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When Parkinson's Disease Makes Me Feel Like I Am Not Enough

So many things I cannot do. So many ways my body is failing. So many extra things my wife, children, and others have to pick up and do because of my illness. Many decisions must be considered and made because of me and my health issues. I know my wife and children love me, but am I enough?

Every human desires love and relationship. We all need a connection to others because I believe God did not design us to walk through this life alone and in isolation. We were created for relationship and community. That community can take many forms. Sometimes our community is our spouse and children; sometimes that community is family and friends; sometimes that community is work or church. There are so many possible communities out there, and as individuals, we are designed to be part of something.

Chronic illness can be and often is a barrier to this community. It makes relationships much more challenging and brings doubt, confusion, misunderstanding, and pain. It hampers a person’s ability to connect with those around them and isolates them in dozens of different ways.

My Parkinson’s diagnosis is no different. It affected every avenue of the communities surrounding me. Many times I just would not have the energy to spend time with friends. Sundays would often be a struggle, isolating me from my church family. At home, the pain, exhaustion, and doubt would separate me from my most crucial community – my family. This disease affected every aspect of our relationship, and it caused distance, uncertainty, doubt, and pain.

I would often wonder, especially concerning my family – my wife and my children – would I be enough? As my body failed me, and I could no longer do the things a husband and father should be able to do, would I still be enough? I had seen so many families break up or be destroyed by something like this. When I chased that rabbit of fear down the rabbit hole of the future, I was left with the question, would I or am I enough for my family?

In asking that question, I realized two things. First, I was not giving them the credit they deserved. Second, I was tying their love and relationship to me with one thing – what I could do. I was starting from a false assumption. I reasoned their love and care for me was only because of what I could do, what I could offer, basically, what I brought to the table.

When I evaluated my contribution to these relationships based solely on this, then no, I was not enough. I had to realize though that our relationship was not all about what I could do. Our relationship was much more than that. This was especially hard for me to recognize in my relationship with my wife. I knew she loved me, and I knew she was always there for me, but as my body failed (and would fail even more in the future), fear would grip my heart, and I would ask this question, “Am I enough?”

One night, in particular, we had this hard discussion. It had been a hard week, and we were having to make decisions that should not have to be made by a 44-year-old. I was hurting, I was struggling, and I was battling doubt in so many things. I was frustrated with my situation in life and felt like a failure in so many ways. I felt like and really believed that I could not give her what she needed, and through that prism, the future looked terrifying.

I looked at her. I was heartbroken, thinking of what she was going through with me and would in the future. I hated the pain my illness was causing; I hated the burden she would have to bear; I hated the struggle it added to our relationship, and fear and doubt gripped my heart. I began to listen to the lie in my head that I was not enough. I began to look at so many others walking through struggles and wondered if we would survive – if the pain and struggle would one day become too much.

No matter what I did, I could not shake this feeling. My wife could tell something was wrong, but for weeks I would not share my struggle with her. One day, she finally cornered me and got me to talk, and with tears in my eyes, I simply asked, “Am I enough? I feel like such a burden. I have been given a life sentence and, in many ways, so have you. I can’t do the things a husband should do, and it is only going to get worse, and I really wonder if I am enough?” She looked at me and very sweetly said, “Well, that’s a stupid question (If you know my wife, you can probably see her saying that). Stop asking yourself that; yes, of course you are. Even if I had known all of this, I would still make the same decision.”

All these things I focused on, things that were bothering me, shortfalls I had, they were not important to her. She loved me, and she was with me, no matter the course this journey took. While encouraging to hear, I realized that I had to believe it as well, or nothing would change. I had to accept where things were and trust, walking forward in faith. Yes, I might not be able to do so many things, but that did not mean I was not enough. It merely meant things were a little different in my community. I needed to “give myself a break,” realize some things were not as important as I thought, and focus on the love and care I was receiving, not what was missing. Are there still days that are hard and discouraging? Yes.

Are there days when I struggle with this question still? Of course. Are there days when I still beat myself up for what I cannot be for those around me? Unfortunately, there are, but those feelings are not from those surrounding me; they are from within. I must continue to battle these lies with the truth that I am loved and that I am enough. Regardless of what I can or cannot do, my worth and my community are not based on that. It is based on a foundation of love, and that makes it, and me, enough.

Charles Mickles, author, speaker, consultant. He has written, Mine’s Parkinson’s, What’s Yours? and What Christmas Really Is All About? You can follow his story at Day by Day.

Photo credit: bedya/Getty Images

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