“I resigned from the ABC in 2013. I had been reporting for the Four Corners program for nearly 20 years, and done various stints at triple j, Radio National and Media Watch,” said award-winning journalist Liz Jackson in a Four Corners interview, the same show she used to work on. This time, in a reversed role, Jackson sat in front of the camera to tell her story on Four Corners.
“I loved the job but towards the end of my time at Four Corners I found myself increasingly tired and stressed. It was time to move on,” she said.
Jackson was looking forward to getting fit and healthy in her new stress-free existence. But it wasn’t to be.
“Eighteen months after I left, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“I knew virtually nothing about it. To me, Parkinson’s meant a bad tremor, an awkward gait and difficulty with handling small change.
“I’ve since learned it’s a complicated disease of the brain that can have different effects on different people.
“For me it’s meant pain and panic attacks.”
Learning about Parkinson’s symptoms on Google
Jackson said that Parkinson’s disease has had a devastating effect on her life. It’s made her physically weaker, more vulnerable and self-conscious.
“Now I could no longer go body surfing every Sunday morning with my friend, Ann. For many years, we had swum, whatever the weather or surf. But now my legs had inexplicably lost the capacity to thrust me through the water, and I no longer felt absolute confidence in my ability to handle strong waves.
“Once I was diagnosed, some of these changes made more sense, but I felt I was no longer the person I used to be, my sense of self had diminished.
“This is a very hard story for me to tell because it involves exposing my current condition to a public audience.
“I feel that for such a common disease and such an ill-understood disease, there’s a desire in some senses to keep these things private because, in a way, you’re not the person you were before and you feel more vulnerable. And more open to people’s judgment. And pity.
“I don’t want pity and I don’t want judgment.
“Did I really want the world to see?”
What it means to have Parkinson’s
Earlier this year, in the middle of Jackson’s struggle to accept her new diagnosis, the idea of making a documentary was raised.
Jackson said, “Would I be interested in working with my partner, Martin Butler, and good friend Bentley Dean on a film that explored my new reality? To dig down into what it means to have a serious illness and its effects on relationships with family and friends?
“This could only happen if I was prepared to let people into the life I now live — up close and very personal.
“Given that my daily reality involves distress, a lot of pain and panic attacks, I was wary. Up close and personal with me at the moment is not always a pretty sight. Did I really want the world to see?
“It was a big ask but we agreed that if it was all too much and the filming exacerbated my stress then I could withdraw at any point. It meant I could give things a try and go to areas where I wasn’t comfortable, knowing I could say ‘no’ later.
“The first time I saw the rushes of my panic attack in the doctor’s surgery I was appalled. I had no idea I looked so bad and so mad, like a half-crazed, underfed animal in the presence of a malignant predator, with a long lonely drool of saliva falling from my lips into my lap.
“There was no doubt in my mind we needed the scene, but I was pleased the drool never made the final cut.”
Jackson also said that she didn’t want her children to worry about her.
“I also spoke to my two children before we went ahead. Did they feel comfortable about their mother going public with her afflictions?
“In the first stages of my illness, I would hide in the bedroom when they came around because I didn’t want them to see me and worry about my condition,” said Jackson.
“I mean, the hardest things for me is being damaged in front of my children and not being the mother that they grew up with.”
Read Liz Jackson’s full story on ABC News.
Watch Four Corners’ story on A Sense Of Self on ABC TV on Monday, November 21 at 8:30pm.