45: Full Circle

45: Full Circle

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

Full Circle

Human life is purely a matter of deciding what’s important to you.


Having barely recovered from a spinal fusion, I heard my doctor say, “Glenda, you have Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease, an incurable neuromuscular disease that affects your peripheral nerves. It will not affect your life span but could possibly put you in a wheelchair later.”

I walked out of his office wondering how in the world this could happen. I was working two jobs, had a husband and two teenagers to care for, and I was only fifty years old.

It wasn’t long until reality set in—I was forced to have one surgery after another on my feet. I can still remember the doctor’s words: “Glenda, use the scooters in the grocery stores because that will save you a lot of energy, energy you can use for more important things like bathing.”

I didn’t know how difficult it would be to follow his advice. I live in a small town where I know a lot of people, and the first time I attempted to use a scooter, I couldn’t bring myself to sit down. It felt like I was giving up. Instead, I walked through the store in excruciating pain! I didn’t do that many times, though, until I succumbed to the scooter. In no time, I was driving so fast that one day I turned a corner and almost hit another customer.

I’ll never forget the day I went to the post office after getting my first leg brace. I was attempting to get out of the car while keeping my back straight and moving the bulky brace at the same time. Another car had just pulled in beside me, and I didn’t have a lot of room to open the door. I was having a lot of difficulty, and my frustration level was rising! When I looked over into the car beside me, I saw an elderly man putting on his oxygen mask. Humbled, I decided the brace wasn’t so bad after all.

The first time I was fitted for a brace also sticks in my mind. An energetic man knelt at my feet and began putting plaster of Paris around my foot and leg. As he worked, dropping puddles of plaster on the floor, he talked casually about the weather. I wanted to lash out at the young man. Instead, I sat quietly and wondered what had caused my anger. I realized I was grieving the loss of my ankle. I didn’t know it then, but I’d deal with that each time I was fitted for a brace.

With all of my surgeries, I began to feel overwhelmed, especially since my son was battling a huge problem of his own—an alcohol addiction. Between my diagnosis and his situation, which was causing car wrecks on a regular basis, things looked quite hopeless.

I knew I had to make some changes in order to survive. I looked at what I had working for me instead of what I had lost. I had always been an artist and had taken a creative writing class a few years before my diagnosis. I needed to simplify my life, so I decided to give up my job, which required me to travel a lot. I developed a plan. With my husband’s help, I would make an art studio in a small building, once used for his office, that he no longer needed.

So, with a few coats of blue paint and a couple of window boxes for petunias, the building looked like a dollhouse. It was such fun working together on the building, and it also lessened my grief. Before long, I had my CD playing Beethoven while I brushed paint on my canvas. With the windows open, I could smell the wild honeysuckle growing near the edge of the woods. Sometimes, I glimpsed the geese as they landed on Lake Chatuge. I was grateful for my new peaceful refuge.

I’d like to say everything went well from that point, but life doesn’t always happen that way. I ended up having a total of four surgeries on my feet, and learned to walk in braces and also use walkers, canes, and scooters. At times I felt at least a hundred years old.

Not only did I not know how to react to all of these changes, my friends didn’t know either. No one knew exactly what to say to me. In order to get the rest I needed I had to set boundaries, and some of them didn’t go over so well. Instead of dropping by for a visit, I asked people to call first. I also turned off my phone for a couple of hours every day. At first it felt strange being still. I’d always been on the run. It took about six months before I could accept not going to work. I still looked at the job listings for at least five years.

I also had to make some changes with my friends. At this time in my life, I needed to be around positive and encouraging people, not folks who would drain me with negativity. So, I worked at making new friends who had compassion, and let go of some who were negative. It was not easy. It was also not easy to keep a simple lifestyle, because there are so many expectations from other people. Ultimately, I realized if I ran myself into the ground, I would be the one who had to deal with the pain, and somehow that helped me make my decisions.

There have been many things I couldn’t change, like my son’s life. At this time, he has had six accidents. But, to my amazement, he is still alive. One car accident cost him a kidney, and it occurred at the same time I was waiting to have surgery.

Due to my physical pain, and his accident, I fell into a severe depression. With therapy and counseling, I am now feeling good again. I still go to counseling weekly.

I’m no longer in braces but I do use a scooter on a part-time basis, such as long shopping trips. A few days ago, a fellow asked me, “Glenda, how are you doing?”

I thought for a moment before answering, “You know, I believe these last few years have been the best ones of my life! Even though my life has had its challenges, having survived them, I’ve found what makes my life worth living, what is right for me and most importantly what is real.”

In the wee hours of the morning, during excruciating pain, I learned to call out to my Maker for help, and he gave me the peace that passeth all understanding. I also learned that He is tough enough to endure my anger and is forgiving of it.

A few years ago, when I thought my life was over, it was actually beginning. I never dreamed I’d be writing these words, nor did I ever think my first poetry chapbook would be published last year. I can honestly say now, in hindsight, I am grateful for all of the lessons these challenges have taught me. They taught me how to live. I have now come full circle.

~Glenda Barrett

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