Michael J Fox: Star admits Parkinson’s is ‘nothing compared’ to other health struggle

Michael J Fox: Star admits Parkinson’s is ‘nothing compared’ to other health struggle

Michael J Fox opens up about his Parkinson’s diagnosis

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After suffering from a minor but persistent twitching in his pinky finger, the Back to the Future star first noticed that something wasn’t right. Despite only minor symptoms, Fox was told by doctors that the disease was “coming” but it took the actor another seven years to talk publicly about his diagnosis. During this time, in order to cope with his newly diagnosed progressive disease, Fox turned to alcohol, a part of his life that the star recently opened up about in an interview with comedian Mike Birbiglia.

Remarkably, even when dealing with a tremor, which leaves him unable to sit still, Fox stated that the “body impulses” he feels as a Parkinson’s patient are “nothing” compared to what he felt as an alcohol addict.

Feeling erratic and out of control when he was heavily drinking, Fox shared: “I couldn’t be still… I couldn’t gauge what that centre of my equilibrium was.”

Now sober, he says his life has a greater sense of calm, despite the difficulty of a progressively worsening disease.

“The peripatetic wanderings, and weird flailings and body impulses that I feel as a Parkinson’s patient – a sober Parkinson’s patient – are nothing compared to what I felt as a drunk,” he continued.

“I mean, that was a completely different thing that I couldn’t be still.”

Initially turning to alcohol to “numb the pain” of his diagnosis, Fox soon realised that he needed to get sober after his wife, and fellow actor, Tracy Pollan, found him passed out in their living room sofa with a spilled can of beer laying on the floor.

“Is this what you want?” Pollan is reported to have said to him. “This is what you want to be?”

Two years after his diagnosis Fox quit drinking altogether, admitting that after he gave up alcohol he was able to “see things more clearly,” including his Parkinson’s.

Appearing on an episode of This Morning back in 2020 Fox spoke about this critical changing point: “I started to see what I had and I started to accept that I had Parkinson’s. Learn about Parkinson’s, learn about what it meant to my family, learn about what it meant in my life and learn to accept it.”

He also revealed that with the help of a therapist, the tools he learnt to deal with his alcoholism, also worked for dealing with his Parkinson’s.

“The tools that worked for quitting drinking work even better for [Parkinson’s], which are: acceptance and surrender. Not like, ‘I give up, I quit,’ but you just say, ‘OK, I cede you the big points,’” the actor said.

Since giving up alcohol and focusing on his Parkinson’s, Fox has made headways in working to advance clinical trials and empower other patients. The star even called himself an “expert” on what it is truly like to live with the disease.

“Patients, aside from all the Latin and the diagrams you can’t make sense of, we know more than our doctors. Because we know what it’s like to have the disease,” he told Birbiglia.

“I’m an expert on what it’s like to live with Parkinson’s, and I don’t want to forfeit that in any exchange I have with a doctor. I don’t ever want to yield that, because it’s really important. It’s earned, and it’s powerful.”

Sharing some of his own personal tips during the interview, the actor said that he strives for balance in his everyday life. Focusing not only on his physical health but his mental health and the welfare of his family.

He finished by saying: “I love to meditate at the beach. I was just doing it this morning. As I sit, I hear the pound of the waves, get the rhythm. I just go… and then come back 25 minutes later. And nothing’s changed but everything’s changed.”

For his advocacy work and “boundless optimism”, that is helping to change the lives of millions, Fox will be awarded an honorary Oscar at this year’s Governor’s Awards.

It is thought that around one in 500 people are affected by Parkinson’s disease. Currently there is still no cure, but treatments are available to help reduce the main symptoms and for individuals to maintain a good quality of life for as long as possible.

The NHS explains that many people respond well to treatment and only experience mild to moderate disability, whereas the minority may not respond as well and can, in time, become more severely disabled.

It is due to these advances in treatment, that most people with Parkinson’s disease now have a normal or near-normal life expectancy. For support and information on up-to-date research contact Parkinson’s UK on 0808 800 0303 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 7pm, and 10am to 2pm on Saturdays) or email [email protected]

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