Isolation is a choice. At some point it becomes the more viable choice to being with people or even yourself. But, it is a choice. There are two kinds of isolation. The physical, where you are an inmate in solitary confinement deprived of touch and interaction with others. Been there.

And, then there is the emotional isolation. This is when the heart shuts down. You’ve been hurt, perhaps repeatedly, your attempts at connection are so far and few you just can’t take anymore so you isolate your heart, your emotions. This eventually leads to the physical because without truly being open and transparent with others you will build a wall that very soon will isolate you physically.

When my fourth daughter was born my life was very busy. I had three other daughter’s ages 10-3 and an interior decorating business. I hadn’t noticed the tiny signs, the missed developmental stages. But, after the first year when she wasn’t talking, walking I got concerned. By the time she was two I’d exhausted the pediatrician route, “she’s just a little slower she’ll catch up”. Then I discovered PPCD, Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities, a part of the Fort Worth Independent school district. They came to my home and did the usual hearing and vision tests so they could rule out deafness or any vision problems. And, so it began the more I learned and the more I came out swinging for my child the more I isolated me.

It’s damned hard to listen to professionals tell you that your child should never be left alone. They will never have a “normal” life. As a parent with a child who has any form of special needs, Autism, Downs Syndrome, ID/DD, it quickly becomes all about the child.

We put our lives, dreams and ambitions on hold, sometimes, forever. It was easier for me to sell my interior decorating business than it was to try to make it work with the doctor appointments, speech therapy, schools and play dates. Soon, it became, ‘put on the same jeans no one will notice’, ‘I’ll just pull my hair up’, ‘no time for make-up today’. Before I knew it I looked in the mirror and saw someone I didn’t recognize.

It eventually affected my marriage. I had let myself go, I relied on my then husband for everything I wasn’t giving myself. Bad idea because he couldn’t give me the strength I needed, he couldn’t give me the self-esteem I craved and at one point he gave up on me and us.

When my marriage ended I felt worthless, like I wasn’t capable of getting anything right. My child wasn’t like others, my husband didn’t love me, I was a failure. I tried to bury myself, my shame, my guilt in my excess weight. I isolated from everyone, friends and family. I went through the motions of caring for my daughter without actually engaging her. I used her and her disabilities/challenges as a shield so I didn’t have to live.

My daughter deserved better. Like on a plane that is going down, you must first put on your oxygen then take care of your child. I began taking better care of me, working out, working consistently on my writing career, losing 82 pounds. Taking the time to build new friendships, even dating. Yeah, I know but it is possible. I’ll share that one soon.

Ending isolation isn’t the easiest thing to do but could start with a simple hello to someone behind you in line at the grocery store, bank or concession. It’s as easy as laughing at someone’s joke. It only takes one smile, a nod or a step outside the isolation to make the next step even easier.

You must first choose to step out of the isolation. And that can create fear so the more familiarity you build with that fear the less you isolate. When you are further from the isolation you will discover so many new ways to be free of the thoughts and feelings that held you prisoner. “It’s too hard.” “I’m not ready.” “My child needs me.”

Since the divorce, there is a dance that Dawn and I do. If she senses I’m going out too much or if she’s been away from me for any time like camp, she begins to experience an illness. She has genuine health issues but she knows, instinctively, how they work. She will begin to “not feel well” and need me to assist her in varying ways. It’s what she does because of her fears of abandonment. I’m aware of this so my goal is to comfort her without enabling her. It’s a fine line but I’m getting much better at detecting real illness and her need to feel secure that mommy won’t leave her.

I am still riddled with the guilt that comes with all this. I want desperately to start a new life for myself as a writer, a publisher, a public speaker and slowly I’m getting there. A relationship is not conducive to the random and hectic schedule of my life, so for now I’m happy with joining in on local meet-up groups, who are doing things I like to do and some I can include Dawn.

I would do anything for my child but I must ensure that I’m not isolating from her or my life so that I can be a good role model by being present and being happier. She deserves that.