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Parkinality columnist Julie Walker, who has Parkinson's disease, attempts to come to terms with the world after lockdown ahead of brain surgery

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Parkinality columnist Julie Walker, of Bishop's Stortford, writes not about parking, but about living with Parkinson's disease in her 50s...

Now that 'they' have removed the rules, we are attempting to return to some kind of normality.

I say 'some kind of' normality because, when booking a restaurant, enquiring whether the waiters will still be wearing masks is not normal and should be confined to superhero blockbusters.

Freedom Day had an extra complication for the wise-ish man and I. During lockdown we acquired a new companion. At the moment our companion is frustrating, annoying and a hindrance, although it does help us walk to the pub and carry the shopping.

Let me explain. Our companion is not an interfering great aunt, it is a rollator (walker) to assist when balance and walking become difficult. This has been a huge hurdle to get over (not literally), as it feels like Parkinson's disease (PD) is taking over.

It's also been a steep learning curve (literally). To be totally accurate, a steep curve which pulls to the left; I wasn't aware the pavements in Bishop's Stortford had such a steep camber. I should probably have L plates. Negotiating busy pavements with people, overgrown foliage and cars blocking the pavement "just for a second", is a challenge.

As regular readers will know, PD is incredibly unpredictable and symptoms change quickly, so when leaving the house I have to try to guess what equipment I might need; one or two walking sticks, or the rollator. But I often end up taking everything, which in itself is a challenge.

The wise-ish man and I have a rollator each, for when we go out separately. However, when together, we can usually compromise with just one, otherwise we are in danger of being a wide load, requiring a police escort. We swap between one pushing and the other holding onto the side.

There are rare occasions when we are both tip top-ish at the same time and neither of us really needs the rollator, only walking sticks. It is then you might hear us 'politely' shoving the rollator back and forth saying "You can push it", then "No, NO! I insist, you push it".

I have acquired a second accessory during lockdown; a sunflower lanyard. This serves two purposes. Firstly, to hold my hand sanitiser so that it is hanging around my neck and always to hand. Secondly, and this is it's primary purpose, the sunflower logo alerts people to the fact that I have a hidden disability.

Parkinality columnist Julie Walker sporting her new, pre-brain surgery haircut
Parkinality columnist Julie Walker sporting her new, pre-brain surgery haircut

I often say when referring to PD that you should never judge a book by its cover. My external appearance is hiding how I am feeling on the inside. Invisible conditions are as debilitating as visible ones. The sunflower symbol alerts people to this without the need to explain. For more information and to purchase lanyards and other merchandise, visit https://hiddendisabilitiesstore.com.

Freedom Day, rather than making me feel free, has made me confused and nervous. Confused as I greet people I haven't seen for over a year. The 'elbow shake' appears to be the new greeting as people meet each other with an awkward elbow bump-handshake hybrid. Groups of shoppers are gathering in haphazard groups by till points unsure of where to stand with the absence of dots on the floor. People are going thirsty in pubs not realising they are now allowed to go to the bar to get a drink.

And nervous because 'they' have removed all the rules. We must take personal responsibility for how we act, remembering the vulnerable are still vulnerable. I will continue to wear a mask and take some imaginary dots with me so that I know where to stand.

After so many get-togethers on Zoom, the line between reality and virtual life has become worryingly blurred. Seeing a friend has taken on new meaning. Do I mean 'see' in real life, or 'see' as in on Zoom. This is particularly relevant when a friend who you had coffee with yesterday announces she has Covid. After an initial panic you realise you met on Zoom and, as far as I am aware, Covid is not yet a computer virus.

P.S. If you notice me with a short haircut, I have not yet had my brain operation (unless I have). I am having my hair cut in a short style now to get used to it in hopeful anticipation of having my head shaved during brain surgery.

Stay safe.

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