Joan Parrish

Profile Updated: April 21, 2012
Residing In: Chicago, IL USA

I had a rough time dealing with life and my multiple disabilities until I began discovering and practicing certain perspectives.

Complications during my birth cut off oxygen, causing me a brain injury. My head, arms and hands shake uncontrollably, I have difficulty walking, great difficulty using my hands and my speech is somewhat impaired.

Growing up, my greatest challenge was coping with my reactions to the ways many people reacted to me. People often stared. Some acted as if I were mentally retarded. Occasionally I was made fun of - or pitied. Sometimes I was treated as though I were excessively fragile physically. I went through my early life feeling grotesque-looking.

From where I stand now I see that I began a spiritual journey when I was eighteen. There were three things going on in my life that propelled me into an emotional crisis: I had been put on the tranquilizer/muscle relaxant, Valium, to reduce the spasticity of my muscles. But Valium is a depressant and I began to feel horribly depressed. I didn’t tell anyone how I was feeling so no one realized what the medication was doing to me.

Also at this time, I completed high school and I now faced a future that seemed bleak. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to fashion a life that was worth living considering my physical limitations and what I saw to be the prevailing attitudes of society. I asked myself what kind of work I could possibly do. How could I possibly manage the demands of going away to college? How could I make it on my own when my mother did everything for me? I thought no one would want to marry me. I saw a future in which I would have nothing to do, in which I would always live with my parents - until they died. What would happen then?

In addition to everything else at this time, my high school counselor, on whom I had a crush, died. It was my first big loss and I went into a deep grief, no doubt made worse by the Valium I was taking daily.

I started to puzzle about the meaning of life. I began doubting the existence of God and was deeply, deeply disturbed by the whole idea of death. All things considered, I despaired and sometimes thought about suicide. I stayed that way for several years. Most of my thoughts were thoughts of powerlessness, hopelessness and self-pity.

The tide began to turn when I recognized the connection between my mood and the medication and I got off the Valium. My mood improved greatly! The problem was that I had developed habits of thinking negatively.

And I still struggled with questions about God. But then I read something that made me think. It urged having a willingness to experiment with looking for evidence of the existence of God. Over time I did begin to see evidence - in nature, in the timing of certain events in my life, recognizing invisible “helping hands” at work on my behalf, and eventually in contemplating the complexity of mathematics and chemistry.

So I gained some peace. But I was still very confused about the purpose of life and why, if there IS a God, He would allow so much suffering in the world.

“Life is what you make it, Joan“, my mother used to say to me. I felt angry at these words and I thought she was out of touch with reality! People don’t have the power to make their lives good, I thought. But Mother encouraged me to read the writings of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale which helped me to realize the profound power of positive thinking and put me on a constructive course. Next I discovered that making an effort to create my own joy helped and so I took another step out of feeling like a victim.

It has been said that any serious spiritual quest begins with a personal struggle to understand the mystery of death. I was twenty-five when I began reading books by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D. on the subject of the Near Death Experience -- those experiences people report having had in which they died, saw a Great Light, went through a tunnel, then chose for whatever reason to return to their present life. Many people don’t think that such experiences are real, but reading about them gave me fantastic new hope.

Again I took a long view of my future, but this time I realized I had a choice available to me that had a lot of power in it: I could focus on what was wrong with my life and the lives of others and be miserable OR I could focus on what was right and commit to being happy. I made the choice to live life happy.

I read that even if all else fails, as long as we have our mind, we can have a-life-in-the-mind which can be rich. It is our thoughts that create our feelings. We are in charge of our thoughts. Moment by moment, we can choose to make the present moment an emotional success.

I began to believe that the purpose of life is to learn and grow and that challenges facilitate that. Man’s adversity is God’s opportunity, someone said. My present, temporary challenges and urgencies fell into better perspective in my own mind. My inner peace grew.

I’m fifty-eight now. It’s been almost thirty years since I got a B.A. and left the home nest to move to and live independently in the Big City. I have worked, loved and lost, grown, and pursued many interests and activities. I get around outside my apartment with a motorized scooter (wheelchair). Living on my own is very sweet to me.

I believe that cultivating gratitude and enjoying the present moment are keys to living joyfully. Maintaining a commitment to personal growth has strengthened me through challenges of many types. It has served as a safe anchor and a motor no matter what else was going on in my life.

Each of us has our own unique journey but life contains a series of challenges for all of us. Though sometimes life may seem a cruel teacher, I think divine wisdom works on behalf of ALL us, the whole of humanity, not just us individually. Therein lays the complexity. Our circumstances and challenges serve the entire tapestry of humanity; we are a huge mega support system in which everyone’s growth and progress takes place.

We make challenges work for us and we make them springboards for good by adopting constructive perspectives and actions. When we do this, we can eventually accept whatever comes our way. We grow to KNOW that we move on and unfold through many transitions.

By adopting constructive perspectives and actions we develop faith in ourselves and faith in the processes of life; faith that we CAN work through challenges; faith that all things are working together for the good; faith that wherever we are is perfect, even when it hurts. This last thought was beautifully expressed by F.W. Robertson:

“As the tree is fertilized by its own broken branches and fallen leaves, and grows out of its own decay, so men and nations are bettered and improved by trial, and refined out of broken hopes and blighted expectations.’’

By adopting constructive perspectives and actions toward challenges we empower ourselves so that we don’t come from a sense of helplessness and hopelessness; we take responsibility to create our own joy, right here, right now - doing all that we need to do in order to change our circumstances by changing ourselves.

If we choose to believe that we can only be happy if certain circumstances are present in our lives, we set ourselves up to be unhappy a good portion of life. The only thing standing between us and a life of joy is a practical, logical decision and commitment to it.

We are given a short walk on earth. It’s not so important how long we live as how constructive we make it while we are here. We can choose to view life as an opportunity to grow and make choices. We can choose to see it, not as a series of random events, but as our personal path of awakening. We can choose to make each day a steppingstone on the path of growth
Copyright 2009 Joan Parrish.

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Jan 24, 2022 at 10:22 AM

Joan, what a beautiful, beautiful story. Copyright 2009, I would like to print a copy for future personal reference with your permission. What was your profession? Thank you for an inspirational lift today! Best Wishes, Steven Bacus

Joan Parrish has left an In Memory comment for Profile.
Jan 23, 2022 at 12:58 PM

I understood why he was “Punkin” – he was so friendly and sweet, and yes, that smile of his. I will always remember him fondly. My sympathies to his family and friends.


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Posted: Dec 16, 2013 at 11:31 PM