Bianca Molle’s, a guest on my radio show on June 15, 2011, discusses her journey to recover from symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in her essay, Shakin’ to Awaken’. Her metamorphosis and subsequent full recovery from Parkinson’s disease is an inspiration for everyone.
Bianca is one of the nine pioneers who is featured in the second edition of Pioneers of Recovery to be released this month.
Metamorphosis: Shakin’ to Awaken
By Bianca (Blanche) Molle
(Originally presented 9/24/10, at The Marin County, California Civic Center)
“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly” -proverb
I found a refrigerator magnet with that lovely proverb while waiting in line at Whole Foods shortly after I had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. That saying became my mantra. I needed it to be my mantra because something told me that I could find some good in my situation. What was my situation?
For a number of years I had felt pain and extreme fatigue. Of course, I wasn’t getting any younger, and teaching middle school requires so much energy in the classroom, and grading and planning in the ‘off hours,’ that I thought this was just a sign that I was ready to retire. And my handwriting had become so small and cramped that my students could no longer decipher the very cogent, insightful comments I was writing on their papers. Also, I had demonstrated a tremor that had gone from almost negligible to formidable over the past few years. When it got in the way of one of my favorite activities, eating, particularly eating soup, I went to see my first neurologist.
So, in April, 2008, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and began a program of treatment medications shortly after my retirement that June. I was taking Sinemet 25/100, the dopamine drug, three times a day, and Requip once daily. After a while, my symptoms began to worsen. I had the option of increasing my meds, something I did not want to do. What I was really looking for was relief from the chronic pain. I could continually feel the muscles in my spine and arms and shoulders contract. Also, navigating stairs became a cumbersome endeavor, feeling like I had sandbags strapped to my arms and legs as I tried to make my way up to the bedroom.
Although I found myself increasingly inactive, it’s not like I took m situation lying down. In the first year after my diagnosis I was proactive about research and treatment. I saw two neurologists and a movement disorder specialist, visited the Parkinson’s Center in Sunnyvale, California, applied to and was selected for the PD DNA study co-sponsored by Sergei Brin of Google and Michael J. Fox, a study called ‘23andMe’. I had also joined the local PD support group, researched and read numerous books and internet sites, practiced yoga till I became too stiff for ‘downward facing dog’ and so off-balance that my tree pose looked like ‘downward falling tree’!! I had explored every avenue, visited everywhere, except inside myself.
Enter Qigong, with its holistic approach that integrates the body, mind, and spirit.
In June of 2009 I attended a Healer Within workshop presented by Mingtong Gu at The Marin JCC. Mingtong explained a little bit about energy clearing out the blockages that cause disease and then we began a Level 1 physical practice, Lift Chi Up Pour Chi Down. Although I was shaky and having some difficulty following directions, I immediately felt a layer of pain lift away. Something was happening. By the end of the weekend, Sunday night, I was convinced that qigong was working for me. Then, as we were leaving, Mingtong announced that anyone working on healing a chronic or serious illness should expect to practice a minimum of two to three hours daily. When I first heard this, my state shifted from blissful to annoyed. What, two to three hours a day?! I didn’t sign up for that! The truth is, I hadn’t signed up for Parkinson’s either. So I began reflecting, and within a few moments my attitude changed from negative to positive. It was a no-brainer. What was better: two to three hours of qigong practice daily, or ten to twelve hours on the sofa everyday, fatigued and in pain?
Probably one of the most difficult aspects of receiving my diagnosis was breaking the news to my family and friends. I couldn’t bear to see sorrow or pity in their faces. So I told them that this was a gift. Here I was retiring, and now I had Carte Blanche to indulge myself. An example of this was visiting friends in Melbourne, Australia, during the winter of 2009. Then, at the June qigong workshop, Mingtong offered a Zhineng qigong retreat in China for the following fall. I went home, got on the computer, and booked the trip to Guelin, which happens to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
I began pinching myself. This Parkinson’s journey was becoming a wonderful adventure. Qigong became my tour guide. I continued to practice at home, three hours a day, every day, doing the physical forms as well as the sound-healing and other Zhineng qigong meditational practices. Something unusual began to happen. Generally, I didn’t need the clock to tell me it was time for more PD meds, my body would tell me first. Then my body began forgetting. I took that as a sign that maybe I didn’t need so much medication anymore, so I gradually took myself off all PD medications, ( I did this while practicing qigong a minimum of three hours per day and am not offering medical advice here or anywhere in this narrative; I’m simply relating my story) . So by 9/24/2009, the day I left for China, I had been off all PD meds for almost a month. I wanted to work on my situation at the China retreat without drugs possibly masking the symptoms.
By this time much of the pain and fatigue and some other symptoms had gone or greatly abated, but not the tremors. This made meals in China, using chopsticks, an entertaining and suspenseful event. Needless to say, I managed to eat very well, despite some aborted efforts between rice bowl and final destination.
I continued my practice when I returned home from the retreat, and still practice a minimum of three hours a day, or minimum two hours a day when I’m working. (This retired teacher now substitutes and loves it, and is full of energy, not fatigue.) I saw the neurologist last week and was described as ‘showing no signs of Parkinson’s at all.’ And it’s not just me, some people with Parkinson’s in the qigong community are demonstrating steady signs of improvement – like reduced tremors, better balance, increased flexibility in shoulders, faster, more fluid walking, and more energy.
If dedicated practice can show such benefits for a neurological condition, then what about for every human condition? Einstein said it best: “Either everything is a miracle or nothing is a miracle.” We can create miracles in our lives through dedication, practice, and positive intention. I came to qigong seeking a physical healing, and received that and so much more. Returning to the butterfly metaphor, I could say that qigong brought my body and spirit out of mothballs. And now that I’m flying free., let me wish one and all a giant “HAOLA” – “All is well.”
***Because this was originally a timed oral presentation, I omitted some details like severe constipation, sometimes difficulty swallowing (choking sensation) especially when in a prone position, sometimes dragging of right foot, Parkinson’s dry eye, and some lack of mental clarity, also my hands tended to “hook in” , with fingertips curling toward wrists, especially when at rest.