A Divorce Journey : BLOG 4 Part 3
HEALTH ISSUES AND DIVORCE: In 3 Parts
Part 3: The Lessons I Learned
By Lynn Kaplan, Certified Divorce Doula & Divorce Coach
This is the third and final part of my three-part blog post on Health Issues and Divorce. In the first two, I refer to injuries, illnesses and incidents that have deeply affected my life. These experiences are truly the essence of what I bring to my work as a Divorce Doula. If you haven’t yet, I do suggest reading the first two parts in order to put all the details into context. As with all my posts, my hope is to inspire others to help them wade through their own personal challenges.
THE LESSONS I LEARNED:
It is now almost 18 years that I have been living with chronic health issues. My son, 17, has had a mother who has been “ill” for his entire life. There are times when he barely notices my challenges and other times when his life is greatly affected as period when I’m greatly struggling.
My daughter, now 28, was 11 when my fibromyalgia flared up and became debilitating. Her life truly took a 360 from having a vibrant, bubbly mother to one who begged her throughout her teen years to keep the house as quiet as possible, because the only relief I could get from the pain was through sleep.
And, as I’ve written earlier, my marriage suffered greatly from all of the encompassing issues that surrounded my illness; from the financial changes to the physical limitations and the compromises that needed to be made. My then-husband hung in for 6 years and then decided he was out.
But where was I in all of this, in all of my roles and responsibilities: mother, breadwinner, friend, daughter, sister, aunt, homeowner, cook, day to day house planner, dog owner, etc. And what got me through it all? If I had to roll it all up into one word it would have to be RESILIENCE.
Other words that come to mind to describe my experience at the time; frustrated, angry, hopeful, anticipating (both positive and negative), anxious, headstrong, bitchy, tired, grateful…
But the three words that were ingrained in me were never give up. I would crawl into bed and feel like giving up, but then those fierce wheels in my mind would start to turn and I’d begin to think of ideas of how I could get through whatever was going on, or get an idea of something I wanted or had to do (ie; sew a new pillow for the couch or, damn it, just make dinner for the kids because there was no one else there to do it) and I would dig into my deepest places, get out of bed and head downstairs.
Where did I learn this resilience? I am truly blessed and honest in saying I was raised by incredible parents. Although they divorced when I was 15, they both continued to be my warriors and wholeheartedly support me through all my life’s ups and downs.
When I was 35, one of my very closest friends and a woman I admired to the ends of the earth, died suddenly of heart failure. She was just a few years younger than me. I feel the need to honour my friend who had such a very short life, as her death taught me the greatest lesson.
I truly have just one life to live, and I want to live it with reverence and purpose.
When Nomi passed, I was a single mother to my 5 year old daughter and I already had some minor health issues. Losing her lit a fire in me to build my own business in which I could educate others on my love for animals, while still being an “at home mom” to my daughter who shared this love of animals, helping me with events from the very start. With less than $500, mostly from a credit card, I started Whimz Live Animals, an educational company that featured small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, bugs and birds. With some exotic pets of our own plus some new ones I added to the mix, plus carrying cages and other needed supplies, I started out doing birthday parties. I quickly then expanded into programs at schools, churches, synagogues, camps and corporate events. With Hope and Hard Work, I was booked solid within two months. By month three I was hiring staff, and I never looked back. Thirteen years later when my health issues forced me to sell my company, I had over 60 animals and more staff and events booked than I ever imagined I would. The number of children and adults who have been introduced to my love and respect for animals through Whimz is beyond my wildest dreams. I keep a photo of Nomi next to my bed from the time we lived in Israel together. Although she passed much too young, her spirit is always with me. She taught me another valuable lesson: be bold, make the moments count and give it your all.
I remarried seven years after I started Whimz, but those years of being a single mother while running a successful business gave me confidence and taught me self-reliance. I would need these for the next stage, when I entered the black hole of debilitating illness. I’m truly not sure how I would have managed had I not come into this stage in my life without this drive.
When my fibromyalgia flared up it took me close to two years to get a proper diagnosis. Learning that it was an auto-immune disease with (at that time) no cure, only ways of managing the debilitating symptoms, I felt absolutely crushed.
Luckily, my drive to never give up kicked in and I quickly understood that I needed to do everything in my personal power to find the best quality of life that I could for both me and my family. I began to learn more and more to help me find this quality.
“Mulling”, that is what I would do when I was stuck in bed with either my fatigue or pain, or more often, both. When I think back on those days, it brings up such sad emotions, leading to tears. I had to say no to so many things. I had to say no to holding and breastfeeding my newborn son as I could not even be touched. No to going out for brunches, lunches or dinners as the noise and sitting in a straight-backed chair and the wait was excruciating. No to movie theatres as standing in the line or sitting in the seat aggravated my symptoms. No to grocery shopping as it was too painful to push the cart. No to day trips exploring the outskirts of my city: ones that I so dearly loved as they were reminiscent of my childhood weekends. When I did try to do any of these plus many more activities, my fatigue was so overpowering that I would break down in tears if I could not crawl into bed in a quiet room. I finally had to say no to Whimz, after my family doctor made it clear to me that if I kept working so hard I would soon end up in a wheelchair. And so I sold the company. At this point I did understand that I needed to take time to rest, which I did. It was also around this time that my marriage broke down, leaving me once again as a single mother.
Although I am teary in thinking now about all those things I had to let go of, I am sitting here in my cozy living room, in the house I own in Toronto, with my four dogs sleeping in various places around the room, and I feel so blessed that life threw me those challenges. In all the quiet times I have had to “mull”, I learned to build a life on terms that could not only support my challenges, but pushed me to find joy in the activities I could do. That's the next lesson: learn to reframe and adjust.
I understood that I would be spending a lot of time in my home, therefore it needed to be my sanctuary, my oasis and my playground. I filled the living room with tons of cozy pillows and throw blankets. I arranged all the small appliances out on the counter of my kitchen with easy to reach ingredients so that I could cook the nutritious, clean and energizing foods that my body craved. The overstuffed pillows flowed into my dining room onto chairs where I could comfortably sit through long meals and good conversations. I invited friends over for early potluck dinners or evenings where we would cook together -- sushi making night was always a hit -- along with at home Korean barbeque.
My art supplies, sewing machine and indoor gardening supplies followed into the dining room so that I always had easy access to a space to create. I filled my house with plants, not only as I knew they would purify the air, but to give me the Nature Therapy that I craved, even when I could not get outdoors. I’m a knitter, not a good one, generally just mindless scarves that become gifts to friends and family, or given to the homeless on cold winter days. But there were times when the movements needed to knit would hurt my shoulders, so I learned to cross stitch, finding sweet patterns, my favourites being from an artist in Newfoundland. That's another lesson: make your home your sanctuary, and fill it with everything you need to sustain yourself.
Within a few years of selling Whimz, I did go back to school. For so many reasons that made sense, I chose to study Family Mediation and Arbitration. I discussed with the head of the department my physical challenges and the university accommodated my needs allowing me to study part time and while sitting in a cozy chair. I shared with them that they would never be sorry that they gave me this opportunity. When it was time to hang up my own shingle, I knew I had to reflect back on the lessons I had learned over the past few years. I brainstormed on how I could use my new skills to help people move forward in a positive way through the challenges of divorce, while still nurturing myself. A few hours with a business coach who also understood my physical challenges, and the idea of becoming a Divorce Doula was born.
At first I saw clients in my home office, but as the word spread and my practice grew, with so many people contacting me from outside of Toronto and across Canada, I began working more and more by phone. Working by phone also allowed me to continue working seamlessly while I spent summers in California with my family. An article on The Benefits of Phone Therapy convinced me that I could make the shift to working only by phone. I redesigned my work space to give me even more physical comfort.
Today I do have the big corner office, it just happens to be the Cozy Corner of my L-shaped couch in my living room and yes, with all four dogs laying around keeping me company.
I do give my clients the heads up that my furry companions may bark if there is a delivery.
Every single day I reflect on how blessed I am to be able to do the work that is so important and rewarding to me, while having my body fully supported in comfort.
Yet another lesson: practice gratitude.
Although I have had to endure more than my share of health issues and the challenges that come with them, I am still just as strong-willed, stubborn and independent as when, at age 18, I ventured off to work at a ski resort in the Rockies where I sustained the head injury that brought on my fibromyalgia. I am determined to not ever be seen as frail. My son calls me Bob the Builder, because I am forever working on some project around the house. I’ve sanded and refinished our stairs, pulled all the tiling and drywall down in the upstairs shower to find that damn leak, and then fixed it all. I revised my home in Central Toronto into an Urban Farm where I have hatched and raised chickens, ducks and button quails for their fresh eggs. I grow vegetables, herbs and pollinator plants in both my front and back yard gardens. I spend every end of summer gathering friends for a weekend of canning bushels and bushels of tomatoes to make a year’s supply of sauce (anyone who helps gets paid in jars of homemade tomato sauce with basil grown in my front-yard vegetable garden).
So, no, I'm not frail, nor do I have any regrets. I have certainly lost friends along the way who could not accept the adjustments that I had to make. I’ve learned that it’s okay to let those friends go; I have made so very many new friends through this journey. I have learned the great need to equip my children to be ready for anything that life can throw at them, to show them all the different ways of living, to teach them to dig deep and never give up, to look in every nook and cranny to find their passions and then to follow them.
That's the final lesson: build resilience, in yourself, and in your children.
It is now deeply ingrained in me to simplify when possible, to reframe when needed and then to turn those adjustment into spectacular moments and activities, as tiny as each may be.
This time of year is usually canning time for me; peaches, pickled cucumbers and mushrooms, tomatoes sauce and jams. When I realized that the steam from canning would trigger my current lung and sinus issues, it was time to reframe and adjust...this year will be
Easy Refrigerator Pickles using the cucumbers from my neighbour's yard.
Here's the recipe if you want to give them go.