(Family Magazine October 2011 3rd Issue)
A few years ago I was a successful and happy man. I was a project manager in one of the best financial institutions on the West Coast. Besides being paid a very comfortable income, I led a team to research and develop new areas of information technology for the company. This challenge gave me a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. My home life was also ideal with a capable and supportive wife and a lovely daughter. Although my wife and I worked very hard, we always made it possible to enjoy family vacations during holidays. I was basically an outgoing person, very diligent, eloquent, athletic and good at every sport, active in church participating in administrative and leadership positions. My time was well managed to keep a balance between work, family, church and leisure. My life was the envy of every man. Even I thought I was a perfect man with a perfect life.
Everything started to change at the end of 2008. One day, I woke up with severe pain in my neck, shoulder and arm. After dozens of medical tests, my doctor diagnosed me with cervical hernia. What was more terrifying was that I discovered I was slowly losing my memory. When in a conversation with people, I felt very anxious and fearful, completely lacking the eloquence and quick responses as before. All of a sudden I was not in control of my life any more. At the same time, the financial crisis brought big loses to my company in its assets and investments in the stock market. Thus, staff layoffs began to be implemented in three phases. Everyday I felt like I am waiting for execution. After six months of struggles, the inevitable came. My work performance suffered as a result of my deteriorating health. so ultimately I could not escape the fate of being laid off. The day I receive the notice, I was so nervous that my body was shaking uncontrollably such that it even frightened my co-worker.
I applied for another job and even had interviews but I could not say a word during the interviews due to my anxiety disorder, so one can imagine the outcome of the interviews. To my great relief, my very understanding wife suggested I wait until I was better physically to decide what to do.
At the end of 2009, the real nightmare hit. Due to many unexplained symptoms, my doctor began to suspect that I was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The diagnosis was confirmed after trying different medications. Parkinson’s disease is incurable; the patient’s condition will deteriorate day by day and there is no hope of recovery. The disease is divided into five stages. For the fortunate ones, it may take up to ten years to advance from the first to the second stage. But for the unfortunate ones, in two to three years they may advance to the end stage when they become totally paralyzed. I could not accept the fact that I was beginning to lose my health, my ability to work and my mobility. On the deeper level, I felt I have lost my dignity as a human being, especially my dignity as a man. Without work, I felt I’ve lost half of my life. These setbacks depressed me and lowered my self-esteem tremendously. I was totally defeated by anxiety, stress, trauma and terror. I began to withdraw, afraid to meet with anyone, losing all my confidence and hope. A lot of negative thoughts and questions filled my mind. Will I become a burden to my family? How do I face this debilitating disease? How about the family’s financial situation? How will people look at me when my condition deteriorates, and I cannot express myself? My whole world collapsed in front of me.
But in my despair, by God’s grace, I saw a ray of hope in the midst of darkness. The support and understanding of my family, the care from my pastor and friends from church as well as prayers of brothers and sisters helped me to once again experience love and peace in my heart. In my most painful moment, my wife’s words inspired me, taught me to face life positively and to never give up. She said, “Do not worry. Even if you have lost everything such as your job, your wealth, your health and your ability to live a normal life, you will never lose me. You will always have a happy family and your Father in heaven will always look after you.”
I am now beginning to face my illness and life with optimism. I take good care of myself, take my medication on time and exercise regularly. I am learning to adjust my attitude, and try hard to overcome my low self-esteem and self-pity. The important thing is not to compare my present with my past, not to lament of the loss of my prestigious position before but to live within my means. Just like the Bible says, “Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” Even in my current state, I am a success because I am living up to the best of my ability. At the same time, I have to remove my mask, lay aside my self- respect and learn to accept help from others. It is not easy for an unyielding man like me to put aside my pride and admit that I need help from others.
Living with my suffering has made me truly feel the pain that others experience. Previously when my life was smooth, I analyzed everything rationally and I had never really understood the feelings of others. I could only give superficial comfort to those in need. In fact, I was not even in touch with my own feelings. My successful life brought a lot of stress that I was not even aware of. Ironically, this traumatic experience has brought me the greatest growth in my life. My experiences have enriched my emotional life. I am beginning to understand myself and I have even learned to cry.
My condition is currently stabilized and I am still trying hard to adapt to my “new life.” Occasionally, I feel saddened when I think of my past. But the God whom I trust often reminds me to “forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead.” This disease has allowed me to experience the limitations of man. We are not really in control of our lives as we may think we are. We should humble ourselves before the Creator God, and understand that eternal life is more precious. If you are struggling with pain, no matter if your suffering is for a few days, a few years or even life-long, it is short in comparison to eternity. Everything will pass, the only thing that will last for eternity is the heavenly home that God has prepared for us.