For the second time in my life I feel free. Free to go wherever I want and do whatever it is that I really want to do.
The first time, I left and didn’t return to live at home in Toronto for over ten years. I travelled, I taught, I built schools, but more than that, I learned how to learn.
Towards the end, at 29 years old, while running around China building out academic centers, I got diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Many people have asked me what that was like? Well, it is what you would think, it sucks. What made it worse was that I didn’t know anything about it or anyone who might be able to guide me through it.
But, I was young and naive enough to think that maybe, if I found the right teachers, I could figure this thing out and get back to doing whatever I want with my days. So, I tried to do just that. It started in San Diego with Prof. Jeanne Loring and the team at Summit for Stem Cells, then meeting Eli Pollard at the WPC in Portland, then Prof. Patrik Brundin and the invitation he got me to the inaugural ASAP meeting, then Hilal Lashuel and the Synuclein Conference, and from there an entire world of patients, doctors and scientists really started to open up. That set me off on a whirlwind tour of academic centers, biotech companies and patient organizations all around North America and Europe.
There are so many people that played a role in getting me to where I am that even attempting any kind of list would be doing all of them an injustice. Most only a handful of people will have even heard about, including silicon valley billionaires, obscure German professors living on the edge of the Black Forest, young geneticists bursting with enthusiasm, hardened veterans living out their days in biblical deserts, Chinese medicine doctors who email me weekly with new breakthrough cures…though I still hope to one day tell all of their stories.
Sorting through it all and trying to figure out where and who to place my bets has been the greatest challenge I have ever faced. But, I think I have found the best solution for me.
I still don’t quite know where this next go around is taking me, but I think I am starting to get an idea.
Unfortunately the world is a very different place now. I still dream of deep seas in far flung places, but it saddens me that there are more barriers in the way today, and that every day it seems like more are going up.
Nature and our limited capacity to confront it for what it is, are conspiring to impede that ability to just go and explore for the sake of exploring for me, and everyone else I know.
How can we possibly confront these forces that seem so much bigger than any of us? How could any of us do whatever it is that we might want to do with however long we have?
Well, by using the same tried and tested method we have always had, education.
Education is learning how to learn. How to connect one idea to the next. It does not matter if you are learning a language, Algebra, or even how to walk, in our brains they are the same, one neuron talking to another, one story talking to the next.
Like anything else, there are regional differences. It takes different chemicals and different stimuli to make that happen in the prefrontal cortex than it does in your thalamus or amygdala. But, what excites me about this age and where I derive the most hope for the future is that we are starting to understand some of the hows and whys, thanks to neuroscience.
Of course, neuroscience does not just happen. The only reason we know anything is because people decided that these were worthy problems. I am sure there are days when those same individuals lose sight of that, or have to put up with people who make them feel like they aren’t really contributing, but I hope they understand that what they do matters.
For anyone in and around the DC area, this is my way round-about way of saying that you must go and see the Life of a Neuron. Bring friends. Bring drugs. Bring neuroscientists. Bring whatever you need to get yourself into the right headspace for this. Because if you can, this 20 minute show will show you more about yourself and what the best minds we have think about what it is that we really are than anything else I have ever seen.
To the creators of the show, I have a suggestion. Take this on the road. You have a duty to show this to the world. But do not simply sell this to a streaming service, people need the full immersive experience to really get it (unless maybe if David Attenborough becomes available?) Or, go fully immersive, call up a VR team and really bring this to life by unleashing all the potential that technology has to recreate and probably even enhance what it is that you have dreamt up for the world and everyone in it.
Thank you thank you thank you to Dr. Megan Duffy for bringing me here and continuing to show me all that we are and all that we can be.