Learning to Live Again

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

| This is the 214th story of Our Life Logs |

I had dreams, plans, and a strong will to achieve. When that all went out of the window, I was not left with despair. Instead, I was left with a new beginning.

I was born in 1981 in Columbus, Ohio, the eldest of four children. Because my mother was a homemaker and my father ran his own business from our home, their schedules were flexible enough to take our family on day trips and the occasional week away. It meant we were raised by the wonders of nature, learning to love the woods, the streams, and fields, passionately.

Me, holding my younger sister, 1984.

I was kind of a loner in school, more interested in theater and academics than my classmates. Most ignored me; a few bullied me, but I took the opportunity being alone granted and spent my time reading—and, as I grew older, writing. In seventh and eighth grade, and then in high school, I got into the school-run theater programs and started to slowly make friends. I also joined a city-wide youth choir. This choir would leave a lasting impression on me. Through it, I was able to travel and sing in various places, including music festivals statewide, Disney World in Florida, and even to Russia in my final year of membership. All these places, whether in the real world or in the crafted worlds in literature, urged me to simply get out of my comfort zone and experience life.

With my parents in Russia, 1998.

When it came time for college, I took my hoped-for scholarship and started at Ashland University in the autumn of 1999. I was ready for my future.

Things changed somewhat during my junior year, which I spent studying abroad in London, England. There, I fell in love with a young man about my age named James, whom I met online during my freshman and sophomore year through a type of collaborative, character writing role-play called “play by email” (PBeM). I guess after a couple years getting to know each other through storytelling, I was smitten when we finally met in person.

Me at Thanksgiving, c.2000.

The same year at Christmas he proposed—and I said yes! We set our wedding date for the July after my graduation, and I returned home to finish my degree and start saving money for our wedding, working two jobs to help out.

Long story short: we were married in July, had a little celebration for those who hadn’t been able to travel in August, and settled down by September, but by February, it was over. Yes, it was over. I found out he had been cheating on me—I know, it sucks—and soon after, I moved out to stay with some mutual friends who lived closer to where I worked in the post office of a town named Guildford.

I thought my life couldn’t get much worse: my heart was broken and I was making minimum wage and living in a country where I knew very few people. The days seemed to drag on forever.

The one bright light in my life was another hobby James had previously introduced me to: live action role play (LARP). If you don’t know what it is, think about historical re-enactment, but put it in a fantasy setting. There are spells of fighting and healing, large-scale battles, and story lines put together by the company who runs the game—you get it, right? It was through this hobby that I met the man who would ultimately become my second husband.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

His name was Adrian, and he was living 100 miles away in Bath. I fell in with his group of friends nicely, and ended up traveling there from my home nearly every weekend to visit, play games, and generally get away from what was a very lonely life.

Now, when I moved to England, I found that many of the local viruses were ones that I was not used to, and I would get sick more than the natives. Colds, the flu, and agonizing migraines kept me from working as much as I would have liked to, and in the summer of 2004 I lost my job at the post office. Now I was unemployed with no prospects. I guess life could get worse.

Thankfully, Adrian came to my aid, and helped me get a flat (or apartment) in Bath, near his home. I took temporary jobs, working as much as possible. Six months later, when Adrian decided to buy a home near his work rather than rent for another year, he invited me to join him. We were already very close, so it was a no brainer for me. In 2005, we moved in together in a small flat in a village named Bradley Stoke, near Bristol, and just down the road from his job. I was able to find permanent work in 2007. By then, we were married, having tied the knot in May that year.

Life was looking up again. I was in love and doing all the hobbies and activities that would make the younger version of me swell with happiness. Together, we joined a Gilbert and Sullivan theater club, we continued to do LARP (of course), and joined some friends in playing Dungeons and Dragons once or twice a month.

Unfortunately, more bad luck was to follow. The stress of my new job got worse and worse, and my health declined with it. After a year with the company, I found myself facing termination due to my prolonged absences from illness and chronic pain. Despite my will, I resigned. Adrian was very supportive of me staying at home, but soon I found my health was bad enough to keep me from the musical stage. My last show with the Gilbert and Sullivan society was in 2009.

Why was my body rejecting a normal lifestyle? I had no control over what my body was doing! Everything was changing and I had no say in the matter.

I hated to sit idly, so to keep myself occupied I picked up a skill I had learned as a girl: knitting. In 2010, on one of my annual trips home to Columbus, I learned crochet from my mother; in 2011, I picked up spinning on a spinning wheel.

I’d take fibers from various animals including sheep, alpaca, llamas, and rabbits, then I’d wash them, comb them, spin them, and marvel at the soft yarn I had just brought to life. Was this acting? No. But I could do this and feel creative. In the fiber arts, I found my passion.

Me (left) spinning, 2015.

It turned out to be a good thing that I had begun something to keep me going because my marriage was failing. Adrian’s mother had died of brain cancer in late 2009 and it had wounded him deeply. Then, in early 2010, I was diagnosed with a chronic condition called Myalgic Encephalomyletis, also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It was a life-changing diagnosis; there is no cure and the treatments only help with some of the symptoms. Chief among these were memory loss, the inability to concentrate or think clearly, extreme fatigue, and pain—nerve and joint mostly, but also muscle pain. I learned very quickly that participating in the activities at the level I was used to was no longer possible. I have since given up everything but knitting and spinning. Gone are the days of long hikes and bike rides, LARP, and acting. I simply do not have the energy.

I believe that Adrian looked at me, getting sicker and sicker, and saw the same thing happening to me that had happened to his mother only a few months ago. He started pushing me away, and we separated in February of 2012. I moved yet again, down to Exeter in Devon, and lived with friends.

This could have been my lowest point—and honestly, it met all the qualifiers. But it wasn’t.

I lived in Exeter for two years, and made wonderful friends there. I joined a local knitting group, and bought a mobility scooter so I could go to the nearby city center and run errands. I was forging a new life for myself, finding my new boundaries and testing new friendships. I was starting over.

I had promised my mother that I would eventually move back to the States, and because I was now single, I decided to follow through on that. I saved what I could, and after two years I had enough to move myself, my goods, and even my cat (named Biscuit) back to America.

I now live at home in Ohio. My health has gotten worse because of the climate extremes, but my family takes care of me. I make a little money selling my hand-knits while I try to qualify for government assistance in the USA. I also write a little, but it’s much harder to do now than it was. One of the symptoms of ME/CFS is something we call “brain fog,” which makes thinking difficult at the best of times. I also spin, and while I make next to nothing because I am not able to work very long at any one time, the money I make helps me feel a little less helpless.

I have found a new kind of strength out of the tragedies of the past. I always thought that James was the person who led me to the one I was supposed to spend my life with, and that my health took Adrian away. But my health has led me to a path that I love, something that I can pick up and put down as necessary, and find joy and satisfaction in. My life could be a whole lot worse. Am I acting on Broadway? Well, no. But I am happy, and I have found that that is all what truly matters.

This is the story of Dori Smith

Dori lives in Columbus, Ohio, where she grew up to love nature, writing, and acting. After moving to the UK, Dori was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, making many of her passions inaccessible. After plunging into loneliness and heartbreak for years, it was only natural that she would feel hopeless—however, this news brought on a hope for a fresh start. Dori is an active member of the Central Ohio Weavers and Fiber Arts Guild, as well as a local arts guild in her community. She spends most of the time at home, getting out a few times a month to socialize. She is very close to her family, enjoying spending time with both her sisters and brother, as well as her new niece and brother-in-law. Whenever possible, she is spinning, knitting, or simply spending time with her family.

Dori, 2018.

This story first touched our hearts on November 13, 2018.

| Writer: Dori Smith | Editor: Colleen Walker |

#travel #purpose #marriage #divorce #startingover #heartbreak #lonliness #chronicfatigue #hobbies #crafts

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