No More Secrets
When my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, we told everyone. She is a relatively private person, but we blogged about her surgeries and shared the ups and downs with friends and family. What most people don't know is that I have been struggling to keep a secret about my own medical condition.
Part of me has wanted to keep it to myself - that conservative voice in my head that wants to avoid being subjected to potential prejudice or pity. Another part of me has wanted to reveal it, the part that wants to be open and sharing with friends, and to fundraise for research for a cure.
It has been five years since I was diagnosed and virtually no one knows. Five years of hiding increasingly noticeable hand and leg tremors, a slight limp, and slowness and stiffness of movement. Each year the pressure mounts and culminates in an end-of-year question: Is this the year I open up about having Parkinson's Disease?
It is a cruel irony that my spouse was able to share every detail of her successful fight against cancer, but I have felt I had to endure an incurable disease in silence. I am not a shy guy - I posted a Facebook picture showing stitches on my forehead. If anything, I'm the kind of person who shares "too much information."
But somehow, my Parkinson's seems different. Someone who is 43 years old shouldn't have Parkinson's. Someone who has young children couldn't have Parkinson's. For a long time, silence seemed logical. As long as my Parkinson's was not impacting my day-to-day functioning, no one had to know. When I was first diagnosed, my symptoms were almost impossible to detect and there wasn't anything for my family or friends "to do" so I figured it wasn't worth telling people. I certainly didn't want to worry anyone, especially my two young sons. And even though Young Onset Parkinson's usually progresses slowly and it could be years before I am significantly affected, I didn't want this impacting my career. I'm not so disabled that I can't work - I certainly don't want people to make decisions about me with some misplaced stigma.
So even though I shouldn't be ashamed or embarrassed about something I didn't choose, I've kept this to myself for years. Yet, my secret slowly ate away at me. As my Parkinson's progressed, one small noticeable symptom after the next, what began as a secret felt like it was becoming a lie.
Then, in January, my best friend for over 30 years propelled me toward disclosure (whether or not by design). He announced he was running 50 miles to raise money for 10 charities and asked me to run a 5-mile leg of the event with him to raise money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. I was so touched by his grand gesture -- how could I refuse? But then I realized if I ran I would have to reveal that I have Parkinson's. While my silence over the last five years can be excused as non-disclosure, maintaining my secret while helping to raise awareness and money for Parkinson's feels deceptive. And even worse, trying to bring attention to the disease when I can't even admit that I have it would turn me into a hypocrite.
As I contemplated how I would finally reveal my condition, I realized that my secrecy was not protecting me at all. Rather, it was my way of denying that I have this chronic disease and controlling the one thing I could control - how many people know I have Parkinson's.
Suddenly, the answer to the question I've been struggling with for years was obvious.
By keeping a secret I have accomplished nothing. Not only that, I have squandered opportunity: opportunity to deepen relationships with friends and family; opportunity to rally support for Parkinson's research; opportunity to confront my fears and educate people; and opportunity to help others like me who have been affected by this disease or by other diseases that they feel they must endure in silence.
The answer is finally clear. This is the year to leave my secret behind -- to literally run past my fears, my doubts and my hesitation. This is my moment and now everyone knows.