I had always hoped that with all of the downsides of getting older, I would be better able to appreciate being wiser. One of the worst parts of getting older for me, was developing Parkinson’s disease. I liked my work and planned on doing it at least until my full Social Security retirement age of 66 years. Since my career as a social worker hadn’t required much in the way of heavy lifting, I thought that I might be able to work even longer than that. I certainly needed the money. I was directly helping humanity. The work remained interesting and intellectually challenging. Why not keep working? Parkinson’s disease gave me the answer.
While I had some difficulty learning electronic record keeping systems, having a computer on my desk connected to the Internet was a revolutionary plus to lasting as long as I did.
Counseling suggestions on how to manage moods, pursue happiness and deal with the hassles of being a human being were always just a few clicks and key strokes away. Social work philosophy suggests that what bums people out is not only between their ears, but in their social environments. Social environments influence access to resources like food, shelter, transportation, and health care. Trouble getting to these things can cause problems between the ears. Problems between the ears can cause problems with social environments and getting to resources. While social workers don’t do surgery, there is not much else they don’t get involved in, when trying to help their clients.
With such a diverse set of messes, it was great having the access to a diverse array of opinions on what can be done afforded by desktop Internet access and smart phone access when away from the desk.
Parkinson’s disease sort of snuck up on me. I kept coming up with excuses as to why what was happening to me wasn’t anything to be concerned about. For instance, I used to have to complete some forms, by pen and ink, which had limited space to write. When I had a lot to say, I wrote small, in order to be able to say it. I used to get comments like, “How can you possibly write that small?” My standard answer was, “I don’t know.” When I started having difficulty signing things like checks, I thought something was up. What used to be a mindless exercise, became an awkward chore. My large looping signature had been reduced to a cramped, awkward scratch. When I tried to get back to signing big, I just couldn’t make it work. I concluded that I had filled out so many limited space forms that I was now the victim of the bad habit of writing small. I didn’t know and didn’t want to know, that cramped hand writing can be a classic sign of Parkinson’s disease.
When I started having more difficulty with concentration, I blamed it on my long-standing mild Attention Deficit Disorder and tried to use organizational strategies. My concentration difficulties became more organized, but not without more stress. I thought my growing concern about the extra time and effort I needed to put into continuing to do my job well, was the result of the stress of worrying.
When I found myself with precious free time not wanting to do anything, I thought, “Gee, this is weird.” It made me worry more. I didn’t want to know that concentration, memory difficulties, and apathetic weirdness fit quite nicely into the category of symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease.
One night, I sat down to enjoy a plate of spaghetti. I like to twirl the spaghetti onto a fork. I also like to suck down a long spaghetti strand and have it snap before disappearing down my gullet, but not so much this time. When I went to get my spaghetti onto a fork and it wasn’t happening, I knew that something was neurologically wrong. I had not developed a bad habit that prevented me from eating spaghetti the way I wanted to.
My primary care doctor said, “Yes, go to a neurologist.” The neurologist said, “As you know, you have Parkinson’s disease.” I didn’t know. I had been around enough doctors who didn’t know how to deliver bad news to know that this was the way they often did it. I had counseled enough clients on not staying pissed at their doctor for bearing bad news, that I decided not to stay pissed for long and save time to talk to my counselor about other things.
Medication helped a great deal, particularly with making my fingers work better. My signature came back. My left hand stopped helping out my right hand with keyboard strokes that weren’t assigned to it. I did it slowly, but I did return to twirling my spaghetti.
Severe work stress wasn’t helping any. So at the age of 63, I had to quit. I had to stop using my experience as a social worker and as a human being to get paid to counsel others. No more going to the Internet to aid the process.
In forced retirement, I turned to the Internet for educational recreation. I often couldn’t wait to share with my sons, both in their 30’s, something I found on the Internet that might interest them. I got schooled on not believing much of what I found and to believe that if what I had found was true, chances are they had already seen it and then some.
I spent more time finding stuff that interested me. I thought that my focus would narrow. Being in my 60’s, I knew a good deal about the world and a good deal about what I didn’t care to know much about. But then it started to happen.
I started coming across things that I had long ago decided were nonsense. I didn’t feel the need to know more about why they were nonsense by critiquing those who felt otherwise, but a little peek into nonsense became strongly entertaining. When Facebook found out what I liked a little, it served up more of the same. Those damn algorithms fueled my interest in nonsense. What Facebook started, YouTube intensified. I started going down many a rabbit hole and the Earth began to shake.
It wasn’t that I was finding gurus and authorities to believe in. It was more the opposite. Much of what I had been taking on good authority began to make less and less sense. I went beyond a growing fascination with various conspiracy theorists to being fascinated with theories that it seemed anyone with an open mind would be interested in. I became fascinated by why so many people were closed minded.
However the more I knew about things that I used to believe in, the more afraid I became of learning that there were many more beliefs at risk of being shattered. I came to better understand why many people don’t want to question many of their beliefs, by noticing my own fear in doing so.
I used to think of myself as being fairly open minded at least compared to bigots, religious zealots, those unable to afford a college education, those who think professional wrestling is a real sport and Republicans. I was more tolerant of astrologers, mystics, UFO sighters, (excluding those who claim seeing who is in the UFO’s), ghost spotters (but not demon believers.) I had no time for “Birthers,” zombies, vampires, or those who claimed the government was messing with viruses and not telling us about it. “Flat Earthers,” and NASA moonwalk fakers, were at the top of my list of people I didn’t need to care about, other than to hope that they would regain their sanity soon.
I was down with worrying that powerful men were influencing somethings, and not talking about it, more than they should. I didn’t know or care about Illuminati or Freemasons or Cabols. Angels, or aliens (the from-outer-space kind) fighting it out with each other was way too far out for me.
I could go on and provide an ever-growing list of things that I didn’t used to believe in at all and things that I didn’t care to know about, that I care to know about now, but I don’t want to deal with the fear that comes in doing so.
I want to explain away my crumbling belief systems by imagining that I have entered a kind of information echo chamber created just for me by search engine profiling. I am more interested in worrying about search engines keeping things from me to put a break on having trouble believing what powerful self-=centered forces bent on the creation of chaos and mass suffering, want to keep away from me.
Part of my problem is that I have lost faith in all sorts of standard fact checking. Way too many highly respected fact checkers aren’t and are lying. I am sure of it. I never valued my “gut” feelings as being source of fact checking much. Maybe women’s intuition was a thing, but I am a man. I am more and more deciding to go with my gut just the same.
I don’t want to forget the more traditional use of male “guts.” That is the ability to function when very afraid.
What I am really praying for is a stronger brain to be better able to discern when it is time for that kind of “gut check.” My sense is is not very often, but when those times come it would be good if I was prepared to recognize them.
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