What do a 45-year-old former journalist, a 50-year-old former urban planner, a 53-year old former lawyer, a 47-year-old former technician and a 58-year-old former volunteer coordinator have in common? After 10-15 years of enduring young onset Parkinson’s Disease (PD), these individuals were forced to give up their hard-earned careers, and their dreams of the good life were shot down early.
I am currently eligible for retirement. I can choose to retire when the time is right. PD gives a person no choice. The disease is always in control. There is no right time. I could go on to other jobs in my profession, do different work altogether, do volunteer work or just relax and have fun. PD puts people on disability and shuts down the work world for them forever. Surviving becomes a priority for most PD patients, not working, volunteering or having fun.
My own career has spanned 34 years and continues to energize me. My work has given me a sense of deep satisfaction, enjoyment and a sense of accomplishment in giving back to the community. An employee is rewarded for many years of work and commitment, while disability pays those living with PD not to work. If I had given up my career 15-20 years ago, I would not have felt the same – perhaps less complete and less satisfied in retrospect. A fulfilling career can leave a person feeling very satisfied and victorious. I am blessed that I can still choose my own course in life and not have PD dictate it for me.
Succumbing to PD is equivalent to ending a dream early, leaving a person feeling unfulfilled and defeated. I often wonder about how people living with PD maintain their dignity and self-respect without meaningful employment. I admire their struggle to find meaning and their refusal to accept defeat.