Self-imposed Exile

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.



8 Responses to Self-imposed Exile

  1. Geof February 11, 2014 at 10:22 am #

    I find the hardest part is not wishing those close to me to understand, or at least not fully. How could anyone understand who does not stand in our shoes, and how could I wish that upon them? So by reflex, I often hide my experiences, or at least I try, however poorly, to disguise my wants, hurts and confusions. Not only would I not wish it upon my loved ones, I lack the words and eloquence to describe the experience of my MS.

    It is a somewhat cruel joke when MS leaves me word-fishing to describe the jumble of confused neurological signals. So I curl up even as the rest of the world sees or pretends I am all right. My refusal to always acknowledge the impact of my MS to others rightly pisses off my wife to no end, but I’ve lost the way out of my exile.

    • Richard M. Cohen February 11, 2014 at 11:24 am #

      Exactly and well said. You express yourself well.


    • Debbie February 13, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

      Geoff,you’re not a word-fisher,you are a wordsmith,just not in the physical sense.
      Where would we be if we couldn’t express ourselves online?
      (btw,my husband is always pissed off at me too for being this way .)
      Thanks for your perspective,it really helped me.

  2. Monica February 11, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

    A self imposed prison sentence, I’d never thought about it that way but it makes sense. We avoid people not only because we think they don’t understand but also because beefier a presence might cause them more pain. I feel like i digged myself into a hole and even though I recognize that this is happening I can’t seem to get myself out
    All the best

    • Richard M. Cohen February 11, 2014 at 8:39 pm #

      We avoid people for our own very personal reasons. They all are legitimate.


  3. Mark February 12, 2014 at 5:54 am #

    I can’t wait to get to my cave! As the sole source of income for the family, I have to be in front of people….blurred vision, gait impairment and fatigue notwithstanding. The struggle is exhausting (Thank you, Richard). But we can’t expect others to understand. I don’t know what it is like to be a woman or to be black, etc. So I wear the MS as a badge of honor. Imagine how great all of us would be without MS. The planet couldn’t handle us a full capacity!

    • Richard M. Cohen February 12, 2014 at 9:11 am #

      You can rent my cave. It’s getting boring in there.


  4. Kate Aquilino February 12, 2014 at 10:23 am #

    I avoid people for me and for them. When I’m too tired to know the difference, I insult people as often as compliment them! And often I don’t even realize it. The fog. The fatigue. It’s just all too much. Nevertheless…

    Keep up the Spirit