Before returning to college at the age of 33, I was a stay-at-home mom providing family day care. My life was busy, but I had this deep yearning to do more. I chose occupational therapy because of its holistic foundation, the belief that healing is possible through meaningful occupation.
My career as an occupational therapist and rehab manager satisfied my need to be of service for only a short time. In my personal life, my children were beginning to graduate from high school and preparing to head off to college. That deep yearning to do more was present, once again, and I knew my life was changing. I decided to return to school. And then it began.
This was a banner year, filled with celebration and sorrow. It was the roller coaster year that I will never forget. I graduated with a Master’s degree in organizational psychology in the Spring. In May, on my youngest daughter’s 18th birthday, she sustained minor injuries from a car accident that resulted in the death of the driver of the other car. It was a sad time. The downward spiral continued in July with my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis(MS), primary progressive type. In August my position as Rehab Director ended. It was a very painful experience even though anticipated and a good decision on the part of my employer. This painful period was an opening or portal to my personal journey towards health and wellness. It has been a bumpy ride.
Though I don’t like to focus on my illnesses, it is not who I am, I do want to establish some credibility with you. In addition to multiple sclerosis, I experience increased swelling and pain in my left leg due to chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) as a result of a blood clot. To manage the swelling I wear support stockings, elevate my leg throughout the day and walk as much as I can. I find it most interesting that one condition requires movement and the other limits it. Some days I feel like a war going on inside of my body. I am no longer able to “work” as an occupational therapist.
In October, as part of my participation in a Frontal-Temporal Dementia (FTD) Study at the Mayo Clinic, I learned that I have the familial gene. My father and an aunt passed away in 2014 from FTD and I have other family members who also carry the gene. The gene expresses in 90% of those who test positive. I am hoping that I am in the 10% but know that things don’t always turn out the way we want them to. Thankfully, I am not showing any signs of dementia on my MRI or neuropsych testing which is part of the study.
After more that 15 years of managing illness, this is what I know. MS has been a great teacher and I am grateful for its many gifts and hopefully in the future I will come to view the familial FTD gene in the same way. Without these illnesses in my body, I would still be living a very busy life, rushing from here to there, and working my way up the career ladder – letting life lead me. Today, I am choosing to live my life in loving awareness. That is, accepting “what is” with dignity and grace, grateful for the time to write, volunteer, take classes and teach, all activities I was too busy to do before. Sometimes it is easy, other times it is damn hard. How bittersweet it is that as an occupational therapist I used to preach self-care and now my life is all about taking care of myself. The path of healing, mindfulness and self-compassion is not an easy one.
This blog tells my story. I am not seeking sympathy or pity with this blog. I hope that by sharing my story you will find support for your own journey with chronic illness or aging. I love this quote from Stephen Levine:
“When your fear touches someone’s pain it becomes pity; when your love touches someone’s pain, it becomes compassion.”
Do not fear for me. Instead find that place of compassion within your own being for yourself and all others who wish to live “what is” with dignity and grace.
The gifts of this time in my life are many. My “limited” employment has allowed me to become more aware of who I am and my place. I get to “be” an occupational therapist even though I can no longer work as one. I am truly grateful for the time to explore new ways of being as well as pursue my own personal healing. I invite you to join me.
Summary of Education and Training
BA – Occupational Therapy
MS – Organizational Psychology
Certified Mindful Coach
Certified Seasons of Change/Purpose Clarity Coach
Certified Chair Yoga Instructor (Lakshmi Voelker)
Adapting Yoga for Disability, Levels I/II (Mind/Body Solutions)