Creative Life of Artist with Parkinson’s

palm trees, ocean, beach

Karen Bryson’s Painting on Wood with Left Hand

Woman smiling glasses

Karen Bryson

 

Karen Bryson discovered her talent for art when she was four years old. She loved to draw and color she recalls. “It took me to another place. Art always, and still is, my happy place.” She grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania. She and her husband raised three children in Upstate New York. Living on the Gulf Coast of Florida now, she is inspired by palm trees and beaches. Her three children and soon-to-be six grandchildren are occasional muses.

 

woman holding baby

Mother and Child Watercolor of daughter, Amy and granddaughter, Paige

She is also inspired by another unexpected force to continue to paint. When she was fifty-seven, she discovered she has Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative neurological disorder with no cure. “When I was first diagnosed, I thought about not being able to do art with my right hand which tremors. So I decided that day to start using my left hand.” Three years later Karen can paint with both hands. Although she still does fine detail work with her right hand when it cooperates, she is training her left hand to do fine detail as well. Still another proactive approach is learning to finger paint with both hands.

art studio desk art suppllies

Karen’s Studio–Her Happy Place, Her Safe Place

Because PD symptoms  often feel out of Karen’s control, art is still one thing that feels in her control. She describes her small studio in her house as “her happy place, her safe place.” One of her favorite paintings is a watercolor of her grandmother adorning her studio and making her feel good every time she looks at it.

She does not keep structured hours in her studio, just when the mood hits her. Since PD, the mood is often. “Having PD has been a blessing when it comes to my artwork. I don’t know why it’s happening, but my mind is filled with ideas. There has been a creativity explosion. I am driven to create. When I am in that zone, it’s hard to contain it. It’s hard to sit with hubby and watch television when I have ideas swirling around.”

bird cage, bottle

Flea Market Finds–Art Inspiration

 

One idea swirling around was to do something besides painting that incorporated using wire. As Pablo Picasso said, “The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” Karen collects items from flea markets and yard sales that catch her eye and keeps them in her studio.

One day she was playing around with different pieces to see what would fit together. “When I placed the inverted wire cage on top of the glass bottle, ‘She’ popped into my mind. I have no other explanation. I had to determine how to secure all of it. I also wanted to use the framework for a  papier-mâché head, so that took more thought.”

Karen finds these kinds of little side projects quite fulfilling and great brain food. Her customers love them too.

ecccentric woman, wire hat with flowers blue bottle for body, wire frame glasses

Mrs. Doubtwire

Karen has a talent for connecting with others through her art. While motorcycling, Karen and her husband encountered by happenstance a man who had kayaked out to a remote island and spent the night. After sharing some photographs of the sunset he had taken from the island, Karen asked if she could use one as a reference for a painting. He later sent a photo, and she created a watercolor. In the meantime, she discovered he was a police officer with many years on the force. So she sent him the painting as her way to pay it forward in appreciation for his service. “The painting belonged on his wall, not mine.”

“The most awesome experience I can have as an artist is to see how my art touches someone’s heart,” she says. Recently she painted two dogs that perished in a tragic house fire. Their owner not only lost her two beloved pets, but she also lost her home and everything in it. After Karen heard her story, she asked for pictures of the dogs and the house. The owner also shared a picture of wispy rainbow clouds that appeared in the sky after the fire. The effect of Karen’s intuitive and compassionate work is illuminated by a family member’s comment. “You captured their eyes in this painting as Tuck and Bailey captured our hearts! Awesome talent!”

Two black dogs rainbow clouds house silhouette

King Tuck and Bailey

Parkinson’s and painting are inexplicably linked for Karen. But often her PD  is forced to the shadows. “The actual act of painting frees me from thinking about PD. I am able to get lost in my artwork and forget about even having Parkinson’s. It’s great therapy, so I make it part of my daily life,” she says. Enjoying Karen’s artwork is therapy for us as well! If you wish to see more of Karen Bryson’s art or commission work, please visit K Bryson Art As I See It on Facebook.

Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never give up.”  Karen has embraced her challenge with purpose while helping others. This profile will end where it started with the leaning palm trees painted totally with her left hand. Karen sent this painting to a woman in Arkansas who is in advanced stage of PD  “to inspire her when she feels like giving up.”

Question:  Of the art featured in Karen Bryson’s profile, which one is your favorite and why?

Blessings!

Linda

 

 

Lacock English Cottage

Ivy covered stone cottage

Lacock English Cottage

If you see something that moves you, and then snap it, you keep a moment. ~  Linda McCartney

Lacock is a quintessential English village with charm galore. Streets are lined with ivy-covered stone cottages and timber-framed buildings. It has appeared in Downton Abbey, BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, and Harry Potter. I was fortunate to visit Lacock on a field trip while attending The 2017 Oxford Experience. Now I could live in this captivating little abode. Look at the blue and white jardinière in the window. My kind of place!

Photo Credit:  Linda A. Mohr

3-Year Timeline of Parkinson’s Signs

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
Soren Kierkegaard
Danish philosopher (1813 – 1855)

I embarked on a circuitous route for three years headed for an unknown destination. Only later would I understand a myriad of Parkinson’s signs.

What Does It All Mean?

March 2011

A four-hour drive to a book  fair left me struggling to get out of my car. I had driven the same car for five years and now I had to drag myself out of the car. I thought this challenge came with “aging” since I had recently turned 61.

November 2011

I was walking awkward. My gait was off. I used to walk fast. My long fluid strides were gone. It seemed like I had forgotten how to walk.

February 2012

I was at a weekly yoga class. I don’t recall what pose I was attempting on my right side. What I do remember is my teacher’s comment.
“I recommend you see a neurologist.”

March 2012

One morning a professor was running late. She asked me to write a note on the chalk board so students would wait. To my astonishment, I could not write big. Over two years, my handwriting got tinier and almost illegible. Joe had trouble reading my notes. I could barely read my own minuscule handwritten “To Do” lists. Still I was not alarmed. I thought my problem was right elbow tendonitis. Even a doctor thought so.

When it was time to prepare hand written Thanksgiving cards for the faculty, my graduate assistants wrote the message. I managed to sign 50 cards.

April 2012

While walking on the campus, a colleague on an adjacent sidewalk called out to me.
“What’s wrong with your arm?”
“What do you mean?”
“You are holding your right arm funny.”
I looked down and the arm was stiff and slightly curved across my stomach. That’s odd.
“Oh, nothing. It is fine.”

May 2012

I paid attention to my arms and noticed my right arm did not swing when I walked. It just hung at my side. I was perplexed. I watched people walk and arms moved. Even children moved their arms! My arm responded to my command:  swing that arm. However, I never had to talk to my arm before to get it to move.  I thought maybe I had suffered a mini stroke.

Summer 2013

Pain in my right elbow was unbearable. The year before I moved a piece of furniture and then aggravated the injury while carrying a heavy shopping bag. I also spent most working hours on the computer. I managed the pain with acupuncture and a steady diet of Aleve.  An orthopedic surgeon diagnosed tendonitis. A physical therapist administered treatments for several months. I eventually got better. In October, a can of cat food hit the top of my right foot causing a hairline fracture and pain that trumped the elbow pain!

January 2014

After my foot healed, a balance problem developed. I tipped backwards without warning. If I stooped down, I landed on the floor. I consulted an ear specialist certain he would find an inner ear issue or worse yet an acoustic neuroma. After various negative tests, a MRI also ruled out a brain tumor. I was advised to see a neurologist.

April 2014

I saw a nurse practitioner for an unrelated issue. A casual conversation led to mentioning my balance and walking challenges. With a serious look and tone she said, “You need to see a neurologist immediately.” The next morning she called with a referral.

May 13, 2014

I reached the destination of a long  three-year journey. In a simple  two-hour consultation that uncovered  Parkinson’s signs, the neurologist puzzled out diagnosis.

Question:  What were your Parkinson’s signs that led to diagnosis?

I would love to hear your story.

Blessings!

Linda

Photo Credit Jamie Street

Neurology Exam Reveals Parkinson’s Diagnosis

fountain, palm trees, flowers

In the midst of loss, there is beauty. A favorite site I photographed at The Breakers, Palm Beach.

Some statements I will remember the rest of my life because they changed my life. Like the hospital call about my boyfriend—Mr. Kraft has taken a turn for the worse. Like my veterinarian’s call—You have a very sick kitty. Like my sister’s call about mother—She’s gone. Like my neurologist’s diagnosis—You have Parkinson’s.

My first neurology exam

I was ninety minutes into a neurology consultation. It started with an electroencephalography (EEG) to check my brain wave activity. I rested on a bed for an hour while a technician gelled my hair and attached electrodes all over my scalp and connected leads to her computer. The diagnostic test was simple and painless. I had a blanket to snuggle under, and I even got to close my eyes most of the time.  I looked funny after the test because my hair was a gooey mess reminding me of too much Dippity Do. She mentioned the doctor always wondered what she’d create next. She gave me a comb to try to make it look better and assured me the gel would shampoo out. But I did not care. I wanted to see the doctor.

The Parkinson’s diagnosis

He watched me walk straight down a twenty-foot hallway, make a turn and walk back. Then we sat down in an exam room. He asked me many questions about my past health and family medical history. Did I have trouble sleeping or getting dressed? Had my handwriting gotten smaller? Had my sense of smell changed? Had I fallen in the past year? On and on! He typed on the computer keyboard as I talked. I drew a clock and placed hands and numbers around it. I performed some physical tests like standing up while he pulled me backward and forward by my shoulders. We played finger games as I responded to commands. I tapped my fingers together in a coordinated way as fast as I could. I moved my finger from the tip of my nose to the tip of his fingers. I gripped his hand.

Then the defining moment that came this time in a question—Has anyone in your family had Parkinson’s Disease? As I whispered, No, I felt like I had been punched in the solar plexus. The game changer question was suspended in the air for the last painless test. The electrodiagnostic test on my legs and ankles measured the electrical activity of muscles and nerves. When he completed it, all I remember are two words—Parkinson’s disease. He may have said, “You have the early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.” Or “you have several symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.” Or simply, “You have Parkinson’s disease.”

How long can I live with Parkinson’s?

I was stunned speechless. I probably had a deer in the headlights dazed look! He explained that symptoms were different for each patient. I was glad he talked because I was incapable of putting two words together. Not everyone has tremors or shakes, I learned. I did not—at least not yet. He tried to reassure me that he had patients who had lived good quality lives for over two decades even though there is no cure for a Parkinson’s diagnosis.  As the consultation ended, I managed to ask what references he recommended that would not scare me. He suggested that Parkinson’s for Dummies was light reading.  I did not know if he was serious or not.  He gave me three weeks of sample pills to take daily with instructions to schedule another appointment. I left the office on a glorious sun drenched  South Florida day, Tuesday, May 13, 2014—my life going down an extraordinary path I would have never imagined.

Question: How did you find out your Parkinson’s diagnosis? I would love to hear from you.

Blessings!

Linda

Suppertime

A bee on a white wild flower

Suppertime

When I was growing up, my mother took us wild flower hunting in the spring. In April of 2017,  I was at the Missouri farm and decided to reenact the adventure. Usually I visit in summer, fall and winter, so finding wild flowers was a treat. I have long forgotten the name of this plant, but there was no question about the bee!

Welcome to Parkinson’s My Way

Home is behind the world ahead and there are many paths to tread through shadow to the edge of night until the stars are all alight. J R.R. Tolkien

Welcome to Parkinson’s My Way

I have been a teacher and writer for over four decades. When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2014, my work and literary world became one with the Parkinson’s world. Isak Dinesen believed “all sorrows can be borne if you tell a story about them”,  and I have found that to be true. Writing has always been my “go-to tool” for facing adversity.

Parkinson’s My Way is how I journey one day to the next with a chronic, progressive degenerative illness by keeping my interests alive. Days are rarely alike. A  variety of interests that still define who I am include antiques, travel, baking, animals, nature, reading, photography, family farm, education and DAR.

Along the way, I discovered a fascinating gift of this perplexing neurological disorder. Studies find some people with Parkinson’s begin a new creative pursuit such as painting, sculpting or writing. For me it is poetry. This website will share “creativity in motion” by showcasing people with Parkinson’s artistic work, as well as mine.

Before PD, my personal mission was “to make a heartfelt difference” and that is unchanged. Through my sharing in Parkinson’s My Way, the intent is to educate, to inspire, and to give hope.  Some posts will deal with Parkinson’s head on. Other times I will bake a cake or recommend a good book!

If just one of you benefits from my thoughts, experiences, recipes, poetry or photography, I will consider this mission a success. Perhaps you have Parkinson’s disease or are a caregiver. Maybe a friend of yours was just diagnosed with PD. Whatever the reason that you are visiting, I welcome you and your comments.

Blessings!

Linda