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Parkinson's disease and continuing to work

I had spent my whole career working in
New York City as a litigator—a job that put me under
intense pressure. It was typical for me to lie awake in the
middle of the night worrying about my cases. Parkinson’s
made it impossible for me to do that kind of high-stress
litigation any more. However, I had received advice early
on—good advice—that a person with Parkinson’s disease
should—if at all possible—never quit working. I was lucky
that I was a partner in a law firm that prided itself on the
treatment of its work force. I was also fortunate that over the
years I had served from time to time as an arbitrator, so I
switched from being a litigator to working as an arbitrator,
which was less stressful.

Continuing to work with Parkinson’s disease is easier said
than done. There is a tendency to feel self-conscious about
having Parkinson’s, especially if you have a symptom that
makes you look ‘different’, like a tremor, stooped-over
posture, a peculiar way of walking or an inability to resume
walking after a stop—say, for a traffic light. In the short run,
the easy way out is to avoid the embarrassment and quit. But
the cost of doing so is high—both from the loss of income
and from the impact to one’s feelings of self-worth.

There are practical problems, of course. You may feel sleepy
during the day because Parkinson’s has kept you up for
much of the night. The meds themselves can sometimes
contribute to making you feel sleepy. On the other hand,
at times you can get a lot of good, productive work done
in those wee hours when, at least for me, the symptoms
usually leave me alone.

In any case, I think it is best to continue to do your job as long as you possibly can.

Carroll Neesemann was diagnosed with Parkinson’s
disease in 1996.