BEVERLYWOOD (CBSLA.com) — As news spread Thursday that actor Robin Williams was in the beginning stages of Parkinson’s disease when he committed suicide this week, a Southland man is coming forward to share his struggle with the disease and what’s on the horizon for treatment.
Michael Weinman, 50, said he was living a normal life with his wife and young children when the symptoms started: “I was shaking. I couldn’t get my words out.”
Fourteen years ago, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative disease that over time can result in debilitating tremors and paralysis.
“I was so depressed. I couldn’t do what I loved. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to speak,” Weinman said.
It took years, but his view has changed. He said it’s a very lonely disease, but it’s imperative to reach out for support.
“I had to get myself into therapy, had to do the work. The medication was working at first, then I got deep-brain stimulation to control the symptoms,” he said. “It’s really a whole-body approach.”
Still, Weinman said many hide the fact they have Parkinson’s because of the stigma that comes with the condition.
Jeff Bronstein, head of the Movement Disorders Program at UCLA, said the diagnosis is often overwhelming for patients.
“Before signs even occur, depression can start years earlier,” the doctor said. “This is not a terminal illness. People are running marathons.”
The neurologist said new treatments are on the horizon, but existing options allow people to live long, productive lives.
“There are medications, there is brain stimulation, and people are living,” Bronstein said.
Weinman said he’s come a long way and is living life to the fullest. He draws inspiration from actor Michael J. Fox, who’s lived with the disease for more than two decades and continues to act, for his continued dedication to research and for raising awareness.
He also applauds Williams’ wife, Susan Schneider, for sharing the actor’s diagnosis publicly so others can deal with any struggles they have.
Weinman, who runs a support group that meets monthly, stressed that those with Parkinson’s should know that “there is help and support. Things can get better.”
To learn more about Parkinson’s Disease consult the Parkinson’s Disease Association of Southern California at parkinsonsassociation.org or at (877) 737-7576 or The Michael J. Fox Foundation at michaeljfox.org.
For mental health services funded by L.A. County go to didihirsch.org. The Didi Hirsh Suicide Prevention Crisis Line is at (877) 727-4747.