Parkinson’s Disease: ‘People think I’m drunk’

Ronan Coyle first noticed the symptoms at 24 but only found out what the problem was six years later.

“People think I’m drunk when I walk down the street,” he said.

Now 37, Ronan plays golf and squash and likes to swim to take his mind off the disease.

A spokesperson for Parkinson’s UK said playing sport “helps ease the mind”.

Parkinson’s is thought to be linked to a chemical called dopamine, which is lacking in the brains of people with the condition.

There are more than 40 symptoms and these can include vomiting as the body struggles to process food in the gut.

Parkinson’s can also affect people’s mood. Often a person will feel they have got to grips with their condition and then a new symptom will emerge.

It was while studying for his Irish history and politics degree that Ronan first noticed the symptoms.

“I was writing notes for an essay and I couldn’t write properly,” he said.

“Come exam time, I was under a lot of stress. It got really bad.

“Then I noticed my walking was funny. I went to a couple of neurologists and they more or less said you have a tremor and that it was nothing to worry about.”

When Ronan turned 30 he was referred to a neurologist in Belfast. After a number of scans it was confirmed that he had the disease.

How people react

A survey of more than 2,000 people for Parkinson’s UK, to mark World Parkinson’s day, found that 87% of people with the condition had faced discrimination or harassment.

  • 24% of people had been told they were “too young” to have Parkinson’s
  • 22% said their slurred speech or poor balance had been mistaken for drunkenness
  • 32% said their less expressive facial expressions had been mistaken for unfriendliness
  • 10% said they had been laughed at

“Once I left the office, I went into the car and cried for a couple of minutes and then phoned my mum,” Ronan said.

“I don’t particularly shake all that much. I would be rigid and stiff and my balance would be bad at times.

He added: “Whenever I was first diagnosed I didn’t want to know much about it and didn’t want to hear any horror stories. I kept myself in the dark more or less for a couple of years.

“It’s not a great thing to hear that you have Parkinson’s but it’s by no means the end of the world. You can live a full and happy life.”

Ronan works as a civil servant in Derry and he and his partner Elena, who is from Mexico City, got married this time last year.

He says Elena has been a rock for him throughout.

“I met her in Ballina, County Mayo. She was working there. We have been together for two and a half years.

“She helps me so much with my condition. She gives me an incredible amount of support.

“Always encouraging me. Always by my side.”