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Going it alone.

Going It Alone

Two years ago, Stella Flowers of Davenport, Iowa left her husband of 34 years and the five-bedroom home in which raised their children. She moved across town into a small, one-level house, alone. She was depressed, lonely and unsure of what the future would bring.

Stella didn't feel she had much of a choice in her decision to live alone. Severe rheumatoid arthritis often left her bedridden or in a wheelchair, but her husband and grown children did not accept or understand her illness or her inability to be active. Adding to the unhappy state of her family relationships was the fact that she physically could not handle the many stair steps in the home she had loved for 22 years. The decision was long in coming and hard to make, but finally she moved to a smaller home that was much easier for her to manage. Her husband refused to move with her.

Today, Stella is a different woman. "My lifestyle has changed completely," she exclaims. "I have overcome!" With therapy, Stella's physical problems have improved during the past two years, but her emotional outlook has improved even more. "I'm not under the constant stress of living in an unhappy household anymore," she says. "I have peace of mind now."

Whether it's due to divorce, death, lack of a suitable partner or just personal preference, many, many Americans today are single and living alone. For people with arthritis, the divorce rate is even higher than the already inflated rate for the population as a whole. Add to that the problems single people with mobility limitations can have meeting, dating and developing relationships with others, and the picture becomes clear: There are quite a few people with arthritis who are "going it alone"-some

But is that so bad? There is a common attitude in our country that being single is a temporary and undesirable status of unlucky people who are looking for something better. As Stephen Johnson, PhD, says in his book First Person Singular -- Living the Good Life Alone, "We Americans are gregarious people, often insecure in solitude, and more than a little unsure of what to do with ourselves when alone. Most of us have learned that the really good times in life always involve others. Loners, we are taught, are strange and unhappy people."

Breaking psychological barriers

The truth is, alone doesn't have to mean lonely. Or unhappy or strange or unwanted. Depending on your perspective, it can represent independence, freedom and a multitude of possibilities. The challenge is to rid yourself of the stereotypes about singlehood and learn a whole new way of looking at life.

Stephen Johnson writes, "This is a couples culture.... To be grown up in this society still means to be married. Most of us have been taught to think about our adult development in terms of our position in a functioning, twoparent family. But if you're not in one, you may have to change your thinking."

Despite the stereotypes, the fact is that many Americans are choosing to be single and are living full, happy lives. People who did not choose to be single but find themselves in that situation are realizing that life can still be an exhilarating journey.

No one is an island

Single or not, no one goes through life completely alone. Who do you call when you have good news? Who do you talk to when you're feeling down or need some advice?

The people you turn to with matters of importance are your support system, a group that usually includes family, friends and significant others. The stronger a support system people have, the happier and more well-adjusted they tend to be. In fact, studies have shown that emotional support plays a vital role in the well-being of people with arthritis.

"We've found that the availability of social support can at least partially offset physical problems and can help people with arthritis function better," says. Susan Reisine, a sociologist with the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, Conn. "In terms of psychological well-being, it's very important to feel accepted and valued in personal relationships."

Stella Flowers agrees wholeheartedly. When she first moved out on her own, she didn't have many friends and often felt lonely. Soon she began having lunch at a club where senior citizens gather for food and companionship. She also got more involved with her church.

"I joined a church-sponsored group that meets twice a month to make craft items for the church bazaar and got to know some people," Stella says. "I made new friends that accept me the way I am - disability and all!"

It's hard sometimes for Stella to get out - her mobility limitations make it impossible for her to drive, so she must take a public transportation van or have a friend drive her. But she believes it's worth the effort to be able to socialize with people who understand and accept her.

Socializing is vitally important for people who live alone, but people with arthritis sometimes find it hard to put forth the energy necessary for social contacts. Although the level of your social activity will depend on the severity of your arthritis and on your own personal preference and personality, everyone needs some contact with the outside world.

Consider joining a group of people with a common interest, such as a birdwatching group, a book club, the church choir or a volunteer effort for your favorite charity. The Arthritis Foundation chapter in your area may offer a support group or exercise class that interests you. Or take a non-credit course in fiction writing, pottery making or gourmet cooking. You'll make new friends while developing interests you may have never gotten around to exploring in the past.

Of course, don't forget to nurture your old friendships in addition to making new ones. If you've found yourself losing touch with friends you'd like to keep, take the initiative to suggest getting together for dinner or a movie. And don't make the mistake of assuming your married friends won't be interested in socializing with a single person - they'll probably welcome an invitation from an old friend.

If you're unable to get out very often because of your arthritis, your telephone can serve as a link to the outside world, suggests Ms. Reisine. Keep up with friends from your armchair and get together with them in person when your health permits.

Living alone successfully

Although social contact is important, everyone is alone sometimes. To live alone successfully, you must learn how to be comfortably alone.

Stephen Johnson writes, "The state of aloneness is enjoyable absorption or contended relaxation in solitude. It is discovering the joy of your own company, the unhindered delight of doing exactly what you want to do when what you want to do when you want to do it. It is, like love, one of life's peak experiences."

Enjoy your solitude! Discover the secret delight of sneaking off to a movie alone, ordering a pizza made exactly the way you like it or spending all afternoon shopping in antique stores. You may be surprised to find out just how much you enjoy your own company!

If you don't have plans to do something with another person on a particular night, that's certainly no reason to do nothing at all. Develop interests and hobbies you can pursue alone or with a companion. Rethink your ideas about what you can and can't do alone. When you're in the mood for a nice meal in a restaurant or you want to see a new play at the local theater, by all means go!

If you like yourself and feel comfortable by yourself, you'll probably enjoy your time alone. But that doesn't always come naturally! You may have a hard time breaking old habits and ways of thinking at first, but in time you will realize that a single lifestyle has its own special advantages. Eventually you will come to know that you do not need your selfworth validated by another human being - that you can be a worthwhile person all by yourself.

Stephen Johnson asks, "What if you viewed single life as an exciting challenge in which much could be learned rather than as a temporary discomfort to be endured?" Remember, anyone can make a feast of the banquet of life - even at a table for one!
COPYRIGHT 1989 Arthritis Foundation, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Witter, Dianne C.
Publication:Arthritis Today
Date:Mar 1, 1989
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