Thinking and writing about Teri Garr prompts me to make a point we have discussed in various contexts. It bears repeating because the subject of isolation is troubling and speaks to a sad dynamic shared by many who know serious sickness. Again it applies to folks living with any of the large load of illnesses loose in the land, not just MS. Many of my most painful memories start with self-imposed aloneness. I have demonstrated the strange habit of sentencing myself to prison.
This is not circumstantial isolation, limiting mobility issues or financial pressures precluding venturing out into our world. Those are tough enough. I am referring to a crippling state of mind that causes us to curl up, retreating into our minds and pushing others away. I have been there. I wrote about it online for AARP: The Magazine.
My cave is dark and damp and will only pull me down. I know that. “Get out of your head,” a doctor I consult from time to time had advised. She is a neuro-psycho pharmacologist. I have trouble even saying that. “Engage, she advised.” I am good at that, though these days I must force myself to do it.
I believe I am not alone in the cold of the warehouse. The chronically ill often retreat when times become painful and the instinct to protect ourselves sets in. We hunker down. It is a defensive maneuver, sometimes an act of desperation, though too often that can be counter-productive. Alienation from body can be complete when intuitively a sick person knows recovery is unlikely and faces the demons guarding the permanent condition. Waking up to another day of the same struggle is exhausting.
In Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman’s neighbor, Charley, said in a living room eulogy, “Nobody dast blame this man. You don’t understand.” There is a deadening quality to what we impose on ourselves and, often, the inability to break out. And others don’t get it. We cannot judge Teri Garr. We don’t know her life. I feel bad only because I can imagine her pain.