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Wolfgang's inspirational story

posted Jul 13, 2012, 5:36 AM by Dianne James
I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 15 years ago when I was not yet 40 years old. My right arm was getting stiff and didn't move when I walked, and then my handwriting deteriorated. For the first five years, I followed my doctors' advice and took my prescriptions. I just continued raising my children with my wife, working, and living my life. I didn't even tell anyone other than my wife about my diagnosis. Treatment helped my stiffness, and my handwriting almost returned to normal.

Then I started having "freezing" attacks. When I "freeze", my movements become very slow and difficult. This can last up to 90 minutes and it can happen several times a day. After about five years, these "freezing" attacks increased to the point where I couldn't hide my Parkinson's disease any more.

When I looked in the mirror I saw a man with hanging shoulders and floppy muscles, so I decided to take more responsibility for my health. I started to run every morning and visited a fitness-centre three times a week.

Cycling to new heights

With training, my muscles were rebuilt, my self-confidence restored and many of my problems went away. I'd always liked bike riding, but I got much more serious about cycling once I had Parkinson's disease. In a way, my bike is like another medicine for me now. When I ride my bike, I have to share narrow streets with motorised road users, so I must keep my balance and control my bike to avoid dangerous situations. When walking and moving are difficult for me, I can still ride my bike. When my voice is affected by my ""freezing," riding the bike can sometimes even make my speech better.

My bicycle has taken me across 15 passes in the Alps, including the highest in Switzerland, Austria and Italy. I now know what it means to ride a bike for more than 30 km strongly uphill! Biking in the Alps stands for joy, for suffering, and for never giving up. It stands for ignoring the voice in your ear which says: "Why do you do that ?"

I don't recommend that everyone has to cross the Alps by bicycle, but I'd like to encourage everybody to define their own targets and challenges, and discover their own Alps.

Writing poetry

In 2005, I started to write poetry. I don't know quite what inspired me to begin, but writing has given me a way to express my feelings and thoughts about Parkinson's disease, which has helped me so much. I've even published several books of poetry.

This poem is called "Chance" in German, or "Opportunity" in English:

"If every day
you lose a bit more,
of what yesterday you had,
despair is a bad counsellor,
for finding an outlook for tomorrow.
Only when we are prepared,
to think about things,
that used to be strange and unreal,
can we have an idea,
of what incredible potential hides in us all.
The art is to look for it in ourselves.
Everyone has the opportunity."

Finding our inner resources

Parkinson's is not a reason to give up. We all have so many potential resources in ourselves. But they are hidden and we have to search for them.

Of course, I'd still prefer to be perfectly healthy. But it's true that having a life-changing illness can help people find the potential in themselves they'd never known was there all along. That has certainly been true for me.

Until there's a cure, I will work with my doctors and all available resources to find the treatments and the support that will give me continuous control of my symptoms and help me the most. I will continue to talk with other people living with Parkinson's disease to gain and share strength with them, and I will never stop trying to untap my full potential and resources to go my own way, self-controlled and with dignity.