I was in Rome, exhausted. My trip was stressful, being one month after a divorce and seven days without my daughter. All I wanted was to be back in the tiny arms of my four year old. I arrived at the airport on time, but groggy. I was confused by using Spanglish to navigate through Italy. I just wanted to go home.
As I checked my bag, I was asked to wait. And wait. And wait. After about 30 minutes, I was met by a Italian woman with the airlines. She held my way home in her grip. I saw a thick black line on my ticket. She said she would ask me a few questions, and I thought I won the lucky random screening seat.
"What was the purpose for your trip?" "Did you party with your friends?" "Did you do a little drinking, a little drugs?" "Are you carrying anything illegal?" "Did someone ask you to bring something back for them?" "Party a little too much?!" The questions fired off like bullets.
After enough "Yes ma'am"'s and "No ma'am"'s to last me a lifetime, I thought the interrogation was done. I spent the remainder of my Euro's and waited to board. When my section was called, I was stopped again. A full pat down and all the contents of my Roman trip were displayed from my carry-on.
It wasn't until I landed in the red, white and blue, and was drained of my jet lag when I realized, they saw my shaking as nerves. I was five weeks away from my Parkinson's diagnosis and had no way to prove why I trembled.
Like Taylor Swift's song, I just "Shake It Off." (Pun intended.) Laughter is a great way to cope with misconceptions. Anytime someone forgets what they were going to say, I tell them I "gave" them Parkinson's, a non-contagious movement disorder.
I also love when someone, familiar with the movement symptoms of the disease, say something to the effect of, "It's not like it's a brain disease." Well, actually, Parkinson's is a neurodegenerative brain disorder where the substantia nigra, in the brain, stops producing dopamine. And some people with Parkinson's never have a tremor, concealing their visible symptoms.
I think the best was when someone commented on a picture of mine, "It's sad she won't even be able to care for herself in 10 years." Or maybe it was the perception of several people that retorted, "She doesn't really have Parkinson's. She's just making that up for attention."
It's kind of like hearing someone who has the "C" word, aka cancer. You immediately think of death and/or pain from the radiation and chemo. Yet, cancer doesn't mean a death sentence. There are so many variables that factor into those cliches. When was it caught? Where was it caught? And can surgery cure it?
Misconceptions on disease are no different than stereotypes of people. Like snowflakes, not one of us are the same. If they were, I wouldn't have to worry about Parkinson's, as I'm not the normal 65+ year old white man. In fact, while there are many marked similarities, each person with PD is different from the next, from symptoms, to speed of progression, to finding that perfect cocktail of meds.
Whether you have Parkinson's, MS, cancer, an autoimmune disease or are disease free you face perceptions and misconceptions. People are innately ignorant. We don't research every disease that is out there. We tend to be self-absorbed, myself included. But that's the thing about misconceptions and perceptions. As you glance at someone struggling, try to empathize. If someone is complaining, try to listen, as sometimes they just want someone to really hear them. Never be afraid to ever say, "I have no idea what you're going through." Try to be someone's perception of light, in an all too often misconceived dim world.