Living with young onset Parkinson’s: 2020: Farewell or good riddance?

Thursday 31 December

What to make of 2020?

The 2020 photo album I
am compiling is, unsurprisingly, a lot thinner than usual. Not a lot happened
in January and February anyway, and then – boom – the Covid-19 pandemic took over
the world and there was even less to put in the photobook. Just a few pictures
of empty supermarket shelves and face masks fill the March and April pages. The
rest of the year comprises a small number of brief highlights, like a September
trip to Venice or a fun Halloween, connected by long stretches of isolation. November
stands out as a month where nothing happened at all: in the last 12 years of assembling
the annual photo album, this is the first time there’s been a month without a
single picture on my iPhone.

Of course, if, like my
neighbour Jim, or a number of people at work, your whole family came down with
Covid-19, then it was a pretty miserable year. Or if your business went under.
Or if one of your parents died. Or if your teenage daughter was hospitalised
for several weeks with a painful neurological condition. Or if your incurable
Parkinson’s got a little worse. Given that the last three of these things did
happen to Clara or me, it is tempting to write off 2020 as a year to forget. An
annus horribilis as The Queen once said in her Christmas speech.

However, most clouds
have a silver lining. So, whilst appreciating that it was a crap year for many,
here are five good things that came out of 2020.

  1. Staying connected

Ironically, given
social distancing, Covid-19 brought many of us closer together. I’ve seen a lot
more of my siblings than ever before: we have family Zoom calls every few weeks
whereas in many years previously we would see each other only at Christmas. I schedule
regular video catch ups for the local PD community. I see some of my friends
more than before, albeit on a screen.

Surprisingly, in a
work context, whilst we miss out on the human connection from the simple act of
shaking hands, we do get to see into people’s sitting rooms, studies and bedrooms.
We often talk more openly about our personal lives than we would do in the
office, as the boundaries between work and home have become blurred. I’ve got
to know many work colleagues better over Zoom or Microsoft Teams than face to

  1. Working from home

For millions of office
workers, working from home was always an option but in many companies was seen
as a privilege to be used occasionally rather than a full equivalent to showing
up in person.

Perceptions have now
changed. For instance, the working mother, who works from home 50% of the time can
now expect her career to progress just as quickly as her colleague who produces
the same output but spends five days a week in the office.

  1. Local community

Our local Café Rouge
sadly closed down but many local businesses are flourishing. The nearby butcher,
bakery, Italian deli and various restaurants have adapted their offerings and
are thriving as a result. Those who have innovated and adapted have done well. For
example, many of the local eateries now offer takeaway coffees during the day gourmet
delivery menus in the evening.

Similarly, local community
has had a boost. Several times we’ve benefitted from the WhatsApp group for our
street. Originally set up for the pandemic, it had the side effect of bringing
local residents together for anything from helping with damp problems to sourcing
pumpkins for Halloween.

  1. Environmental benefits

From reduced carbon
footprint to clear water in the canals of Venice, this is an obvious one… the challenge
now is how we sustain it.

  1. A sharpened perspective 

Not long before the
pandemic hit, I overheard in a restaurant two men talking about the pros and
cons of various airlines’ business class offerings. One said: “The problem with
the new BA transatlantic business class is the holder for the mineral water
bottle. It’s in the wrong place so that when you’re on the flat bed and need a
drink it’s awkward to reach.” This may well be true, but, really? WTF? In the
context of no longer being able to fly anywhere at all, this sort of
observation seems even more absurd than it already was.

As another anecdote, shortly
before the second lockdown we went to listen to a concert by the Brodsky Quartet,
some would say the best string quartet in the country. It was a one-off performance
of pieces by Beethoven. The leader of the group gave a heartfelt speech of how
much it meant to them to playing that evening. Particularly poignant was listening
to “Cavatina” from String Quartet No. 13 in B flat (opus 130). This is the
final recording on the golden record of the music and sounds of Earth, on board
the Voyager 1 spacecraft, currently the furthest manmade object from our planet.
So this short piece of music which we had the pleasure of listening to live prior
to the lockdown also represents humanity far beyond the edge of our solar

The point is that often
it is only when things are taken away that you really appreciate them.

But when things are
taken away, as with Parkinson’s, it’s also important to focus not on what you
no longer have, but on what you still have and still can do.

And perhaps that is the most important thing to take forward from 2020.

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