Introducing Solidarity, I said the kind guidance and support of two remarkable women meant my ideas for a blog transpired into reality.
Now I’d like to introduce Ruth. Like me, she has been a single mother. Having two close family members with serious mental health conditions, she has learned a great deal about how it affects our lives. In this post, she shares her experience of living with her own disabling condition, for which there is no cure.
Ruth has had a successful blog, published three books and enjoyed a long professional career. Despite our different challenges, Ruth believes our journeys have much in common, and we can all support and learn from one another.
This is Ruth’s story.
Once I was strong.
A strong young woman, who rode horses, mustered sheep, and competed in show jumping.
Carried my toddlers with ease, helped set up the tent on camping holidays.
That’s physical strength.
I’ve always had the mental kind – an inner confidence and sureness that seems convincing from the outside.
But now, in my seventh decade, salute-to-the-sun is as far beyond me as springing into the saddle.
And hauling myself up from the floor is mortifying.
I was in my early fifties when the diagnosis was confirmed: multiple sclerosis.
Leaving the neurologist’s rooms, I found my way back to my car along a suburban street. As I passed each front garden, bright and still in the autumn sunshine, I remember seeing the edges of each flower and leaf limned with light. In one hour, my world had changed, forever.
Over the next 17 years, the disease stayed close. I called it my watchdog. Step out of line, and it barks. Stress, overdoing it, and heat were the main offenders.
One evening I returned home from work, and found my teenage son had dyed his long hair – green! The next day he was to start a holiday job I’d arranged in an accountant’s office. I felt betrayed and angry. We fought.
Next morning when I awoke, my vision was a blur.
Somehow I got through my essential meetings. Within a couple of weeks, the inflammation subsided and I could see properly again.
Four years ago, I could walk a kilometre to the railway station, and back again, with just a couple of brief rests.
Now, I walk nowhere without an aid; 1000 paces with a walker is my personal best.
Two years ago I could stand unsupported in front of a crowd at the launch of one of my books, and speak for 10 minutes.
Now, I’ve had to change my dentist because I can no longer get up the stairs to his surgery.
A year ago, I could drive a car and go wherever I wanted, whenever I chose.
Today, I depend on others.
My grandfather was a strong man, one of our country’s pioneers. His workman’s hands were huge – grown thus from a lifetime spent wresting productive land for sheep and crops from the grasp of forest and scrub. When a hurtling sheep knocked him over in the yards, he broke his hip and never walked independently again.
My grandfather was in his early eighties then. Each morning after breakfast my father would help him down the back steps of our homestead and settle him in a cane chair.
I was about four years old. Sliding past my father’s legs, I’d quickly take up my position at my grandfather’s side.
As the hours passed, we’d tell each other stories, or simply sit there, bound in stillness. He became my anchor and my best friend.
Now I have grandchildren of my own. I love how unselfconscious they are, chattering as we cross the street, me walking slow and funny. They don’t care how we look.
Once, I was strong.
A strong young woman, with a confident stride.
My losses mount.
Yet they connect me to a world of losses.
I know how it feels, to be one of those who have lost something, or someone.
And I see that youth is no protection.
I hold on to my grandfather, to what he left me.
The knowing that staying still, being present for someone, is a gift.
It doesn’t matter, my walking – or not walking.
I dig deep, and I find my treasure.
Ruth’s story resonates with me. The sense of loss of who I was and who I understood myself to be. The awareness of the watchdog waiting.
Ruth explained beautifully what her story shows: we rail against our losses, mourn what our lives might have been, and yet we find a way to adapt. In the end, though, it is how we reach a place of acceptance that counts and this can be transformative.
And talking about transformation seems particularly appropriate on New Year’s Eve. I hope it is a likely topic to inspire future blogs.
If you’d like to know more –
Ruth Cotton’s Hidden Hamilton blog has details of her popular books and Facebook page.
See a short video about Ruth’s Hidden Hamilton work and her MS.