Working through chronic disease
At 50 years of age, Blake Bell was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. At first he reacted like many — experiencing denial and withdrawal. He also suffered from depression, a common symptom of the degenerative brain disease.
That was a decade ago. Over the last 10 years he has rebuilt his life living with Parkinson’s. Bell started a construction estimating company and went back to work part-time. He also revived his social life. Bell even began exercising, taking up boxing with others. He says it helps relieve his symptoms and provides him with peer support. He also has speech therapy sessions.
“I can hardly hold a screwdriver now, where before I used to swing a hammer like it was nothing,” Bell says of the impact of Parkinson’s on his life. “It’s hard to multi-task; your brain doesn’t work that way anymore.”
Fearing the stigma of the disease, Bell had a hard time explaining to people why he was shaking, or why he might be slower and unable to do the things he used to do so easily. It took years before he decided to share his diagnosis widely with others.
“It’s something that’s very personal, sharing that information,” Bell says. But two years ago, he decided to let everyone know. “It’s hard to explain, I just knew it was time — it felt right.”
Bell posted his news on Facebook in 2015 and was joined by 25 friends to support him in Parkinson SuperWalk, the largest annual fundraiser for Parkinson Canada. He attributes part of his healing to the walk.
In 2016, Bell became the event’s first “National Hero.” He cried when he read some of his nomination letters.
“You don’t realize the impact you can have, just by being yourself,” he says.
Until there is a cure, he asks for understanding from everyone, for anyone dealing with a chronic disease or disability.