- A New Cognitive Symptom? – Dealing With Being Overwhelmed -

A couple years ago, I celebrated my Birthday in the traditional manner….by attending an eye specialist appointment at 9am…. yes, let the party begin!  I wanted to be sure I saw all 61 candles that I’d have to blow out. 9am, no problem…. I’ll be the first in line and be out of there by 9:15 at the latest.

So, what brought me here?

A few weeks prior, I visited my eye doc to get my eyes checked, sized and fitted for a proper pair of prescription glasses.  My ‘dollar store’ glasses were not going to cut it for a study group I’d volunteered for – testing my Parkinson’s (PD) related cognitive issues, with and without medication. I needed proper glasses.

During that previous appointment, my eye doc noticed that the ‘shadowy image’ at the back of my eye from the year before was still there and thought it was worth investigating further with some more thorough tests. I was referred to the specialist I was scheduled to see this day.

So I arrived at my appointment shortly before 9am ( the early bird was going for his feast – I had forgotten  the second part to the saying, “the early bird gets the worm, however, the second mouse gets the cheese!”) and after checking in, was directed to the waiting room….filled with a flock of ‘early birds’… dang! This was going to be a ‘hurry up and wait’ session. 

Immediately, I thought of how long this was going to be and at what stage of the appointment would my phone alarm go off to remind me to take my second dose of PD meds for the day at 9:30am… I started to worry…didn’t need to but I did.

As I sat in the waiting room trying to arrange my bottle of water, my container of pills and my phone on my coat that was laid across my lap, I noticed that the people sitting in this area were not there for too long before being called down the hall to an examination holding area by an attendant. Sure enough, I thought I heard my name and someone else’s name called by a distant voice that trailed around the corner.

I gathered up my goods and tried to catch up to the attendant as she appeared to put her pace into passing gear. She directed me to a small room where I was seated and told to face a blank wall across the room. As I got comfortable, she read over my chart and noticed that it was my birthday…. It was hers too…and on the same day also, I might add (ok that was lame). Yes, it was her birthday!

She turned off the lights and asked me to put one of those large soup spoons over one of my eyes and look at the bar of light on the opposite wall…asking me what I saw. I said I see a band of light and some weird shapes and figures inside it… apparently, the was not a good response! She did this two more times, after each time asking, “ok, how’s this, what do you see now?” and I told her I still just saw weird stick figures in the light bar… she put me at ease (heavy sarcasm here) when she said, “we call those letters of the alphabet” and “are you sure you don’t wear glasses for driving?”

Onto the next eye… I’m so glad I brought it along! I aced the examination with that eye, and she didn’t seem concerned that I struggled with the first one…. I mentioned to her that I have to take my Parkinson’s meds in a couple minutes, asking should I take them now, if we have further tests to do.

She said we’re almost done and could I tell her what meds I’m taking for Parkinson’s? I said sure, “I’ve got a list just for times like this, in my wallet…. you can make a copy.”

So, while sitting in the examination chair, I opened up my wallet and proceeded to search for my list of meds… I’d recently cleaned out the excess business cards and old receipts so it would just be a moment… I thought.

I went through the only 2 sections of my wallet my list should have been …no luck. I’m sure I saw it last week!  By now the attendant had turned and was facing me, patiently watching me fidgeting with my wallet, balancing my wallet contents on each knee and now apologizing for not having it…. she said, not to worry.

I then offered to write the names of my 4 Parkinson’s meds down, after my attempt to tell her what they were, was lost in the deep end of my ‘mind bog’…she remained patient. I borrowed a pen and paper from her, and I drew a blank … I couldn’t remember the names at all… I knew these like the back of my hand yet at this moment, my mental ‘monitor’ was unplugged from my ‘hard drive’.

So then, I made the desperate decision to describe the pills to her!! What the heck!?!? “One pill, it’s a brownish one, shaped like a little football. The other one is a smaller yellow one, sort of football shaped too…” ok, I realized it was time to stop. I had put myself under an undue self-imposed pressure and I was now so very overwhelmed… thanks PD.

I apologized for my mix-up and said I’ll find it when I sit out in the waiting area…hopefully before I have drops put in my eyes. Sure enough, I found the list where it had been all along, where I’d bypassed it each time I searched, thought the folded paper was something else, so I had ignored it! I brought it to the reception area and a copy was made for my file.

The rest of the appointment went well – the drops in the eyes, the blurred vision, the sit and wait before driving and thankfully, the news that the ‘shadowy image’ at the back of the eye was nothing to worry about… I was relieved.

I must say though, I’d never been so overwhelmed that no matter what ‘work around’ I tried, I hit a dead end… Something new to keep in mind for the future – if I’m to put myself in a situation that’s outside of my daily routine, I should try to be prepared to deal with the potential ambiguity I may face..

Secondly, I’m seeing that when my mind has sorted and prioritized what I’ve set out to do, i.e. following a shopping list, if an additional item is “oh, by the way” verbally added, without sending it to me, written down… it throws off my planned task and I struggle to insert it into the queue. The same applies to when my mind is exhausted at the days’ end – I’m easily overwhelmed when confronted with a decision pertaining to an expenditure. I’m unable to mentally line up and review the ’need’, the pros, the cons and expect to come up with a sound decision at that moment.

Also, it’s not so much the expectations that others put on me that may be what’s triggering this tsunami of being overwhelmed, it’s more so the high expectations I have of myself to maintain my level of performance and control….within a self-imposed and possibly unrealistic timeframe..

A lesson learned…

Since this incident has happened, I’ve had to face similar time-sensitive decisions. I am learning to recalibrate my status at that moment and if I’m engaged in a situation with others, communicate that I may need a few minutes to just think it through. I’ve even said and feel so relieved that I’ve said this, “you know, I really can’t take that decision on right now, can we look at it again tomorrow?”

Thank you for your time!

About the Writer

Hello, I’m Shane McPhee – a 63-year-old, married, father of 2 grown sons, living in Toronto, Ontario. In late 2011, at the age of 54, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. 

Since my diagnosis, I’ve remained physically active in group fitness programs, plus I have been involved in the Parkinson’s Community as a volunteer fundraiser.  I’m a former Board member with a local Parkinson’s related charity.

I have found a passion in writing, specifically telling stories, writing poems and sharing accounts of my life, while living with Parkinson’s. I write and share these so that others can see what I’m going through or have experienced and how I dealt with it or learned from it – For the record, I have no medical training nor authority to offer medical advice.

I hope you will find my writing of interest, informative and when possible, a little humorous.