How I Fight the Apathy That Can Come With Parkinson's Disease


When you have Parkinson’s disease, apathy can be a constant struggle. This appears to be due to the loss of dopamine, neurepinephrine and serotonin. The lack of these neurotransmitters are not only related to the development of Parkinson’s but are also related to depression and anxiety. When we are depressed, we are apathetic about life.  What is apathy? To put it simply, it is feeling “meh” about life and feeling detached and unmotivated. This is probably why apathy is one of the biggest complaints from people with Parkinson’s. Trust me, I know this because I have Parkinson’s. I was diagnosed over a year ago when I was 50 years old. I knew something was wrong for years, so this diagnosis wasn’t a big surprise. In fact, it was almost a relief because it explained so much including the apathy albatross that was around my neck.

Unfortunately, with Parkinson’s, the motor symptoms are often what are treated but many doctors neglect the “softer” symptoms or the more uncomfortable ones are left unspoken by the patient. These symptoms including apathy, the lovely bedfellow of depression, that most of us fight off on a daily basis. How else can we combat apathy?  Your physician can prescribe antidepressants, but some people cannot tolerate them. I am one of those people because I have dystonia (uncontrollable muscle contractions) and these types of medications can make my spasms worse. You can exercise, but you need the gumption to do that, and apathy really can keep you shackled to the couch or bed for days on end. You can make other dietary changes like going gluten-free — this may help because some feel gluten is neurotoxic. I found this helpful but the apathy was still present. So I decided I would try mindfulness and use daily intentions as a way to set up my day and give me small goals to achieve and boost my morale. The small tasks I created each morning made big changes in my day and reduced my feeling like “meh” overtime.

What is an intention, and why set a daily one? Because this little reminder done first-thing in the morning can set the course for your day. It is like charting a new path every morning. Intentions are purposeful and less daunting than big goals or resolutions.  Intentions resonate into your consciousness and affect your entire day. When you set an intention, you open yourself up to limitless possibilities. Intentions are not about getting to the goal post; they are about the amazing journey in between and the change you can have within yourself and on those around you.

What do I mean? Let’s look at setting a resolution or a larger goal versus setting a daily intention. With a resolution or goal, you are setting up a static goalpost like losing weight or getting more fit to fight off Parkinson’s. This may not help your day-to-day struggle with apathy. That’s because you write down the goal and often forget about it like the pretty journal you wrote it in that is collecting dust on your nightstand. You may even chat about your goals the following weeks. You may join a gym or start working with a trainer and then your might motivation fade away because that static goal doesn’t resonate with you each day. Before you know it, a year passed and you’re still out of shape (or as I like to say, you are in a shape) and you are still struggling with the day-to-day battle with apathy. But with daily intentions, you invoke small positive changes each and every day. You write down how you will be better and you meditate on that intention throughout the day. You engage in the process more consciously and you are more mindful of how you want to evolve. This small intention motivates you throughout your day on a subconscious level. Each decision you make is filtered through the intention you create first thing in the morning.

Each morning, set an intention to take care of your self each day. Your intention might be, “Today, I will respect and nourish my body” or “I will honor my body today and sit less on the couch.” So even if you only eat one piece of organic fruit, used the stairs instead of the elevator or stood up just once to stretch when you normally would have sat, you honored your intention! Every day is started with a small, meaningful intent that allows you to implement simple changes so the day doesn’t feel like a failure.  Feelings of failure only fuel the vicious cycle of apathy. You short-circuit the guilt trap that apathy causes because now you can see these small victories throughout your day even if it’s just one victory!

What if you want your intentions to be more global? Maybe you want to be a better person or have better relationships. Set small intentions that will enhance you as a person. For example, “Today, I will be more kind to those around me” or “Today, I intend to be more open to love and abundance.” These intentions will be in your subconscious and may prompt you during your interactions, making you more mindful and considerate. When we are better to ourselves and love ourselves, we interrupt the self-loathing that apathy can create. Also, people around us may interact with us more positively and lovingly. Most of us with Parkinson’s are hard on ourselves because of our illness and the day-to-day struggle. With intentions of self-love, we reframe those limitations into possibilities each day and honor and appreciate ourselves just as we are. When you add up all of these daily intentions and small victories, by the end of the year if you stick to this, I guarantee you will see appreciable and rewarding changes.  These changes will promote healing mentally, spiritually and physically and give you more energy and focus to pursue your dreams in spite of apathy and Parkinson’s!

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Getty image by as3d


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Parkinson's Disease

Finding My Way Back to Dance After a Parkinson's Disease Diagnosis

“Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are great because of their passion.” ―Martha Graham I recently taught a jazz dance class at my community center. I was very apprehensive since I have lost so much ability due to Parkinson’s disease (PD). Where I was once fluid and [...]
Neil Diamond

Neil Diamond Cancels 50th Anniversary Tour After Parkinson's Disease Diagnosis

Neil Diamond, singer of “Sweet Caroline” and other hits, canceled the rest of his 50th anniversary tour and announced his retirement from touring after a recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Diamond was scheduled to perform in Australia and New Zealand in March, following his performances in the U.S. and Europe. “It is with great reluctance [...]
Photo of butterfly and dandelion.

'Floating Like a Butterfly' for a Moment in My Life With Parkinson's

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” — Muhammad Ali Rock Steady boxing classes are not getting any easier for me, and that is to be expected. Sensei Michelle instinctively knows how to motivate and push us and when to back off.  Depending on how Parkinson’s disease (PD) may be affecting me that day,  [...]
woman boxing

How Rock Steady Boxing for Parkinson's Disease Is Pushing Me to 'Dig Deep'

After two months of Rock  Steady Boxing for Parkinson’s Disease (PD) classes, two times per week, I cannot say I notice an improvement in my PD symptoms. I feel I am progressing  rapidly with my fine motor skills worsening, fatigue increasing and I am slow moving in most elements of daily living. However, my symptoms [...]