Imagine watching a man who used to be strong and confident decay slowly into a shadow of what he once was. Imagine watching him lose the freedoms he had enjoyed all his life, one by one. Imagine watching him pain at the realization that he must become more and more dependent on the people around him. This is the reality of Parkinson's Disease, and I have watched my dad decline into a Stage 4 Diagnosis. Parkinson's Disease does not kill; it disables the patient to the point of total dependency. When my father was first diagnosed, I didn't fully understand. His doctor prescribed medication to increase the dopamine his brain failed to supply, but he continued his career with full force for years. I only understood the severity of Parkinson's when he was no longer able to work, and soon after leaving his job, when he was no longer able to drive. From brain surgery to physical therapy to adverse side effects of medications, the experience with my father's diagnosis and progression of Parkinson's Disease has taught me empathy, maturity, and, possibly one of life's most useful qualities, the ability to cope.
Throughout the past few years, I have learned compassion and empathy by providing assistance to my father as he lost physical ability. The loss of muscle mass due to Parkinson's combined with the blood pressure issues from his medications causes my father to sometimes lose the ability to walk. After he eats dinner, my sister, my mother, and I often need to combine our efforts to help him to bed. I have developed patience over time by reminding myself not to be intolerant when he gets into a certain physical state. Although, it is frustrating to see him walking and moving well at one point in the day, yet become immobilized in a chair not even half an hour later. The only thing that keeps me from stressing over the situation is the empathy I have acquired. Empathy is defined as "the intelligent identification with the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another." But empathy is so much more; it is an ineffable bond of understanding. Empathy provides a sense of moral responsibility. It is the ability to put aside my own thoughts and feelings for one moment in the day in order to attempt to understand those of another human being. This understanding enables me to help other people and cope with my situation at home. With compassion and empathy, I am better able to understand my father and his challenges, as well as my mother, who is my father's primary caregiver. My understanding, respect, and love for my mother has made me more independent and responsible.
Through taking care of more of my own things, I have developed a maturity which continues to help me with both my family and school life. I seldom forget about homework or leave projects to the last minute. By not procrastinating, I have time to put effort into each assignment and turn in goodquality work without any extra stress. In our family, my sister and I do as much as we can to assist, but all the responsibilities fall on my mother's shoulders. Whereas the work in most households is split between two parents, my mother does it all by herself with the added pressure of taking care of my father. Paying the bills, taking care of health insurance, scheduling doctor's appointments, buying groceries, cleaning, cooking, investing money, and supporting her children are just the beginning of my mother's monumental amount of tasks. Empathy and understanding for my mother has led me to mature and take on more of my own responsibilities in an attempt to lighten her load. As a result, the maturity that comes with becoming more independent has taught me how to cope with my problems.
Over time, I have developed more mature coping mechanisms. Many times in life we encounter dilemmas, obstacles, and challenges. Sometimes these issues are minor. Sometimes they are major. Sometimes they are curable, and other times, they are not. Regardless, we must deal with them; this is what it means to cope. If there is an adverse situation that you have the power to change, coping means that you will change it. You will do everything in your power to fix the problem. However, if it is an obstacle that simply cannot be changed, coping does not become synonymous with ignoring. Coping means using your problems as a fuel for success, allowing a negative situation drive you into working towards a positive one. People cope in all different ways, and cope has a different meaning to every person, but I have learned that ignoring a problem will not help. Pretending it does not affect you or pretending that there is no problem is futile. I once heard Joel Osteen say, "God is more interested in changing you than changing your circumstances." Even to those who are not religious, this quote holds a lesson to all: instead of focusing on changing everything around you, take a look at yourself. Focusing on changing my perspective instead of the world around me has made me grow and change as a person for the better.
Although I am young, the lessons I have learned from dealing with my father's disease will stay with me forever. These experiences have shaped me into the person I am today, and I am so different from the person I was three years ago. Compassion, maturity, and the ability to cope will guide me in the future with all aspects of my life. I have learned how to get the best out of what life provides you, and then go even further. I have taken the negative things in life and used them as fuel to succeed. One could conceivably fix every problem in the world, yet still be unhappy; to be happy, one must start by changing their perspective and striving towards success.