“No man is an island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.” This is the quote from John Donne’s Devotion (1624). It means that no one is self sufficient; human beings necessarily depend on one another.
I started writing this in 2014; twenty-five years after the initial symptoms appeared that started me on this MS journey. To say I’ve had some unique and interesting experiences is an understatement. I’ve made mistakes, ignored things I should have paid attention to, didn’t ask for help when I should have, and most importantly, I tried to handle it all by myself, shutting people out, like MS was a burden that I alone could carry.
When a person is diagnosed with a chronic illness like Multiple Sclerosis, it affects not just that person, but everyone around them, especially the family.
I was always a loner, even as a child I liked to read, to paint and watch old movies…solitary activities. I had one best friend growing up, until she moved away when I was in Middle School. Since then I have had ‘situational’ friends. These are friends that you meet because of circumstances, with friendships that don’t continue beyond that time or event.
These were the friends I had in high school, in nursing school, at every job, and in every neighbourhood for most of my life. It was as if, when I moved on, I closed a door on that part of my life and started fresh. I have always envied my brother and sister for the strong friendships they have with their childhood friends. It must be comforting to know people who knew you when and still like you in the here and now.
It’s impossible to be too insular when raising kids, especially as a single mom. When the kids were gone, I was left floundering. I had little family and few friends, and those I had I was not close to, not the call-in-the-middle-of-the-night kind of close I needed.
Work was my life, my family and the basis of my identity. It defined who I was, and to be successful in that role was paramount. The rest of my life was chaos; I needed work, as hard as it was, to be the constant, the steady, the one thing I could count on.
From 1989 until 2001, twelve years, I coped with my disease, gave everything I had to the kids and then the job, but at the cost of the rest of my life.
I sincerely hope that by the telling of my story, others who are dealing with similar issues will not make the same mistakes. You cannot live your life in isolation. It’s not enough to have friends, not if you keep them at arm’s length and never let them be there for you. Friendship is not a one way street. Asking for help is a really difficult thing to do, a skill I’m much better at now than I was before. But it took hitting rock bottom before I learned that lesson.