Choosing to end work when you have Parkinson's - Karl's story

If you still work, there may come a time when you feel you need to leave a job or retire because of your Parkinson’s. Here Karl, who is 59, shares his experiences.

I found out that I had Parkinson’s 6 years ago. I started having problems putting my jacket on and was struggling to get my arm above my head. I’d also noticed other things like my handwriting getting smaller. When my GP referred me to a specialist, they started mentioning much worse conditions than Parkinson’s. So when I got the diagnosis, I was actually relieved.

At the time I was working as a veterinary surgeon at a practice in Kent, where I’d spent 25 years of my career. I was already planning to retire, but the new owners of the practice had asked me to stay on. Getting the diagnosis of Parkinson’s made me reassess things, and I decided to bring forward my retirement plans of travelling abroad.

I simply told them I was leaving, went on holiday, and then never returned. I didn’t even have a leaving do, as I didn’t like the idea of lots of sympathy because of my diagnosis.

The decision itself was quite easy. I’d already been thinking about ending work, but I was also lucky enough to have permanent health insurance, or ‘income protection’. This covers me because of my Parkinson’s and means I don’t need to dip into my pension until I’m older. So I had planned ahead in some regard.

Karl on a hike. He wears a blue cagoul and has a red backpack. The sky is grey!
Karl out walking

Since ending work I’ve thrown myself into being more active. I realised that exercise – specifically walking – helps my symptoms enormously, probably more so than the medication. I end up quite stooped over, if I don’t walk regularly.

I recently walked the Pennine Way, which was a long-held ambition following a childhood conversation with my late father. It was beautiful, as it passed some of the remotest areas of the country. I also raised money for Parkinson’s UK in the process.

I can no longer play golf, as I can’t maintain the same swing with my tremor. Instead, I’ve taken up ten-pin bowling. The weight of the ball means my hand doesn’t shake. I go quite regularly – it gives me a sense of achievement and there’s a social aspect to it as well.

I think ending work affects people in different ways. I have many friends who haven’t coped well with retirement – I think it might be something to do with losing a sense of status. Some went back to doing part-time work to fill their days, until quickly realising that they preferred not working at all! I enjoy the downtime and, COVID-permitting, means I can see more of the world.