The ringing of my cell phone cut through the mumbled cacophony of rush hour traffic as I sat huddled against the window of a city bus. Slightly embarrassed by the volume of it, I quickly closed the book I was reading and fumbled with the zippered, buzzing compartment of my backpack. A text message from one of my keepers lit up the tiny screen:
“Have you noticed how many people are getting married or having babies on facebook??”
Her text made me think: I’m not married. I don’t have babies. And surprisingly (or not surprisingly), I don’t mind at all. Actually, being single is helping me understand and learn things that I hope will make me a better partner and perhaps, a better mother in future. It’s also preparing me for the possibility of a different kind of future that doesn’t include children or a partner. I’m not saying that to be negative or put myself down, I say it because it’s always a possibility and my mind and heart needs to be prepared and open to whatever lies ahead.
I have read that the divorce rate among couples where one person is chronically ill is 75%. It’s a dismal statistic, but I wonder how many of those individuals were diagnosed during or before their marriage. Would the stat be the same if the chronically ill individual came into the relationship during a stage of acceptance versus the shock and denial of initial diagnosis? Would the stat decrease if that person had the time to understand their disease as an individual versus as part of a couple? Every person’s story is different and there are many couples out there who become closer and stronger while battling and living through illness. As a woman who has, in the not so distant past, connected being in a relationship with her own self-worth, I have now found myself on a journey to make peace with my chronic illness and this solo chapter of my life story.
Here are the top three things I have learned so far about being single and chronically ill:
3. You have to do it yourself: There was a time when I never had to wash my car, or walk from a distant parking spot in the cold, take out the garbage, or carry heavy grocery bags up the stairs to my apartment. I never had to open a tight lidded jar or get myself a glass of water when I was feeling sick. There’s a certain amount of pride that comes with finally doing those things. Bit by bit you restore your faith in your abilities and when you can’t do those things, it helps you understand what you need from others. If you need help, that’s perfectly fine, but it will be an “informed ask” instead of one that stems from frustration and fatigue from dealing with ongoing physical pain. It’s about celebrating the little things that you CAN DO instead of focusing on what you can’t.
2. It makes you plan ahead: It helps you understand in the most visceral sense that you must plan and be prepared, financial or otherwise, for a future with you and only you. This doesn’t mean that you refuse love and support of your loved ones, it means that at the end of the day, you can’t rely on it. It makes you think about what you need to implement to be self-sufficient in the future if you ever had to be and it makes you even more grateful for the support that you do have.
1. You invest in yourself: There’s no one to worry about except you. There’s more time and energy to reflect on what you really want, not in the future when you’re with what’s-his-name, but what you want right now, what kind of person you want to be and what you want to contribute to this world. It’s a chance to redefine what being alone means to you and what you want to get out of it. Not many people’s life stories allow for this kind of alone time and I know I am lucky.
I’m still learning and coping with bouts of loneliness, as every human being does, but I know that life is an utterly strange string of unexpected experiences, so I’m just accepting that this is part of the ride. Let the baby-makers and brides proclaim themselves on facebook! Yes, it is their “time,” but I think I’ll just sit here on my bus and take my time getting there.