Why Solitude is a Good Thing

Have you noticed how many retired people with MS say they miss being busy? Are you one of those, too? I am befuddled. When I was a contestant in the rat race way-back-when, I was certainly busier than I am now. But I would never say I was a busy person in general. A tightly-packed schedule with no time to breathe? Not for me. Nobody had to tell me to stop and smell the roses. I lingered at the rose bed far longer than I was supposed to and sometimes got in hot water for it. Idleness was my life quest.

Being pegged as anti-social

Whenever I said no to people who wanted me to go do something with them, my excuse was “I’m too busy.” What was really going on was that I wanted to make like Greta Garbo. But saying “I vant to be alone” is not socially acceptable. People take it personally. Or they peg you as being anti-social. I’m not anti-social, I enjoy being with people and having a good time— then I need to be alone and think my thoughts. When you are in the company of others, there is that pesky rule that you must respond to what people say and do. Though I’m perfectly willing to do that, I find it draining after a while and must withdraw.

Life as an introvert

Psychologists would say I’m an introvert. Guilty as charged. In my youth, that was unacceptable in school. My report card always said does not contribute to class discussions. I was too shy. My brain immediately emptied itself whenever I was called on to answer a question. I became so anxious about it I developed stomach aches and migraines by age ten. Childhood had become too stressful. I wanted to be invisible.

Coping in adulthood

Introverts learn to cope better in adulthood and I was no exception. It would have gone better for me if I’d chosen an occupation that required less social contact, though. Being an administrative assistant requires far more than that of a medical transcriptionist. I should have been that. But I didn’t know it existed. Being forced into communication on the job every day was a stress. Some places are unrelentingly hostile towards socially awkward people. Suspicion turns into cynicism. Then multiple sclerosis created even more suspicious behaviors.

Fighting prejudices

At one point I was running to the bathroom every ten minutes with bladder urgency. My boss banned me from the office for a week. For some insane reason, I was accused of doing drugs in the bathroom. I was forced to submit to a drug test. I never told them about my symptoms and the reasons are complicated. It wouldn’t have mattered if I had. When people develop a prejudice against you and regard everything you do with pure cynicism, whatever you say is construed as a lie. Besides, even though I’d had my first MS attack the year before, I wasn’t given the diagnosis yet. I couldn’t blame my symptom on a disease I didn’t officially have. I did see my PCP but the urine tested negative for infection. I didn’t see a neuro because I didn’t know it could be an MS symptom back then. It felt like being back in elementary school when I was called on to answer a question that I just couldn’t. Brain drain followed by muteness.

Healing from the world

I quit that job right after I was released from office purgatory and allowed to return. My drug test was clean. I spent the next year writing a novel, having cashed in my retirement and 401k accounts and living off those. I had to heal from being in the world by staying out of it for a while. Yes it caused financial hardship, but keeping my sanity was well worth it.

Give more to myself

A lot has happened since that workplace nightmare in 2002. But the bottom line is that the more time I’ve had to myself, the better able I’ve been to cope with what MS throws at me every day. People can be wonderfully helpful, but if I let them in, I might get more than I bargained for. Let people in and it becomes an exchange, give and take, sometimes more give than take on my part. Being solitary means being whole. Giving more to myself than to others. It’s not just a choice now. It’s a necessity.

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