Having Parkinson’s is just one aspect of a person’s life story. We want to share more stories of the varied lives of people currently living with Parkinson’s.
Michael Costello was raised in Clemton Park, a southwestern Sydney suburb. He was the youngest of three children under five of a divorced mother, a situation which meant the family really struggled.
But Michael’s mother backed her children as much as she could, and Michael’s creative interests and positive outlook began in childhood.
“I was always an artistic person,” recalls Michael, now 70. “I guess I disappeared into make-believe. I always liked writing, but I never saw it as something I could do as a profession.”
“When I was in primary school, I entered an open writing competition for Anzac Day and won. My teachers didn’t believe I had written it myself and sent home a message that whoever was doing my writing, please stop. My mum went up to the school and set them straight.”
When Michael finished high school, he became a public servant for 38 years until he retired in 1997. But he wasn’t just focussed on his day job; after an early marriage ended, he took on evening work to pay off the settlement.
“I was working as a waiter when I met my partner Graeme Haigh through friends at a Balmain pub,” he explains. “We were just good friends for a while at first, and now we’ve been together for 40 years.”
“I had always still wanted to write,” says Michael. “I didn’t want to get to 70 and then wonder what I could have done.”
“I started writing while I was still in the public service. I joined an amateur theatre group, and I would write plays in longhand and Graeme would type it up for me. Then I’d edit it and he’d type it out again.”
Michael would submit his plays to various theatre companies for consideration. To his amazement, a play he submitted to the Ensemble Theatre, in harbourside Kirribilli, was accepted and performed.
“To my knowledge it is still the first unsolicited play they ever put on!” he says. “But from that I got TV work, including a commission from Sue Smith, then the head of ABC drama.”
He was one of six writers chosen from a field of 200 whose original work went into production.
A second play, Royal Affair, earned Michael an AWGIE award, given for outstanding achievements of Australian performance writers and their contribution
to the cultural landscape.
“We had booked a holiday in Thailand the day after the awards presentation and I thought that there was no way I was going to win,” says Michael. “The awards night was in Melbourne. We had friends meet us at Sydney airport and threw the prize into their car while we got on the plane to start our holiday.”
Michael’s last writing challenge was a novel, Season of Hate – a novel about relationships in a country town – was completed and published in 2015. It received positive reviews and strong sales.
It was around that time, while going for walks, that Michael noticed that one arm wasn’t moving as he walked along.
“I knew I hadn’t had a stroke,” he says. “I wondered if a tumour was affecting me.”
“One neurologist said it wasn’t a tumour but sent me to a Parkinson’s specialist. He asked me whether I could smell bananas or strawberries, which I’d never thought of, but of course when I tried it at home I couldn’t.
“The Parkinson’s diagnosis followed, and I started to develop a tremor and a tingling in a finger, and I have a dropped shoulder as well. But I’m regarded by my neurologist as fully functional in that I can still do things for myself.”
Michael’s functionality is more surprising because he’s also had 11 operations in 14 years to deal with knee, toes, hip, and spinal issues from years of playing tennis and squash, doing aerobics, and running on hard surfaces.
“In some ways, the way I’m getting around is good,” says Michael, who moved to The Residences with Graeme in 2018.
“We realised that we weren’t going to be able to cope with our house and garden. We saw this place when it was opening and decided it was time to move. We enjoy the community here.
“I can’t do running or tennis anymore, but I do mahjong, bridge, Scrabble, carpet bowls, table tennis, line dancing and art. I also put on movies here every third Sunday – Michael’s Movies – and I like to encourage people to join in and try activities.
I have my down moments, but they are fleeting. I can’t turn back the clock, that’s the cards you are
dealt. We do what we can do.