It’s impossible to sit across the table from Robert Baittie and not feel hopeful. He radiates a positivity that’s contagious. His is not a shallow perkiness, but rather the deep comfort and calm of a truly content person.
A sunny disposition is easy to maintain when things are good, but a truer measure of character is keeping the right attitude when circumstances change. For Baittie, that change came a little over two years ago when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 52.
Yet as the married father of three sips his tea, he says that he feels physically, emotionally and mentally healthier than he ever has. “The only fact in this situation is that that I have Parkinson’s,” he says. “All the rest—the specific symptoms and their progression—are yet to be determined. I choose not to focus my energy on what might happen. I feel that attitude is helping keep my symptoms at bay.” He believes that we can change the course of disease, and of our lives, by the way we choose to experience the things that happen to us.
Baittie’s experience with Parkinson’s has reinforced his long-held conviction that everything happens for a reason. He explains this view and the gifts that he feels the disease has given him in his recently-released book, “Tremors in the Universe: A Personal Journey of Discovery with Parkinson’s Disease and Spirituality.”
What started as a blog intended to help him process his own feelings about his diagnosis bloomed into an active community and then a book. But it is not a book about Parkinson’s Disease. Rather, it’s about learning to live a happier life—a message meant for all of us.
In the book, Baittie uses humor to engage readers and put them at ease as he explains how he’s created peace in his life. He talks about getting in physical shape by doing “push-ups, pull-ups, and throw-ups.” Another chapter includes his observations about the four main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and and their impact on sex. A tremor? Baittie jokes that’s “a good excuse for being tied down.” Bradykinesia (slowness of movement)? He says that he doesn’t know many “who would complain about a partner taking their time.”
Baittie makes it clear that he’s not poking fun at Parkinson’s patients, but rather the absurdity of the disease itself. He hopes his words ease some of the pain and depression of those diagnosed and their caregivers. After all, the biggest lesson the disease has taught Baittie is that we’re all connected. The key to being happier lies not only in living in the moment but also in helping others.
Through The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF), Baittie has volunteered for an five-year clinical trial that seeks markers of the disease for earlier diagnosis and treatment for others. For the National Parkinson’s Foundation (NPF), he’s raised funds for the annual “Moving Day” walk. His playfulness again on display as he brainstormed with his daughter to name their team “The Martini Shakers” with their tagline, “Working towards a cure from the bottoms up.”
This year, though the October event was local, he asked for volunteer “co-chairs” to unite in spirit for the cause. His campaign emphasized “connect, not collect,” and he signed up representatives from each of the 50 states plus five countries while also raising more than $18,000 for Parkinson’s resources.
Between Baittie’s charitable activities, his blog, and his book, he’s had the opportunity to meet a lot of people. “It’s ironic that Parkinson’s affects the connections in our brains yet, for me, it’s acted as a conduit to others,” he says. He credits much of his positivity to his family and friends, old and new.
Though his book is out, Baittie’s story isn’t over. He still actively posts on his blog, ending each post with the same three words: “More to come.” He acknowledges that, without a cure, his disease currently has no end in sight. But he chooses to use the sentiment as a personal rallying cry and reminder that he’s not giving up.
To get involved:
- Get involved in clinical trials to further Parkinson’s disease research and move closer to a cure. This is a call to action for everyone, not only for those diagnosed with the disease, since researchers need control groups to round out their results. Find more information to help here.
- Raise funds toward research for a cure. Donate to The Michael J. Fox Foundation, National Parkinson Foundation (NPF) or participate in Chicago’s annual NPF Moving Day.
- Adopt a positive personal attitude. Believe that your life and experience have purpose and that you can, as Baittie says, “Choose to be happy.” Order his book, “Tremors in the Universe,” and use code “BETTER” to received 25% off list book price for Make It Better readers. A portion of book sales profits goes to both the MJFF and the NPF.