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My Life in Ruins - 10/21/2020

Someone observed to me recently that it seems like my life is in ruins. At first I thought they were joking, then I was taken aback to find that they were serious. It made me think: were they right? And if so, should that bother me? So I started thinking about all the reasons why my life appears to be "in ruins." Let's start with the obvious one: I have been having financial difficulties since my spousal support from my ex-husband ended in 2017. I have made many changes to my lifestyle since then and reduced my expenses, but some weeks it's still day-to-day whether I can earn enough money to buy food for my dog and me. I have gone through my retirement savings, and I'm only 62. Of course, I've been retired for 20 years already due to my health issues, and I hadn't planned on that happening. If I hadn't gotten sick, I likely would still be working, or would have just retired at 59 three years ago. The picture would have looked a lot different.

So that's one thing. Another big one is really the root cause of my money troubles. I developed symptoms of Lupus in 1990, went out on medical leave in 1998 from my very well-paying job as general manager of the Pacific region for a national consulting company, was out for a year, went back to work as a management consultant in 2000, only to have a career-ending accident one month later while on a business trip to Boston. I have tried many different jobs in the last 20 years, but I have never been able to go back to work full-time without triggering the severe pain, fatigue, and brain fog that are the hallmarks of my Lupus. I just don't have the earning power that I would have if I could work full-time. Consequently, a lot of doors that would normally be open to a seasoned telecom pro with an MBA from Vanderbilt have been closed to me.

After I got sick and starting taking various medications to control my symptoms, my ex-husband starting treating me differently. He was never on board with my retirement, even when I was awarded Social Security disability on my very first try. He seemed to believe that my illness had made me an unequal partner in our marriage, and although he didn't leave physically, he withdrew from my emotionally in the very first year of my retirement. We separated in 2010, and I believe my illness was a large factor in our divorce. He just didn't want to be married to someone who couldn't snow ski or sail or travel or even drink wine with him any more.

My ex-husband wasn't the only one who had a hard time accepting the fact that I was ill. Every member of my immediate family seemed to reject my diagnosis. The reason was always, "we just don't want you to have Lupus." Unfortunately, that's not the way illness works. I didn't want to have it either! But I do, and their refusal to believe that I was "really sick" was a source of pain for me for a long time. Some people who I believed to be close friends abandoned me too. They couldn't handle the fact that I had gained weight, that I no longer had my dream job, that I was dependent on my husband and that all I seemed to do was take my dog to the park. It was very hurtful to watch the people that I cared about stop coming around. I think they almost felt that my bad fortune was contagious; that if this calamity could happen to me, it could happen to them. Of course, it could happen to anyone, but not from being around me.

Another loss that I faced when my husband and I separated was my beautiful home on the San Francisco Bay. I loved that house, and we had been happy there for a long time. But it was also the house I got sick in, and where I spent hours and hours in bed, watching the days pass, wondering if I was ever going to get better. After I started going to LA regularly in 2005 to pursue my acting career, I realized that the rain and mold in our home was making my pain much worse. I always felt so much better when I was in a drier climate. Ultimately, that led me to my home in Tucson. Some might look at me and think that I am all alone, with no kids and no family anywhere close by. And while that is true, I have friends here and everywhere I have lived that I am still in touch with. I am a citizen of the world now, so I don't feel displaced from anywhere.

So yes, I lost my career, my husband, my house, some friends, and to a large extent, my family. But these losses have forced me to focus on what really matters to me. I am trying to live a life of service now, after so many years of being an executive and not feeling like anything I did really mattered. Yes, I'm divorced, but I have learned to truly relish my own company. Solitude is a pleasure for me now. I live in a small apartment, but I'm surrounded by my books and treasures that I've collected from around the world. I don't have a family, but I have my beloved dog, and my friends are my family of choice. And I don't have much money any more, but I have found that this forces me to really live one day at a time. I find that if I trust in the abundance of the Universe, I am provided with what I need, like manna was given daily to the children of Israel during their Exodus. It's not a bad way to live.

Is my life in ruins? You could say so, I guess. But I've always loved ruins. I went to Rome in 1993 and was struck by how much remains from antiquity, and how it is integrated into the city. And I visited Athens in 1998. The Parthenon is in ruins, yet it is the majestic crown of the Acropolis, visited by millions each year. It is a beautiful, noble ruin. And I'm still here too, surviving, and thriving, no matter the circumstances. If that is a life in ruins, I'll take it.

#Lupus #Disability #Rome #Athens #Parthenon #Ruins #NecessaryLosses

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