutes quality of life to ever "worsening" situations. We are bound tightly to this world.

Adele said...

Hi Peter,

We are also bound to these bodies. I saw this post this morning about embodied cognition. I'd never heard this term before but again it shows the connection between our bodies and our inner selves. http://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/cognoculture/the_unbearable_heaviness_of_not

Patient-Online said...

I wrote a number of songs and recorded two albums after starting Sinemet. I have often thought that some of my best guitar work has been since diagnosis and medication. Hmmm... interesting.

Peter Dunlap-Shohl said...

Dan, I bet you always had it in you, otherwise it never would have been there to come out.