Few people manage to squeeze as much into a life and a career as Mike Atkinson. So, when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s three years ago, the inevitable slow-down of pace could have been a double-blow.
Mike’s career had seen him move through the Commonwealth Bank to Trans Australia Airlines (TAA), Juvenile Justice, as a tours director in Europe and, following a mature age qualification in business, into industrial relations for the union movement. His union job meant extensive interstate travel, broken sleep, lots of coffee and unhealthy food.
People had previously commented on some strange physical symptoms. His expression was one of distraction, his arms dangled by his side and his speech was often slurred. He would sometimes shake without noticing it. It was at a union dinner in Hamilton when guests thought that Mike’s symptoms meant that he was having a stroke.
A visit to his GP dismissed the stroke theory, but confirmed Parkinson’s. In fact, his local doctor had also noticed Mike’s physical symptoms when he’d seen him in the street, and was about to ask him to come in for a consultation.
Most people diagnosed with a chronic condition need time to come to terms with the impact it will have on their lives and to develop strategies for daily management. However, Mike’s approach was to embrace the condition and to tell everybody about it so that there were no secrets. He quickly joined Parkinson’s Victoria and also started attending the Young@Park sessions in Geelong.
“I tend to not dwell on it and handle it with typical Aussie humour – laugh at it and treat it with the contempt it deserves”, he says.
He had managed his finances as he was advised to finish work and he has since thrown himself into a variety of local activities, including Painting with Parkinson’ s and Dancing with Parkinson’s groups. Add to that the occasional game of lawn bowls, surfing, University of the Third Age, regional politics, household chores and shopping, the list starts to look formidable rather than relaxing!
“My new lifestyle means that I’m in a much better state of mind than I was two years ago,” says Mike.
His active lifestyle, carefully scheduled rest periods and regular medication are helping him to live well with Parkinson’s and he remains high functioning. Just as well, because he is also the primary carer to a 14 year old son and he revels in those things that the teen years can bring: football, judo and music on most days of the week.
Mike knows that his active lifestyle may not always be possible, but he plans to keep pushing forward, including some ‘bucket list’ trips with his partner.
“I’m determined to remain part of the human race and not to sit alone, depressed.”
Mike joined thousands of Australians on 30 August 2015 for A Walk in the Park in Melbourne. You can help celebrate and support people living with Parkinson's by donating to A Walk in the Park today.