July, last year.
“So are we going to talk about the elephant in the room?” said Mrs Jolly-Colleague.
We were at Mrs Domestic-Colleague’s house for an end-of-term splurge of good food and gossip. Mrs D-C bakes-off against the best. Her head-to-head with Jill Archer is the stuff of legends and minstrels still sing ballads to her victorious Simnel cake.
I was at that stage in a very low place; reeling from my diagnosis a month earlier. ActorLaddie had worked hard to persuade me to go along that evening, if only for a short while. Right choice. The change of scene and excellent food were already luring me back to life. And now, there was the prospect of gossip. Obviously, I’d missed some juicy stuff at school, while wimping on the sofa at home. Bring it on.
“If you can face it,” added Mrs J-C, looking at me. Ah. Apparently, I was that elephant.
I could face it, if they really wanted to know. So I told them. The tremor. The scary late night Wikipedia session. The diagnosis. My quandaries about the medication. My worries about the future. All the stuff you already know from my early blogs.
I didn’t want to be a bore but whenever I stopped, there was another question. Talking about Parkinson’s was easy– it was not-talking about it which was hard.
And so the idea of writing about my experience started to grow. If my mates were interested, then other people might be. I’ve always enjoyed stringing words together and had published a few bits: short stories and articles. A piece in the TES about the fact that, in the Guardian Lonely Hearts adverts, most of the people who revealed their jobs were teachers. But I’d never really had a subject to take me beyond Chapter Two. Be careful what you wish for.
The idea of a blog didn’t come straight away. I thought initially of newspaper articles but life was changing so fast that when – if – my writing were published, it might no longer be true. Besides, I didn’t want to wait around for months for the nay or yay of a features editor.
I toyed with the idea of fiction – The Shaking Detective, perhaps? Too gimmicky. And I didn’t feel comfortable about describing some-one else’s PD. I know now that a lack of dopamine can produce a range of effects: someone on the Parkinson’s forum described it as ‘a designer disease’ with a pick-and-mix of symptoms. The only experience I can describe with any honesty is my own.
It was reading the InfantPhenomenon’s blog on women’s fiction which inspired The Jelly Chronicles. YoungLochinvar gave me a hand with the technical side and so my blog was born: exactly a year ago today. As a teacher, it seemed sensible to be anonymous. I’m fairly open about my PD but still feel ambivalent about the parents knowing.
Actually, the hardest thing of the whole enterprise proved to be taking Jellywoman’s photo. LovelyColleague and I struggled to keep her propped up in front of the blackboard for long enough to press the shutter. It took several goes and by the end there was a grisly mess of jelly and plastic limbs suggestive of a particularly obscure episode of Lewis.
The blog has been a real help over this year. Writing about Parkinson’s has helped me to gain perspective on the whole thing: herding it into a manageable shape and making it just one aspect of my life, rather than a prism covering the whole.
As it turns out, the condition is moving much more slowly than I’d feared. In this, as in so much else, I am immensely lucky. Initially, I was even concerned that I might run out of material. “Got up. Had tremor. Took tablets. Went to work.” Dull, dull. I could see me turning into the blogging equivalent of Alan Bennett’s vicar character … “and life’s a bit like that” … manipulating every subject towards Parkinson’s. Would my readership – all right, my mother – feel cheated if I blogged about other things?
So, little by little, the blog has broadened to include my weird and wonderful kith and kin, my passion for sewing and air-travel, my abiding admiration for Michael Gove and his contribution to all things educational.
We have, as DearHeart reminds me, only the present, and I’m very content with the present, at present, thank you. Goodness knows what I’ll be blogging about in a year’s time. Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans, said John Lennon. But you’ll hear it here first. If you have been, thanks for listening.