Three years ago, I felt the muscles tighten in my right arm and leg. A month later, the tremors began in my right arm.
I would stuff my flapping arm in couches, pants pockets, anything to get it out of view of curious onlookers.
I own a public relations and advertising business where image is important, and I was concerned about how it would be perceived by clients and the community. I was concerned it might ruin everything I had worked so hard to build over the past 25 years.
When I visited my primary care physician, he had a good idea of my prognosis, but sent me to a neurologist for confirmation. The earliest appointment I could get was six long weeks away.
I saw sadness in the eyes of my physician as we discussed the possibilities.
He knew I lived an active life. But he also recognized that my life, as I knew it, was about to change.
What I knew of Parkinson's disease, I learned from following the career of Michael J. Fox. While that was helpful, I learned quickly that everyone's disease varies in symptoms, progression rate and severity.
Parkinson's disease occurs when your brain cells stop producing a drug called dopamine that is used to control muscle function.
Dopamine is like the oil in a car. Without it, your car doesn't run smoothly. I learned that at the time of diagnosis, I had lost up to 80 percent of the cells in my brain that produce the dopamine I needed to control my muscles.
I had had Parkinson's disease for the past five years and didn't know it.
The loss of smell, the frozen shoulder, the curling of my right foot were all signs of the disease.
While most people will get Parkinson's after age 60, more and more people are being diagnosed under 50. I was 49, and I know of people who were diagnosed at 22. Michael J. Fox started his journey with Parkinson's at 28.
Some PWPs - "People with Parkinson's" - don't have tremors. Their symptoms can include muscles that freeze in mid-step, feeling like someone has nailed their foot to the floor, or their face muscles lock up, producing blank, almost mean, stares.
Other people can have dementia, slowness of movement, difficulty sleeping and swallowing, handwriting that gets so small you can't read it, and more.
The most difficult aspect of having Parkinson's disease is the slow, progressive loss of your ability to walk, talk and think.
A Parkinson's friend of mine goes to the house of a disabled friend, helping her with daily tasks. One day she turned to her disabled friend and said, "I don't know how you do it, being in a wheelchair every day."
Her friend replied, "I am fine. I know what my challenges are and have come to terms with them."