The empowering choice

Recently, I flew to the East Coast to see my son, Jared. It was a great visit, with no pressure to do anything; simply being in the other’s presence was enough. Before I knew it, our time together was over, and we were pulling up to the airport on the visit’s last day. Jared and I hugged a long goodbye. I calmly turned and entered the terminal in a significantly positive mood modification from the near-debilitating panic attack six months ago during my flight home from Houston.

What did I change? I was flying alone for both flights with crowded, noisy, nearly full airplanes, conditions that should, under conventional logic, increase Parkinson’s anxiety level. The return flight from visiting my son was my second unaccompanied trans-continent flight since the Houston incident, surprising in that my Parkinson’s symptoms had only worsened in the last six months, and I had remained relaxed for both. What was going on here?

Dealing with Parkinson’s for over eighteen years since diagnosis—with deep brain stimulation surgery smack in the middle of this period—has taught me the importance of mindset. I refuse to be a victim. Even though air travel has become more complex with disease progression, more complicated does not necessarily mean more difficult, and it certainly doesn’t mean “I can’t.”

What changed? First, I chose not to accept the traditional paradigm. I feel energized and confident that I can enact the necessary changes to overcome airport challenges. Specifically, I am better mentally prepared, having conducted “what if” visualization exercises for every conceivable contingency.

For example, by most afternoons, effective verbal communication is impossible, so I printed a note explaining my situation. I have yet to need the letter, but I carry it for peace of mind. It is like carrying Xanax as a last-ditch, emergency contingency. If need be, I will take the Xanax, but I would consider it a failure, requiring me to come up with a new plan before my next plane ride—the last thing I need to add to my Parkinson’s mix is drug addiction.

My return to flying unaccompanied is just another example of doing things “The hard way” (–hard–way), which is just another way of saying you have empowered yourself to be happy living with Parkinson’s, which I am: every year my Parkinson’s progresses. And each passing year finds me more joyful and content. It is a choice, starting with refusing to play the victim.

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