Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease can be incredibly challenging for individuals in the prime of their working lives. Recent interviews conducted by Shake It Up supporter Maree Faulkner with 21 Australians living with Parkinson’s explored the impact of their diagnosis on their career. Our Pause 4 Parkinson’s campaign this year shines a light on this important issue. Employment and career progression add to the stress of a diagnosis with people questioning their ability and what the future holds. Kate Stone Matheson shares her story.
Living in Melbourne, at the age of 48 (creeping ever closely to 50, she says ruefully), Kate Stone Matheson is a writer, digital artist, photographer, and works with her business partner, Brad McEwan, educating workplaces, sporting and news organisations about ways to manage and maintain good mental health in the workplace – and why mental and physical health need to be seen as equally important and also equally openly discussed.
With a law degree and a master’s in business, Kate comes from a very traditional corporate background, and has strong ties to the military, having been previously married to a naval officer for almost twenty years. Part of this involvement in military life meant frequent job changes and making new friends in various places, including overseas, having spent time in places such as the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. An incredibly active team sports player, she was heavily involved in netball, skiing, sailing… pretty much any sport that was available, she crammed it in along with long arduous hours in the office – or in the circus ring, as she worked for quite some time with Cirque du Soleil (not as an acrobat!)
It was around the time of her role with Cirque du Soleil at the age of 29 that she first started to notice some weakness in her right side, then, after yet another posting to a new location with her then husband, problems with movement and cramping, followed by tremor and handwriting starting to ‘fall off the page’. She was becoming very fatigued, and her ability to maintain her self-exacting work standards and busy social life started to suffer.
After an initial diagnosis of MS, and five incredibly frustrating years with worsening symptoms, Kate finally was given the news at 34 – she had Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease. She says still that to finally understand what was happening to her was a massive relief, even if her only knowledge of the disease came from being aware that Michael J Fox – a ‘teenage crush!’ had it.
For a while, (mainly because she’s incredibly stubborn), Kate attempted to keep maintaining her usual lifestyle without considering the impact of Parkinson’s on her body, mind, and routine – especially work. But what she rapidly realised was that in ignoring the way the disease physically and mentally affected her, she was not only making herself more unwell from the stress – she was letting her staff and work peers down. She began to accept that working full time was not sustainable, and that in undertaking part-time work, it would also give her the energy to raise awareness about YOPD and the disease in general – including the great gift she was given in being appointed a Shake it Up Ambassador.
Having recently worked with the mental health organisation Beyond Blue, and now in partnership with one of their Ambassadors, ex-sports broadcaster and fellow mental health advocate Brad McEwan, Kate has learned to manage her energy and to make the best use of her time in promoting the importance of good mental and physical health when It comes to ‘being the boss of your Parkinson’s, not letting it boss you’. She also strongly advocates to those who love and care for people with YOPD to ‘ask them what they want in terms of assistance, not tell them what they need’.
Her message to others diagnosed with the disease, especially those with YOPD, is very simple; ‘don’t see this as a weakness – see it as an opportunity to make everything you do have meaning. The small stuff is exactly that – small. Make the most of your chances to realise the biggest dreams you’ve imagined, and don’t ever be afraid to ask for help in making them come true’.
Kate is always behind the initiatives of Shake it Up and their sister foundation, the Michael J Fox Foundation, and hopes more workplaces in Australia become disability equal as a result of the amazing messaging Shake it Up provides.
Kate will also be joining the YOPD panel at the upcoming Insight into Parkinson’s Conference. This conference is fully online and free during the live broadcast date 1st – 3rd April. Register here and select Shake It Up as your charity partner.