Sometimes our greatest challenges turn out to be blessings in disguise.
Maintaining relationships is a common challenge for almost everyone. Keeping up with close friends, nurturing romantic partnerships, and staying connected with family all take significant work. While throwing a Young Onset Parkinson’s diagnosis into the mix can make that challenge all the more difficult, it can also end up making those relationships richer, deeper, and more meaningful.
Melissa was diagnosed with YOPD in August 2020, right at the height of the pandemic. The news was hard to handle on top of all of the uncertainty and upheaval caused by Covid, so naturally, she turned to her boyfriend for support. Two days later, she discovered that he was cheating on her. Needless to say, he didn’t handle the diagnosis very well.
Newly single, Melissa returned to the dating scene in extra-hard mode: Not only did she have to contend with the difficulties of the lockdown, but she also had to navigate dating as a single mother of children with special needs in addition to her diagnosis.
“It’s actually harder to date as a special needs parent than as a PD parent,” she recalls. In her experience, sexual partners were still eager for intimacy and interested in learning how to make it work despite her physical limitations.
“It definitely takes more planning,” she said. “It takes a partner who is patient and understands the symptoms and their unpredictability. There are times when that gets in the way and it can be disappointing, but I’ve had a pretty good response to it [intimacy] so far since my symptoms aren’t as progressive.”
Melissa also touched on the importance of being open and honest about YOPD. To maintain healthy relationships in general, she says “You need to be open to sharing your reality in a realistic way.”
Approaching intimacy with this mindset helped her to relax and enjoy herself since she didn’t have to worry about hiding that part of herself from her sexual partners.
Beyond sexual relationships, openness and honesty made positive impacts on her friendships and family relationships, too.
“My kids are really open about it [YOPD] and will talk openly about it in front of other people like it’s normal, so it helps other people adjust and get more comfortable with my diagnosis,” she said. “That really helps when I’m meeting up with friends that I haven’t seen in a long time that might not know about it yet, especially if I’m having an ‘off’ moment in front of them.”
While being upfront about her experience has helped ease the tension and bring her closer to some, Melissa notes that others can still have a hard time understanding and accepting her condition.
“I talked to my Dad about it one day and it was really hard for him to swallow. But I was able to explain to him that I’m still happy and living a high-quality life — and that I may even be happier now than I was before the diagnosis,” she recalls. “Sometimes you have to work with people to help them see a different perspective.”
The past three years of living with YOPD have helped Melissa to develop a more positive outlook on life, strengthen her relationships, and achieve deeper levels of personal growth. When faced with challenges that initially seemed impossible to overcome, she focused on their learning opportunities and now looks back at her progress with gratitude.
Whether it’s about romantic relationships, sex, friendships, or your relationship with yourself, Melissa recalls the most important piece of advice she’s ever received: Take advantage of the now.
If you enjoyed learning about Melissa’s story and want to learn more about living well with YOPD, Young Onset Parkinson’s Network members get exclusive access to speaker series events, virtual community gatherings, and more. Click here to join for free today.