Art improved my Parkinson’s & changed my life!
By Kendall Fosbenner
My first symptoms started in February 2003 at age of 29. The loss of ability to write and sign my name was the first and hardest part to come to terms with. I plodded on until finally going to see a neurologist in 2004. After running MRI scans of my brain and neck he could not find anything ‘wrong’ with me and so from 2004 to 2010 I went misdiagnosed. During this time my symptoms had got so much worse. Parkinson’s had given me social anxiety, problems with simple tasks like tying my shoes, brushing teeth. Even my speech started to change.
In 2010 I was officially diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. I still remember how scared and frightened I was. I hadn’t a clue as to what I was going to do next or in honesty how my world was going to change, but I knew it was going to be an uphill battle. And it was.
By this point I had truly believed that Parkinson’s had robbed me of everything I had; a promising and good paying career. I used to be a Staff Accountant in a Certified Public Accountant Firm and was taking night classes to become a CPA. I changed my job and stopped studying in order to lower my stress levels and I did everything the doctor told me to do. My marriage of 20 years, my relationship with my daughter and long-time friendships were eventually pulled apart and destroyed. I was once an outgoing and very sociable person but by this point you would never had thought so. I was also a musician. In fact, I started singing from High School and had received several music scholarships to various colleges and universities. I eventually lost my ability to sing.
Looking back at everything I had been through, I’m really proud of how far I’ve come. I think I got to the point where it was sink or swim for me and I decided to swim. I was not ready to be defeated by Mr Parkinson’s and I certainly wasn’t ready to give up on my life. In fact, I felt the need to take on a new battle and that was to face Parkinson’s full on and channel my efforts into beating it.
For the past 5 years, I have literally been donating my body to science at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the MAYO Clinic in hope that in some way it will help to find a cure.
Coincidently (or not), I came across an advertisement for a Parkinson’s Trial Study which was only an hour away from my home and so I decided to give it a try. I am so thankful to have been a part of this Trial Study. After 5 full days, I was able to pick up a pen and print my name and even draw my name in block letters, just as I could do when I was younger. 17 years of struggle seemed to have changed after 5 days.
Following this, art therapy was built into my trial programme and I started freehand drawing and even managed to colour a flower picture with both hands. I can’t forget the feeling of free hand drawing a dog in a basket. I was so excited as I had never been able to draw anything but stick figures in my life! I was told that my health would decline back to where it was before the Trial Study and so I took up art on a regular basis to build on my skills as it seemed to be helping me.
It’s hard for many people to believe that I have only been drawing since December 2019. It was self-taught at first and then a very good friend of mine contacted me after she saw some of my drawings and paintings on Facebook and Instagram. She told me about an art class she was taking and asked me to join her. I have done a total of six classes so far for drawing.
Art as a therapy has been a life saviour. I now practice nearly every day as it helps tremendously with my stress and anxiety which greatly reduces my Parkinson’s symptoms. My anxiety and depression were so terrible I couldn’t leave my home, I was basically a hermit and my social anxiety was through the roof. Art Class in particular pushed my boundaries by helping me get out of my comfort zone and being around other people again. Art classes are calm and it’s a soothing atmosphere. Your surroundings make all the difference in the world! I think my surroundings, my environment, my feelings, thoughts as well as what is happening in the world today are huge influence in my artwork. I’ve been through a lot in my life, more specifically since my first symptoms started. I have faced many ups and downs. But art has always been the one thing that has kept me grounded. It doesn’t stop there, art has even improved my fine and large motor skills!
I feel like art has changed my life. It has given me my confidence back, my life back! I draw any time of the day depending on what my energy level is like at a time and what I have going on in my life. However, I always make the time for my artwork. It’s like I go to another place and I am free of stress and all my symptoms and I can express my feelings and thoughts simply through art. Completing a piece of artwork is absolutely exhilarating, instant gratification! When I complete a piece of work, I sit back and look at it and think ‘how did I just do that?’ Every day I am blessed that I’m able to create art in any form, especially as a 17+ year warrior of Parkinson’s. Take that Mr Parkinson’s!
I wholeheartedly encourage anyone with Parkinson’s Disease to find some form of art whether it be painting, drawing, decorating masks, designing, building things, anything that takes your mind away from focusing on the negative, which can easily become the everyday battle of Parkinson’s. Art brings your mind to a place where you can create anything you want. It sets you free. In addition to the painting and drawing also make steampunk artwork and build things as well. I am renovating an old house I purchase after my divorce. My house is 80 years old and I’m slowly trying to restore it back to its natural beauty! It’s my ambition to live a full and happy life!
I guess Parkinson’s has proved me wrong. I’m not one to ever give up or give in easily after all. If I had given up when I came close to thinking I would, then I would not be this new and improved person I am today. Yes, Parkinson’s has taken away so much of what I used to be able to do and to some extent what I wanted to accomplish in my life, but I honestly view Parkinson’s as a gift. Because of Parkinson’s I no longer take for granted the small things in life. I may struggle, but there’s always a way around everything, you just have to look for it. I no longer see what I can’t do, but what I can. My perspective of life has changed and I cherish every second of every day.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it Parkinson’s and say that it’s not hard some days because it is, but you need to be strong and fight back and never let the burdens of today spoilt tomorrow.
I’m still extremely passionate about making a contribution to Parkinson’s Research and finding a cure. I am now selling my artwork so I can help to fund Parkinson’s Research through great charities such as Parkinson’s Care and Support UK and amazing institutes such as NIH and MAYO Clinic. By buying a piece of my art you will be supporting this movement as well as showcasing the talents of us people with Parkinson’s.
It’s really hard to put into words how thankful, excited, hopeful and confident I am feeling about my future.
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