Excerpt: 'Always Looking Up'

PHOTO The cover for the book "Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist," by Michael J. Fox is shown.

For the last decade, Michael J. Fox has been a tireless spokesman for Parkinson's disease research. The actor, who retired from his hit sitcom "Spin City" in 2000 because of the disease, tells his personal story of how he turned his challenges into opportunities in his new book, "Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist."

Fox begins the book with his retirement and the struggle of shifting between his public and private personas.

VIDEO: Michael J. Fox
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Read an excerpt of his book below.

Prologue

In the opening pages of Lucky Man, I described a morning in Florida nineteen years ago when I woke up with a hangover and a twitching left pinky finger. In the intervening years, my life has seen many changes. Most mornings, for example, I awake to find my left pinky finger perfectly still -- it's the rest of my body that's shaking uncontrollably. Technically, my body is only fully at peace when my mind is completely at rest -- that is, asleep. Low brain activity means fewer neurons firing, or in my case, mis-firing. As I awaken, before my conscious mind really knows what's happening, my body has already gotten the news in the form of insistent neural instructions to twist, twitch, and contort. Any chance of slipping back into sleep is lost.

This morning Tracy is already up, dealing out breakfasts and readying the kids for school. I blindly fumble a plastic vial from the nightstand, dry-swallow a couple of pills, and then fall immediately into the first series of actions that, while largely automatic, demand a practiced determination. I swing my legs around to the side of the bed, and the instant my feet hit the floor, the two of them are in an argument. A condition called "dystonia," a regular complement to Parkinson's, cramps my feet severely and curls them inward, pressing my ankles toward the floor and the soles of my feet toward each other as though they were about to close together in prayer. I snake my right foot out toward the edge of the rug and toe-hook one of my hard leather loafers. I force my foot into the shoe, repeat the process with the left, and then cautiously stand up. Chastened by the unyielding confines of the leather, my feet begin to be-have themselves. The spasms have stopped, but the aching will persist for the next twenty minutes or so.

First stop: the bathroom. I'll spare you the initial details of my visit, except to say that with PD, it is essential to put the seat up. Grasping the toothpaste is nothing compared to the effort it takes to coordinate the two-handed task of wrangling the toothbrush and strangling out a line of paste onto the bristles. By now, my right hand has started up again, rotating at the wrist in a circular motion, perfect for what I'm about to do. My left hand guides my right hand up to my mouth, and once the back of the Oral-B touches the inside of my upper lip, I let go. It's like releasing the tension on a slingshot and compares favorably to the most powerful state-of-the-art electric toothbrush on the market. With no off switch, stopping means seizing my right wrist with my left hand, forcing it down to the sink basin, and shaking the brush loose as though disarming a knife-wielding attacker. I can usually tell whether shaving is a good idea on any particular day, and this morning, like most, I decide it's too early to risk bloodshed. I opt for a quick pass with an electric stubble trimmer. Miami Vice lives.

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