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When Caring for Your Chronic Illnesses Means Moving Back Home

“Who says you can’t go home?

There’s only one place they call you one of their own.”

— “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles

This song was my theme on a 43-hour drive across the country, moving back to my hometown. After 33 years out of state, with many intrastate and even overseas moves, I decided to go back to my little hometown.

Once 12 years of chronic lower back pain, two failed surgeries, and a bipolar disorder – not otherwise specified/mixed states diagnosis led to a painful divorce, I went home. I waited until my youngest graduated high school so as not to lose time with her. When it first hit me that moving back home was a possibility, it was an odd thought. To whom? To what? Why? As a failure with my tail between my legs? No way. As a survivor with my head held high? Maybe. But those things don’t matter when you go home. They know you. They love you. They don’t care if you are a smashing success or an abject failure. That’s what it means to go home.

So I mailed seven boxes, packed every inch of my sedan, and set out with my Golden Retriever in the passenger seat to my theme music. I was ambivalent about taking my dog. She had been with my ex, but with my youngest heading to college they were looking to give her away. Why not move home? I am not, by nature, more romantic than practical, so I spoke with my practical friends. One said, “You don’t want that! It’ll tie you down.” The other said, “It depends what kind of lifestyle you want.” I threw caution to the wind. Knowing that she would be a comfort and joy to my aging parents and a companion to me, I set off with her in the passenger seat for the drive of my life.

Because of my emotional and pain struggles, I had already left building a new career for driving limos. I hadn’t enjoyed a job that much in a long time. The responsibility was low, I enjoyed my colleagues, and I drove nice cars. I could manage my pain and emotions. I was able to locate a few limo companies back home and was willing to continue in that work. However, through my family I was able to locate a job fundraising for a local nonprofit that has been heaven. I’d done that work as part of my job, and had always thought a full-time position would be a fit. For me, the pressure is actually low — it fits my skill set and the atmosphere is low pressure. I don’t need to be 100 percent to do it well.

When I stress that I earn less than half of what I used to, I remember that I have health insurance and that finally, I am not in a job that takes 110 percent and wears me down. I work in the historical society/museum field. Our organization educates about the history and culture of where I grew up. So not only am I back home, I am “home-home” — engaged deeply in understanding my ancestral land.

I am now at my two-year anniversary of my move. I’d recommend to those struggling with emotional or pain issues who are considering it — you can go home. People you grew up with just know you — and you know them — in a way all your friends from afar can’t. My dog has been the brightest light in my parent’s life in a time of their decline. Just dropping her with them for the day does as much to help them as anything else I do. And though she isn’t convenient and limits my independence, she is a constant companion, keeps me going, and is the last piece of my family living under my roof. Rather than being a hindrance, she’s been great for my dating life — women find something endearing about a single man having a furry best friend. Go figure.

I had lived an almost fanatical religious life since adolescence and worked for and led religious organizations. I have ditched my religion after so much loss and hurt. My illnesses have made me a pragmatist. Health for me is being on my bike on a Sunday morning, with endorphins — endogenous morphine — pumping and easing my pain. I had begun to believe much more in coincidences than divine guidance. However, the factors that led to my finding a home back home sometimes were just too good, too serendipitous, to take as chance. Even though I can’t return to an all-knowing deity guiding my life, I leave an opening for something more out there. Perhaps returning home creates a kind of magic.

The pain is still persistent, disabling, and limiting. It augments my depression. I struggle to work full time so I use all my sick days and make accommodations where I can. I love my work. I needed my little nonprofit and I think they needed me. It was difficult finding new health care. After a few months the high of the move faded and reality set in. Buying and settling into a home took time, energy and money I barely had. But I’ve survived, even thrived, because I came to believe I could go home again.

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Thinkstock photo by Noel Hendrickson