“You have Parkinson’s disease”, unwelcome words we’ve all heard at some point. We may vary in terms of our age and stage of life at which such a proclamation is made, but once those words are uttered, the shared challenge of our journey begins. Mine began at the age of 27. What I had dismissed as an annoying intermittent tremor in my pinky finger after careful examination by two movement disorder specialists soon evolved into a diagnosis of this progressive, neurological disease.
Needless to say this was an extremely difficult time in my life, facing a diagnosis that unfortunately I felt was an obstacle I would never overcome. During that time, my sole focus was on the difficulties I faced on a daily basis and all that I felt I was giving up. I was consumed by thoughts of disability. What did my future hold? Would I be able to continue in a career that I loved? Would my marriage be affected? Would I be there for my children at each stage of their lives? It was a time of denial, anger, fear and secrecy, one that regretfully lasted almost a decade.
Eventually I stood at a crossroads. I grew tired of the person I was becoming. I had reached my limit both physically and emotionally. The stress worsened my symptoms and it was changing me as a person. Truthfully I started to recognize that I had been choosing to be internally fearful and pessimistic and that this outlook was to my detriment.
In the eloquent words of Dr. Viktor Frankl (an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist at the time of World War II): “Everything can be taken from a man but…the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
The power of choice – to choose optimism over despair. It became very clear to me that until a cure, my future included Parkinson’s disease. The diagnosis itself was not within my control but how I faced this challenge and my resulting life experience, was mine to determine. And I began to recognize the powerful ability within me to choose how I was going to deal with this diagnosis. A powerful life lesson – your ability to choose your response to any challenge including a diagnosis such as PD and the inherent obstacles it brings.
With that change in my outlook, I went from a position of helplessness to one of true personal power. And that empowerment was liberating, allowing me to move beyond my disease, to focus on those variables in my life that I do have control over. In fact, I now look at this chronic disease as a blessing, a life experience that has shaped me into the person I am today.
Undoubtedly the human experience of chronic illness is highly impactful. Through facing the challenges that Parkinson’s presents, you learn the importance of those intangible factors that may be difficult to scientifically quantify but are vital in determining your life experience – acceptance, optimism, resilience to name a few. Optimism, or hopefulness and confidence about the future can change your perception of your daily challenges resulting in improved quality of life.
Optimism about our future allows us to take control of our present.
Dr. Soania Mathur is a member of BGF’s Medical Advisory Board