My father’s experience with cancer over the last three years has taught me much about patience with the unknown, acceptance of the truth – no matter how painful, and gratitude for the smallest things in life. But his experience has not stopped teaching us yet. Lately my father has developed a condition that puts pressure on the brain therefore causing cognitive issues. It has been an interesting ride.
The first symptom we noticed was diminishing short term memory. It started with forgetting small things like dates and locations but then escalated to not remembering what he ate five minutes before. There were also some emotional changes including anger and frustration from a very even-keeled man. But the symptom that really intrigued me was his new perception of “reality.”
His perception of reality began to shift due to his memory loss. He thought that people visited who didn’t and forgot who truly did come by. But then it branched into other areas besides memory. On Halloween, I spend the night with him in the hospital. We watched the show Undercover Boss where CEO’s pose as prospective workers to see how their company really works. This particular episode was about Garden Fresh pre-packaged salads. My dad started to wonder out loud what it would take to get a job for Garden Fresh. We chatted about what it would take for a few minutes, but then I realized this was not a hypothetical discussion. The nurse came in to take his vitals and my father asked her how many bags of lettuce she packed a day. He truly thought that she was a salad packer, not a nurse. He got angry when I tried to explain that she was a nurse and that the job was just a television show. He proceed to ask me what position my brother and other family members landed, and wanted to know if they were all here or at other parts of the company. My father really thought that he was in the show, that he was supposed to get a job. And then things got even stranger. About a week later we were watching a public television show about woodworking. For hours after the show he complained about how strongly he could still smell the varnish they used. His ailment was now affecting his five senses or the brain’s interpretation of what these senses were experiencing. During both of these incidents, my father believed he was experiencing the real world.
It was very difficult to watch my father in this state, but I knew there was a lesson to be learned. I believe the lesson is that our reality is what we perceive – and we can choose what we perceive. We choose what we focus on. We choose what we accept. We choose how we interpret different situations. Therefore we are actively choosing our lives every day. How many times have you gone to a party with a group of friends and upon leaving feel like you were at different events? One person have a great time reliving old times with old friends, one person was bored by the retelling of old stories, one person was disappointed that there was not enough dancing, and one person thought the food was phenomenal and worth the visit. Each of these individuals was at the same party – the same reality – but their perception determined how they experienced that reality. How we grew up, our past experiences, our goals, our likes, and our dislikes all color how we see life around us. We don’t change reality we are just choosing how we interpret it.
How do you perceive reality? How are you choosing to live your life? Do you focus on the good or always look at lack? Do you share stories of heartbreak or small wins? Do you look forward to the future with hope or are you resigned to a bleak future? You can make the choice on how you perceive and therefore live your life. Watch yourself and catch your thoughts when they start leading you astray into a life of negativity. Choose the best scenarios. Choose the life you want to live. It is amazing how simple it is. Don’t let society, friends, family, or past experiences determine how you are experiencing this moment. Take control. Rule your perceptions. Create the life you want to live.