The most unlikely of places.

Personal identity is commonly viewed as an externally driven phenomenon that offers no individual recourse, a conglomeration of inputs from the superficial to the soulful that describe a person’s essence. Occupation-based assessments are a good example. The first topic of most conversations between the newly acquainted is what one does for a living. The answer, tellingly, is usually framed as, “I am a blank.” Can these four words come anywhere close to defining any human being?

Of course not, yet we not only allow such self identification, we inadvertently encourage such simplistic descriptions of the indescribable. The greater danger is that this can lead to actually believing we are bound by the limits of a job, societal role, or illness for that matter.

Small talk is, in my opinion, a celebration of the superficial; a denigration of personal meaning and power. We are creatures of habit. How we act gradually defines who we are to the only person that matters: ourselves. We start to believe in single words, such as generous or miserly. And that leaves little power in the hands of the individual when a negative personality trait becomes unbalanced, turning an opportunity for insightful change into never ending self chastisement and helplessness.

Tomorrow is another day, but why wait? Identity is our living masterpiece. Fill the canvas with your personal colors, creating the beauty that resides in the contrasts of your travels, often in the most unlikely of places.

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Part Four: Chasing the ball of life.

Humans are creatures of the earth, flesh and blood animals that possess an innate, youthful urge to move, to dart wildly in a celebratory merge of body, mind, and soul. Just like a healthy dog, we need exercise, not only to mechanically grease the inner workings of our physical entity but to also rest the mind and feed the imaginative seedlings of the soul.

Parkinson’s makes all activity hard, just a slip away from disaster on a tightrope walk above depression’s muddy swamp. In “The Lost Intruder,” I discovered that facing physical challenges—both simple and complex—would leave me with a mental high, sometimes lasting for days. I’ve learned since DBS surgery that an intense workout is at times the only tool remaining between me and despair.

During my two-year psychological recovery from DBS—I hesitate to write with such finality, as the process continues—I successfully isolated myself from most people. Probably done from a subconscious understanding, and overcompensation, that what I needed most was the solitude of reflection, the ensuing seclusion has proven incredibly difficult to overcome. I still can’t tolerate small talk and am quick to stop a budding relationship in its tracks if I sense underlying superficiality.

It makes for many lonely hours. Maybe, for the first time in my life, I am feeling the actual, utter emptiness that surrounds once dispelled of most life distractions, like alcohol and the constant background chatter of TV or radio. It’s not just being around people, it’s regularly connecting with them on a deeper plane in a manner that is fresh and new. A tall order, indeed. Slowly, it seems that I am resurrecting my old cadre of friends, but on a more complex level, and in rare circumstances making new, meaningful friendships.

It can be a tortuously slow road, but I do see progress in my journey. I suspect there are others afflicted with Parkinson’s, and other chronic diseases, who tread a similar path but are not engaging in regular physical activity. My advice: try exercising. Do anything; just move. Chasing the ball of life can be hard work, but it can still be fun if you put a spring in your paws, a smile on your snout, and you share with a friend.

#livingwithparkinsons #thelostintruder #peterhuntbooks #dbssurgery

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Part Three: Parkinson’s helped resuscitate my soul.

“The Lost Intruder, the Search for a Missing Navy Jet” is largely about shedding old identities, which allowed me to create fresh characteristics and behaviors based on who I wanted to be. Wiping my identity slate clean was daunting. But merely existing without the foundation of an internalized self-portrait, as I did for some time after Parkinson’s Deep Brain Stimulation surgery, was profoundly disturbing, especially while trying to avoid being defined by the outside world.

Working through the emptiness, I experienced honest, unfiltered emotions for the first time in decades. Not since childhood had I felt such stinging gut reactions, real-time feedback that inspired serious reflection on what was important in life.

The solitary time spent on the water combing the ocean bottom encouraged introspection, and with my mind temporarily free of a lifetime of knowledge, logic, and reason, a pair of feelings filled the void: kindness and love. It became evident to me that nothing else mattered, that all man’s rantings and ravings served as distractions from our true nature. I didn’t choose a new identity; it chose me.

Science and technology, man’s tools of understanding, can answer complicated, practical questions, but only human insight—a soulful exploration of the essence of things—can shed light on why we exist and suggest how we might act to realize happiness. To disregard one as trivial is to risk losing the whole point of life.

I have no answers. I do, however, acknowledge my feelings as the most essential part of me, and kindness and love make me feel good. And after all, isn’t that what we are ultimately striving for as we embark on mindless quests for power, money, and fame? To simply feel good about ourselves?

#peterhuntbooks #thelostintruder #livingwithparkinson’s #dbssurgery

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Part Two: When even coffee turns—Parkinson’s sneaky demons.

The reconstitution of Parkinson’s Disease (PD) symptoms after Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery is slow, but the path well-worn from previous travel. My single prescription medication, Rytary, is a Levodopa-based drug like the Sinemet that had grown clumsy in 2014 due to the large doses required. Levodopa is essentially artificial Dopamine, the neurotransmitter that goes missing in a Parkinson’s patient.

I carefully time my dose of Rytari at five intervals daily. The goal is to keep the body functioning in the Levodopa “sweet spot,” bracketed between the fluid, writhing of dyskinesia associated with too much Levodopa, and dystonia’s angry spasms and foot-dragging shuffle. Levodopa loses efficacy over time, however, requiring ever higher doses, narrowing the space of calm until it is eventually gone. DBS temporarily widens the sweet spot, but for how long is anybody’s guess.

Fatigue, caused by the triumvirate of insomnia, the disease itself, and Rytari, factors into every aspect of daily life, and any lengthy task risks ambush by a debilitating sleep attack. Coffee unpredictably either energizes my body (normal reaction) or heightens the sleep attack’s intensity (opposite of normal). Still, I tempt fate’s caffeinated roulette wheel daily; screw it, I like coffee.

After 13 years of living with PD, other symptoms recede into the shifting background clutter of routine: a propensity to choke when eating or drinking, rigid, slow movements, loss of dexterity, joint pain, and others. There is a great deal of time for reflection, meditation, and hanging out with the dogs, but the loss of energy leads to apathy, which can result in exhausted boredom.

No alcohol, healthy eating, lots of exercise, and contact with nature provide the raw materials to cope with recurrent depression. Careful contemplation helps define the underlying reason for despair’s crude urges, allowing them to be at least partially released. I choose to avoid the pitfall of obsessing for a “cure,” to either depression or Parkinson’s, and instead live to learn from them.

There are natural pains in life that are meant to be with us, unmasked by alcohol or other drugs. Melancholy, that delightful sadness of marveling at life’s unfiltered authenticity, is perhaps one of them. The contrast heightens my overall happiness and sense of well-being: the payback is worth it.

#peterhuntbooks #thelostintruder #livingwithparkinson’sdisease #dbs #parkinson’sanddepression

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Part One: Living with Parkinson’s Disease after Deep Brain Stimulus (DBS) surgery.

Now in my 14th year since Parkinson’s Disease (PD) diagnosis at age 43, life is more vibrant than ever in physical activity and meaningful social engagement, offering up moments of rewarding personal reflection. Although not diagnosed in “old” age, it seems that PD has lured me to an enjoyment, a trust, in the process of life that, ironically, might lay the foundation for a sense of peace through advancing years and into death.

My 2014 Deep Brain Stimulation surgery (DBS) set back the PD-symptoms clock a good number of years, allowing me to reconcile the harsh physical effects of pre-surgery Parkinson’s with innate happiness. At that point in my life, I needed a fierce battle to help eradicate my previous identity, wiping the slate clean of many harmful societal expectations and preconceived notions along with any unhelpful longings for the past and future. Only then was I able to start the process of developing into the person that I truly wanted to be.

My latest book, “The Lost intruder, the Search for a Missing Navy Jet,” describes in detail my pre and post-DBS surgery challenges with Parkinson’s—as well as the DBS procedure itself—and the fundamental re-writing of my identity. The story is not a reductionist laundry list of tactics for facing down PD. It is about a revitalization of individuality, of setting the initial course of character for the voyage to becoming who I want to be. As with life, the journey is not always comfortable or pain-free. Nor is it a sure thing. But the passage is well worth the effort; it might be all in life that ultimately means anything.

My personal exploration continues here. Won’t you join me?

#thelostintruder #dbssurgery #livingwithparkinsonsdisease

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Creative wonder

Over the past three months, I’ve had the opportunity to travel and speak about my experiences of self-discovery and the lost Intruder. At each venue, invariably a stranger will seek advice on how to tailor my personal lessons to their lives, to learn the secret in overcoming long-term adversity.

There is no secret, and there is no overcoming.

Trying to deny a place for life’s hardships, the inevitable setbacks and heartbreaks, clever attempts to circumvent the universe’s trials are doomed to failure. Life is hard. It is also complicated beyond science, philosophy, technology, and perhaps even religion. We will never understand all the “whats” that confront us, never mind the “whys.” But that’s okay. Acknowledging this simple insight, accepting it deeply until it courses within us with each beat of the heart, might be the closest we can come to a cure for life.

Faith is a wondrous word: the peaceful incarnation of commonality we share with our surroundings. Yes, there is unfathomable pain and hardship in the world, only some of which is within our power to alleviate. We will all die, and we will never eliminate despair, never subdue humanity’s dark side of feeling.

It is that which defines our basest nature that also allows for the best in people, that fosters the kindness in a stranger’s eyes in passing, the sharing of a moment between two terrestrial creatures striving for insight into celestial questions. Pondering the meaning of a sunset in a lighthearted, shared marvel transforms the rawness inside us, shaping it into a powerful reality with all humanity’s soulful perfections and flaws.

Perhaps it is our job to navigate these inevitable detours until arriving at a vista of loveliness, the beautiful fullness of another amid the alchemy of creative wonder.

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Open letter to North End Fitness

“Although I owned a boat, I had no sonar, metal detector or any practical method of surveying the ocean bottom. With an incurable illness, no prospect of financial reward, little chance of success, brain surgery looming, and one child in college with another about to start, I was not in a position to spend thousands of dollars on a search. Still, desperate for a distraction, anything to pry my focus away from the disease, I decided—the hell with Parkinson’s. I’m doing it.” – From the “The Lost Intruder, The Search for a Missing Navy Jet.”

That was me in 2014, nine years after being diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s disease at age 43. I went on to find the missing A-6 Intruder—a jet I had flown from the aircraft carrier USS Ranger—a feat of perseverance that four U.S. Navy ships had been unable to accomplish in 1989.

Since then, I’ve undergone Deep Brain Stimulation surgery, setting the clock back several years and increasing my physical capability. Parkinson’s still makes most things difficult, however. Even walking with a decent posture and rhythm requires continuous concentration and focus. Constant joint pain, insomnia, a lack of dexterity, and depression are a few of the daily companions that challenge my imagination with ways to stay positive and active. For a Parkinson’s patient to give in to fatigue and stop exercising can lead to a slow death.

That’s where North End Fitness comes in. I am the token “Y” (chromosome)—the only regularly attending guy—in Yvette’s Interval Training class, and yes, I catch some good-natured grief for that fact. Interval training builds strength while testing balance and cardiovascular endurance. Yvette works us hard as she motivates the class, making it fun, the key ingredients to maintaining a regular exercise regimen.

Every time I go to Interval, the sense of achievement allows for a small victory that helps me step up to life’s daily challenges. Some days are harder than others, but Interval, like the many other excellent classes offered by the great instructors at North End Fitness, motivates and inspires beyond the doors of the gym. It sets my attitude for the day, keeping me plugging away when the alternative can be devastating.

Parkinson’s has no cure, but if you think about it, neither does life. Staying active and being around positive, engaged people goes a tremendous way in making each day just a little bit easier and a whole lot more fun. Thank you, Yvette and all the staff at North End Fitness! – Peter Hunt

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Smashwords interview of Peter Hunt

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
The prospect of touching a single individual and making a positive difference in his or her understanding of life, especially if they have Parkinson’s disease. I strive to be the best listener possible. This often means traveling with another down their personal path of self-discovery, an always fascinating and sometimes enlightening invitation to view another’s soul. If this sounds like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, please remember that I used to be a Navy carrier combat aviator and commercial airline pilot, as well as a former deep-water shipwreck diver; in other words, one accustomed to life’s harsh perceived realities. But there is so much more out there. By inviting a reader into my story, I might be able to offer a glimpse of possibility and hope for those with incurable disease.

What do you read for pleasure?
Until relatively recently, I read nothing but books on history, politics, and biography/autobiography. Now I look for books that tease the imagination and stir the soul, stories and nonfiction which inspire both deep thought and an unconscious connection of commonality, kindred tales of our society’s generational myths. For me, it is all about trying to understand the experiences of others, be they real or fiction, not to find fixes or cures. There is no cure for life. All we can hope to do, I believe, is to ease another’s path towards a settled, inner peace.

Describe your desk
Moderate clutter with a large, printed sign at the top of the window that says, “Boldly going nowhere.”

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
Six years of my childhood in the 1970s was spent in Athens, Greece. These were the magical years of spiritual alchemy before I was poisoned by the societal sanctions of adulthood. Anything was possible, and time was immaterial. There was no TV, just ancient ruins along every roadside, spilling over with stories to tell, sparking imaginative travel far beyond the realm of our family VW bus. I miss those days, back before life was overthought. In my opinion, modern society needs to feel a whole lot more, and think a whole lot less.

When did you first start writing?
When I was 38, five years before my Young Onset Parkinson’s diagnosis. In retrospect, I probably had the disease back then, though. Parkinson’s has changed my life for the better in so many ways. Without having contracted the disease (what an odd word, “contracted,” used in this manner), I would likely have gone through a life unexamined, unfulfilled, and never at peace or happy. I see writing, Parkinson’s, and who I am today on the deepest level as so intricately connected as to be unfathomable.

What’s the story behind your latest book?
“The Lost Intruder, The Search for a Missing Navy Jet,” is on the surface about my discovery of a Navy A-6 Intruder that crashed off the shores of Whidbey Island in 1989. The jet was from my squadron; I had flown that specific jet both from the aircraft carrier USS Ranger and ashore from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. But that merely provides structure for the book. The underlying story relates my battle with Parkinson’s disease during the project, and how it transformed me into a more caring and happy person. It is a soulful revel in life’s mysteries, as well as an informative look at Naval Aviation, technical wreck diving, underwater sleuthing, and Deep Brain Stimulation surgery, among other things. Oh yeah, and a page-turning adventure; don’t want to forget about that!

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Hearing from readers who connect with my experiences and have somehow benefited from them. Four years of research, searching, and writing balances nicely with deeply relating to another human being.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
Yoga, exercising, occasionally Scuba diving, some volunteering, and enjoying nature. Thinking a lot followed by doing my best not to think at all.
Published 2018-03-03.

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Gifted a Life Ring–Farewell to Eric

Eric did not come empty-handed when he pulled his full-sized pickup truck into my driveway late last spring. As I approached the driver’s side door, he abruptly floored the accelerator, causing the big V-8 to thunder in neutral, what I would only begin to understand much later was a frustrated fist-shake at the world.

Grinding the bare stub of a cigarette into the floorboard with shaking hands, he brushed my outstretched palm aside as he gave me a big hug. I hugged him back, after all, we had seen a lot, shared a lot, together more than a quarter century earlier, when we were both charged with the electric stupidity of youth that passes for fearlessness. Eric and I had flown together during our first six-month deployment on the USS Ranger to the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans. He filled my arms with gifts, and we walked into the house.

Unshaven, with stubble encircling an otherwise bald head, Eric’s eyes darted furtively behind wire glasses. Eric looked like shit, I thought, as I slowly made sense of the jumbled bits and pieces of our phone conversations over the past several days. Eric was either nearing a nervous breakdown, or experiencing some sort of manic episode, I couldn’t tell what exactly, but he was in bad shape.

And then, abruptly, he wasn’t, and it was steady as she goes, and my old bombardier/navigator was back: confident, razor sharp, intently asking, “how are you doing, Petey,” the awkward nickname he would use to try and get a rise out of me. For the next four hours, we visited as he transited the disconnected states of his tormented life, a topic to which I am not wholly unfamiliar. Alternating tales started in fact that slowly began to stray from reality, and hysterical references to “pilot candy” and various close ones on the aircraft carrier that I knew to be true, it became clear that the same old Eric was in there, especially when he spoke of his love for his children. We shared more than a few laughs, hugs, and tears before it was time for him to leave.

It was only as Eric was getting ready to leave that I took stock of his gifts. Six Asian specialty beers, a mini toy fishing pole, three packs of Starbursts (“pilot candy” to give me a boost of energy to land the jet safely after a long night of flying). A beautiful photo of a Hawaiian sunset ready to be framed was also there, several small American flags, the kind waved at parades, and finally one huge, ship-sized orange life ring, much too big to use on my boat. After a final hug and “I love you, brother” uttered by both of us, I told him to come visit anytime.

He never did.

Last Sunday evening, Eric took his own life. I won’t pretend to understand the why, other than the obvious: the relentless attacks by demons of who knows what origin became too much for him to bear. What I do know, however, is that Eric—adoring father, caring friend, and life observer of uncommon insight and wisdom was in there, dealing as best he could with a terribly cruel and uncaring world. I will remember Eric as always kind.

May you find peace at last, old friend.

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Appreciating the rain

Perhaps like most people, I grew up loving the sun and grumbling about the rain, not-so-secretly wishing that the summers would last forever. It never crossed my mind to question this assumption, maybe because the clear sky meant running and jumping in outdoor play as a child, although I do recall a few youthful antics sliding around in a muddy downpour. The sun came to mean limitless possibility, the rain often a harshly negative reality, and these views solidified and strengthened into adulthood.

Relatively recently, I listened closely to a friend who held firm to the opposite view: they found comfort and security in the rain, a nurturing cleansing and watering of life. To them, the sun was necessary, but it also wielded an impersonal scorching energy that pried them open, leaving them bare and vulnerable to a hostile world.

Despite a sincere effort to understand, I could barely intellectualize this point of view and seemed hopeless in ever gaining anything other than a mild depression at even the thought of a cloudy or rainy day. But I kept trying, pretty much every time it rained, attempting to appreciate the dark weather on some deeper level. I am only just beginning to experience a glimmer of comprehension over a year later.

Life metaphors of the contrast of good and bad, darkness and light, and the need to “appreciate” one for the other run rampant through the logical mind, but I felt something entirely different. I started to see, hear, feel, touch and taste the rain from my heart, asking my brain to take a break in trying to figure out consciously why I defined myself as someone who “didn’t like the rain.” On misty dog walks, I began to see parts of nature that had shot right by me during sunny afternoons when vision overwhelmed the other senses to inconsequence.

While the sun had me focusing on an obscure infinite horizon, the rain put me just a single step from the life in front of me. The sunny vista evoked imagery of “someday,” whereas a rainy overcast focused all the senses in the here and now, an often scarier picture that few I know care to acknowledge. While the sun spoke to future possibility, hope, and past out-of-touch memories, like regret, the rain gently nudged the senses inward toward contemplation of the now, the only place action has meaning.

Getting in touch with life’s rainy days nurtures and cleans, calming distant superficial and materialistic dreams while satiating a natural thirst to simply be. It might be valuable paying attention to those with the most divergent views from your own to best experience the life that surrounds us all.

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