THE BLOG

Losing Confidence

04/12/2013 15:06 GMT | Updated 03/02/2014 10:59 GMT

As Parkinson's (or any serious illness) progresses, it's easy to lose one's self confidence. When I was first diagnosed I immediately came across several people who had been living with Parkinson's for some years and therefore had already experienced many of the stages and symptoms that occur as the disease advances. One particular development puzzled me, which appeared to be a lack of self esteem and confidence. Many patients with Parkinson's stop socializing and going out. This doesn't happen over night but slowly creeps up until suddenly people realise the sufferer never seems to leave the security and sanctuary of their home.

There are several reasons responsible for this involuntary change of personality, where someone might once have been very sociable and the life and soul of the party. The huge alteration is very noticeable to family and friends, as if the person's character appears no longer the same. This is not entirely true, for although outwardly there may be a huge transformation, inside the same fun vibrant person you knew and loved, is still there.

Speaking from experience, I can now understand how losing one's confidence and retreating into oneself and away from the world can easily happen. Realising the problem, it would be easy to succumb, therefore I am vigilant in working hard not to fall into this position.

I have spoken before about losing one's voice, sounding hoarse, and speaking quietly as if someone has literally turned down your volume, along with a slightly monotone and slow speech, which would naturally make anyone cautious of speaking, when out amongst others, even if you want to speak up and say something, it is often impossible to be heard. When various conversations are going on around me simultaneously, it is extremely hard to follow, and a one on one dialogue is all that I can manage. This problem with speech in itself causes huge complications with socializing. If no one can hear you, pays no attention when you do open your mouth, and it's hard to follow a discussion involving several people; is it surprising that a Parkinson's patient who once might have been vivacious and talkative, suddenly sits quietly like a wall flower?

Other problems that shake one's self image are of course physical appearance. The classic shuffling when walking, hunched shoulders which would put years on any person, and a certain stiffness and rigidity of movements, all make one self conscious and an uncomfortable feeling entering a room, as if all eyes are upon you. People who know you have Parkinson's may well realise the change in demeanor and put it down to the progression of the disease. However, entering a room full of strangers, I am extremely aware of sticking out like a soar thumb. If people are unfamiliar with Parkinson's, they don't realise what's wrong, and sadly through lack of empathy or understanding, as if I'm contagious, they keep their distance, no interaction is made or even an attempt to acknowledge me. This in itself is hurtful and enough to discourage any Parkinson's sufferer from venturing out.

Eating whilst in company is also problematic and can cause one to refrain and literally go hungry. The thought of dropping food and making a mess, taking longer to eat than anyone else, possibly choking on food or spilling a drink down myself, I must admit is what goes through my mind. At an event where one is not seated, but expected to stand, doing a balancing act, holding a glass of wine and a small plate with hors d'oeuvres precariously is a nightmare. If you have Parkinson's and are reading this, I know you'll understand only too well and are probably nodding your head in agreement.

Losing confidence can lead to depression, a vicious cycle one wants to refrain from entering at all costs. With no confidence, comes lack of interest in one's appearance. As shallow as it may sound, looking good does in fact make one feel a little better, therefore preserving one's look (albeit a sort of façade) is vital in boosting one's self confidence. I am fortunate to have a friend who has been in the fashion industry for many years, and early on, gave me invaluable advice to which I adhere to, even if I'm just staying at home. If you are well dressed, look groomed and presentable it makes a great difference, not just to the sufferer, but to all those around you.

Great fatigue and pain also play a part in making one less social and ultimately losing confidence, resulting in isolation. Parkinson's affects almost every part of one's life, and I've only touched on the most obvious detrimental aspects. Humans do not thrive when isolated from others; "No man is an island".

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