Fortress of Solitude
Have you ever wondered just who, “Parky Superman” is? My guess is, it’s probably not one of the things keeping you up at night. But I’m going to tell you anyway because I think it’s at least a little interesting. I am a littles biased, I know. But by the end of this post though, I hope you’ll agree that my story is at least a teensy bit interesting. To truly understand the story of Parky Superman, we have to journey back to my teen years.
In my youth I had been athletic, playing football, running track, and participating in several other sports. On the football field I was known for my speed and strength. Of course, to my younger brother, who is eight years younger, I was practically Superman. My brother and his friends occasionally referred to me by that name in playful reverence. Back then, due to my height, broad shoulders, facial structure, and hair curl, I actually looked a little bit like Superman.
Something that I don’t talk about much is the fact that back in my high school days I was often quite depressed, and suffered from what I now recognize as phobias and anxiety. I had a lot of trouble connecting with people and spent a lot time alone. I recall being very critical of myself on many fronts but non more so than in sports. I had all the makings of an exceptional athlete (I thought). I was big, almost 200 lbs. Also, I was fast. My father had been a very successful college 800m runner in his college years and I inherited some of that speed. I was quite strong too. Moreover, I had a solid work ethic and worked hard at improving my strength, conditioning, and skills in any athletic pursuit. But I always had an inexplicable lack of coordination, particularly on my right side. Also, I felt like there was this strange dichotomy inside me. On the one hand, I worked hard (I thought) at any of my athletic pursuits. On the other hand, I seemed to suffer from a weird lackadaisical attitude. It was as if I thought i wanted to do something but when I actually tried to do it, my body would behave as if I didn’t. It was confusing and at times demoralizing. Was this tendency for anxiety, trouble with coordination, subdued personality, and general lack of enthusiasm a result of low levels of dopamine? Were these early Parkinson’s symptoms? It seems possible.
Regardless of the cause, there was a marked mismatch between what I thought I was capable of, and how I would actually perform. It just seemed like my body would always let me down somehow, leaving me disappointed, embarrassed, or even ashamed. I remember telling my father that it seemed like the harder i tried at something, the worse I got at it. By the time I graduated from high school, besides a brief stint running track at Virginia Tech as a freshman, I was ready to move on from school athletics. Though I’ll never know for certain whether it was due to Parkinson’s or not, I believe that those humbling early experiences in athletics helped shape me into the unique person I am today.
It was only a few short years later, in my early 20s that I realized that something was affecting my gait to the point that I had to find a new way to stay in shape. It wasn’t exactly that I couldn’t run, it was just that there was a weird…abnormality that caused me stiffness and pain that only got worse the more I ran. So I turned to Mountain Biking to stay fit. In the nearly two decades that followed, I experienced a steady decline. A decline that I was fully aware of. Over the years I went to many doctors for various aches and pains and problems with my feet. None figured it out. I recall on my 30th birthday, I jumped on the treadmill at the Gym and reassured myself that if I stayed fit, by my 40th Birthday, I would be free from these weird aches and pains. But things only got worse. I dealt with it as best I could. Until I couldn’t.
When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s a little over three years ago at 38 years old I was at the lowest point physically and mentally of my life. I was still somewhat strong as I have always worked out. But Parkinson’s had ravaged my body and mind over many years to the point that I felt like i was wasting away. In those terrible days, it was all I could do to get myself out of bed. Mentally, I was beginning to lose hope as it seemed every movement took tremendous effort. Physically, my body was awkward and felt foreign. Fighting me for every step or reach. Ironically, because it was Parkinson’s, besides being a little thinner than my normal weight and looking miserably tired all the time, it was outwardly difficult for anybody to notice that anything was seriously wrong.
After taking that first Sinemet pill, it was as if my body had suddenly woken up from a very long slumber. Suddenly, in command of my limbs again (at least while the medications lasted) I found that working out took on a whole new meaning. It made my medications last longer, improved my coordination, helped me generally move more normally.
My brother, having not called me Superman in decades, now dusted off the old name, with a twist. “Parky Superman” is what he called me to encourage me to fight my Parkinson’s symptoms. Imagining myself as a Superhero helped me to drag myself out of one hell of a deep, dark abyss.
I became Parky Superman, and Parky Superman saved me.
While Eric Slominski would surely falter, Parky Superman prevails. He faces his arch nemesis Parkinson’s calmly, with intellect, strength and determination.
Parkinson’s is my Kryptonite. Despite my strength, my grit, and determination, by stark contrast Parkinson’s makes me weak, slow, and vulnerable. But I can use this to my advantage.
The magnitude of the discrepancy between my capabilities when “on” (not affected by Parkinson’s), vs when “off” (affected by Parkinson’s) serves as a powerful way to teach about Parkinson’s. Parky Superman is selfless enough to show his vulnerability, and ultimately spread awareness of this insidious disease.
While “standard” Superman’s normal identity Clark Kent, works as a Journalist for the Daily Planet. I report on my unique struggles through my “Parky Perspective” Blog. Again, spreading awareness in hopes that one day, my arch nemesis, Parkinson’s will be no more.
Eric Slominski still exists. He’s a pretty nice guy when the going is good. But from now on, when things get tough, when Parkinson’s threatens to ruin my day, I’m Parky Superman.
And I always will be.
I can at times tend to hide away in a special place. Particularly when I’m silently fighting a battle that few truly understand. It’s during those times you would likely find me taking refuge, in quiet contemplation, gathering strength to fight my arch-nemesis Parkinson’s. I’m referring of course to my Fortress of Solitude.