All of my life, I’ve known who I was. I never had the urge to ‘find myself’, never had a mid-life crises. As my kids became more independent, my career became my focal point. I worked hard and played hard like most of America; looking forward to Fridays and Vacations. For over twenty years my net worth was all about business. So when a debilitating disease hit me in my late 40’s, I had a problem. I tried desperately to keep working, going to two days a week, working from home. Unfortunately, I could not continue; I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t think, some days I could barely talk coherently. I had to stop working.
At first, I missed my coworkers, they were my second family. Since I couldn’t drive for a visit, I phoned, but the phone calls got farther and farther between. I enjoyed not having to drive through traffic or get up early but old habits die hard. I still managed to be up the same time everyday just like a normal workday. As the days continued, I had to deal with the financial issues of not working, cleanliness issues of not being able to keep up with housework, and mobility issues of not being able to drive. Over the next few months I focused on these issues. I was fortunate my husband had a good job to support us but, we both agreed we had to sell our home. This was very difficult as we had found what we considered the perfect home. Twelve acres surrounded on three sides by County Park. It was quiet and beautiful. It was just too much for me to take care of and too expensive to keep up on one paycheck. I resolved the rest of the issues as best I could. Now I really had nothing to keep my mind busy and combat the emptiness of my life. I was a prisoner in my home and in my mind.
Depression hit hard. The days I was in agonizing pain, I would lie in bed and think; I have twenty more years of this? Why bother? It was difficult not to take the extra pills and stop it all. Or better yet, I could just drift into oncoming traffic and it would be blamed on the medicine. On better days I sat in my chair and cried. What was the point of life? What was I supposed to do now that I couldn’t work? My kids didn't need me they were grown. My husband was the independent type so he didn’t need me. No one needed me. I was worthless to everyone. What a miserable way to view yourself; it just continues to feed on itself.
I started psychiatric therapy but still felt a great sadness; who was I? What was my purpose now in life? There were no answers so it kept going down hill. I sunk deeper into the depression. There were days I wouldn’t get out of bed, there was no reason to; lying down was the most comfortable. I tried to sleep myself through the days, but my body wouldn’t cooperate, I still got up. I still looked at myself in the mirror. These days though the face looked unfamiliar. The wrinkles were worse, more grey in the hair, the lips down turned; no longer smiling, my face looked old. Who was that person looking back? I avoided the mirrors; I stopped getting dressed, what was the point? I had no where to go.
The house was deathly quiet, my husband gone to work. I limped through the rooms; looking for what? I didn’t know. I tried hobbies, music, and religion, anything to rid myself of the emptiness inside. Most I couldn’t do and those I could really had no meaning, I needed my activities to mean something; the rest I had no patience for.
My husband couldn’t help; he was as frustrated as I. He stopped asking me how I felt. He said the sound of my voice on the phone was enough to tell him how much pain I was in. My psychiatrist gave me drugs; that helped a little but now I had side effects to deal with weight gain, constipation, dizziness, headaches etc. Some days the side effects were worse than the depression. The battle was still raging inside.
Next came TV, computer games, reading, anything to escape the days and face myself; feeling worthless, unworthy. All they managed to do was waste my time. I know I didn’t have anything better to do, but busy work was annoying. I was too young to be going through this, too young to be watching life go by. Friends stopped calling regularly; they could hear the pain and were trying to be considerate. I felt more alone than ever. I felt like no one understood my problems. As I browsed online, I found support groups and pain awareness groups. These helped me to recognize that I wasn’t alone; that this stuff happens to people my age and that in the long run, no one can help me, but me.
A friend suggested meditation, I figured what the heck, give it a shot, it actually helped. I could calm my mind a little. I stopped racing from one thought to the next. I stopped focusing on the bad things. I stopped hiding. I began thinking about life again. My husband and family loved me, my dogs kept me company, I have four of them, and I was a good person. Could that be enough? Society’s view of working, achieving and accumulating stuff just didn’t fit my life anymore. I needed something different. I needed to accept and move on.
Acceptance is the hardest thing to do with any life changing event. But, once I had accepted my situation and began to look elsewhere for fulfillment, the depression started to lift. Life was worth living, I just needed to learn to live it on my own terms; a moment at a time. I looked for things I could do rather than focus on what I couldn’t. Some days I can write; this short article for example. It may have taken me three days to write it but I still got it done. Other days I could read and just enjoy the fulfillment of a good book. Other days I could be on the computer for a few hours; I straightened out our home finances and made a spread sheet to keep track of expenses in the future. I can do wash as long as I pace myself, same thing for cooking dinner. Everything just takes a bit longer than it used to. I still go to therapy, I still take the drugs, but I’m learning to let go of what was, and just BE.