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Catherine's Story

Patient, Wife, Artist, Writer

I was raised in rural Maine with a view of the sea. My childhood was filled with music and art, a menagerie of animals, and outdoor adventures with my sisters. I attended Brown University for college, and later, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, where I earned my Master’s Degree in architecture and met my husband, Lewis Butler. Together, we started Butler Armsden Architects in San Francisco.

Although architecture satisfied my desire to work creatively, I have always wanted to write. In my forties, I experienced a prolonged, undiagnosed illness and during that time, I finally allowed myself to begin writing the novel that had been percolating in my head for a long time, Dream House, a story about how we shape, and are shaped by, our houses.

Writing was the perfect creative outlet for me. It required only that I show up at my computer with something to say. While my children were at school, I poured my limited energy into writing. In 2009, at age 54, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and I realized my symptoms years earlier might have been the first signs of the disease. My diagnosis was difficult, but I found that exploring the emotional lives of the characters in my novel helped me make sense of my own new challenges.

After getting a PD diagnosis, it was clear to me that writing, not architecture, would become my main creative endeavor. The disease foreshortened my vision of the future and the clock began to tick more loudly. This sense of slipping time made me more determined to complete my novel. I did, and Dream House was published in 2015.

As I continue to write, Parkinson’s gives me new, fascinating territory to explore both in writing and in my life. My current project is an online serial that tells the story of my friendship with another artist also living with neurological disease. As an adult, I have lived in four major cities across the US, but have never had a community until I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. It’s surprising that it would take a disease for me to feel that kind of connection with a particular group of people. It has been a wonderful gift to be able to share both my PD experience and my artistic pursuits with newfound friends.

Bit-by-bit, Parkinson’s is taking things away from me, but the more it impacts me, the more impact I want to make while I still can. I have a deeper focus on the wonders of life and the people, causes, and pursuits that are most important to me. And, perhaps most significantly, I know that I am not alone.

Catherine Armsden, Age 60, USA

Living with Parkinson’s

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