‘You look mental as fuck.’
These were the words that I heard when I was walking through London Bridge station yesterday. I stopped walking and turned to the speaker, a short, well built young man on his phone.
‘I beg your pardon?’ I said, rather taken aback.
‘You look mental as fuck.’ He repeated, as calm as you like. Thing was, he didn’t look like an idiot. He didn’t look like he was trying to get a rise, goad or provoke. Which meant that I didn’t call him an ignorant cunt and kick him in the head or generally react in kind. Except that, as I said, I didn’t think he was trying to be offensive so this wouldn’t have been in kind.
When you have Parkinson’s, you get used to feeling the heat of people’s gaze, the opprobrium as they watch you struggle to pack your bag at the supermarket, as you freeze and struggle visibly to move, as your fork shakes between plate and mouth, liberating food as it does, as your left hand gets stuck in your pocket as you struggle to extract change. When you have Parkinson’s, you get used to all of this getting worse as the stress this puts on you ramps up your symptoms. When you have Parkinson’s, you get used to pissed idiots pointing and laughing as you shuffle past, you get used to being asked if you’re drunk or stoned, you get used to people double-taking, as your shuffle, your flat-footed walk and your stiff shoulders, your leant-forward posture and your lifeless arms transform you from human to proto-zombie. When you have Parkinson’s, you get used to people asking you to speak up, misunderstanding you, generally treating you different.
When you have Parkinson’s, you get used to all this.
Hearing the words ‘You look mental as fuck’ is something I truly hope not to get used to. Is it twitter culture, where you can say anything to anyone without fear of redress, leaking onto the streets?
‘I have Parkinson’s,’ I said.
‘Oh, is that what it is?’ he replied, sympathetically but without suddenly going all ‘poor you’ guilt-tripped on me.
‘Yes. That and I’m mental as fuck.’ I said, slapping him gently on the shoulder.
‘You take care,’ he said, quite sincerely.
‘I’ll try,’ I said, and that was that. I’m still not quite sure how to take it.
Still missed my fucking train, mind.
Want to know more about how it feels to have Young Onset Parkinson’s? You might want to read my book, Slender Threads.