Living Alone With a Disability: Am I the Only One Having Conversations With my Pets?
When I made the choice to set off on my own at age 50, I was ok with it. I was embarking on a dream to move to northern NH to be nearer my aging parents to help and open my own children’s museum. I not only did it, but I lost over 50 pounds in the process! I was in the 2nd best shape of my life, working hard and proud of my efforts and abilities. Then I got sick. Not normal sick, but a rare disease sick. I was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis, a rare condition that caused inflammation on my spinal cord causing partial paralysis. Fortunately, I ignored the advice of the first hospital I went to that told me not to worry about it and went to a teaching hospital 1 ½ hours away instead. They properly diagnosed the problem and I was able to quickly start treatment that helped reverse some of the damage. Some, but not all. I was left with uncooperative legs, especially on my left side, but I could walk. Over the next three months I waited to get better with therapy I was receiving, but I didn’t. The brain fog and fatigue were overwhelming. Concerned, the doctor ordered an additional MRI. It confirmed his suspicions. I not only had Transverse Myelitis, but I now also had MS. Dang….
I had begun a job in a new school district as a special education teacher. I had worked there for 7 days when I got sick. I never went back. I have battled cancer and had major surgery twice, and never missed more than 6 weeks of school. This however, in effect ended my career.
At first I thought I would be able to return to work. Once the MS label joined the party, the rules changed. The final nail came a month later, when Optic Neuritis was added to my growing collection of Latin names. Blurred vision and headaches made doing even simple paperwork tasks difficult. There was no way the extensive paperwork required for teaching, much less special education would ever been completed by me again.
I now realized I would not return to the classroom I had finished setting up my last day of work. The backpack with all of my school stuff still sits untouched beneath a desk in an extra room in my house, too painful to go through. I thought that losing that identity would be one of my greatest challenges. Little did I know that it was not that lack of work, but the lack of people that would slowly tear me apart.
It’s not that I didn’t have friends, but I had only lived here as an adult for three years. The friends I had made, I had done through the activities I was a part of. I ran my own children’s museum with classes for local children in music, science and dramatics. I had put on several plays with local students that quickly found their way into my heart. But there was no play last fall. I had also been active in local theatre groups as well as a semi professional Summer Stock theatre I had been a part of since my teens. Since there is not an abundance of roles for women walking with canes, I realized my time on the stage had fizzled away. The friends I made are still dear, but when you can no longer do the same things that brought you together, the relationship is bound to change, at least a little.
Now my days are spent either with my parents who are 85 and 89 or with my dogs. Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents! Part of the reason I moved here was to be near them and help them out as they age. But when they or their friends are the only social life I have, I begin to feel like I am in my 80’s. My other option is alone with my dogs, who I also love! I have always considered them part of the family and talked to them. But now, I think I expect them to answer back. I carry on conversations with them as if they could answer me back. I know they can’t really, I’m not that crazy, but when you spend your days alone, it’s easy to see how you could create that world within your mind.
Not having someone to cook for means there is either no need to cook or too much food. Not having someone to help unload the car means many trips and extra effort. Not having someone to help with daily chores inside and out means things either do not get done or you hire someone. Those are all issues I can deal with. But knowing that I will probably be alone for my future is a sobering reality.
Here is the crazy part. I was happy with my life. I was not actively looking to share it with anyone. My life was full. Somehow, though, by adding a chronic illness to the plate, the fact that I was highly unlikely to find someone who wanted to grow old with an old disabled woman was a terrifying reality. Something I was not even looking for 7 months ago, I suddenly missed when the possibility of it seemed to fade from view.
Ok, truth be told, the Hallmark Channel is a guilty pleasure for me. The thought of staring in a real life version of a movie delights my heart. But I know they are movies. I also believe that maybe, just maybe, there is that one someone that would finally be a good choice on my part. Only time will tell, but I’m neither going to give up nor waste time worrying about it.
Living alone with a disability can be a very lonely and discouraging time. But I refuse to succumb to the despair that often threatens my soul. The trick is to force yourself to reach out in whatever way you can to connect to those around you. Whether it be online, or in person, the key lies in reaching out to others and finding a way to help others. It can always be worse. There are always those around that you can reach out to and help. And in helping there is healing.
Life changing events have the opportunity to change us in ways we never would imagine or seek out, but that doesn’t mean it has to be all bad. Life always has its challenges. Since my life changing illnesses, I have lost much, but I have also gained much. There is a peace to be found in having a slower pace of life. There is joy to be found in following a new path, which for me includes writing, something I have always had the desire, but not time to pursue. Time with my folks may threaten to drive me a tad crazy at times, but I know it is also a great privilege I have been given.
So yes, I do talk to my pets. But if I am to be completely honest, being sick has only given me a slightly better excuse for doing so. Truth be told, I have been doing it for years. And you know what, I really think they do understand. Here’s to taking the most difficult times and finding gems of great value within them.