I’m taking my dog for a walk
Maggie May scratches at the front door.
“Hold on Mags,” I bark.
She scratches again. It’s 10:44 am on a Wednesday. The kids are at school and Cindy is at work and I’m sitting at the kitchen table writing this letter to you.
In the opening pages of Bedtime Stories for the Living, I described a phone call I received from my family doctor who explained a recent brain MRI showed evidence of an incurable progressive brain disease and that I should see a neurologist immediately.
That phone call was received in September, 2013. And since then, my life has seen considerable changes. Without asking permission, the disease progressed. Physical strength, physical balance, speaking, fine motor skills, spontaneity, comedic timing, multi-tasking, socializing, and confidence have all been severely compromised by my disease. In 2019 I retired from my seventeen year teaching career. In 2020 I was deemed disabled by the American government.
Rather abruptly, in one year, I transitioned from abled, active to disabled, retired. And being a product of working-class America, I believed identity was riveted to our job and what we are paid to do. I believed a man was supposed to be able and active. Independent and strong. Ambitious and successful.
But my disease, like some governments, is undemocratic.
I learned the hard way sometimes you don’t have a vote in your own fate. Sometimes stone belief is suddenly cracked. And sometimes asking yourself, “Who am I?” is a painful and scary and temporarily answerless question but a necessary one for self-discovery.
On the kitchen table rests a letter from my insurance provider announcing they are suspending benefits citing “daily walks with my dog” as evidence of my improving physical capabilities.
Activate a fine American identity crisis in 3…2…1.
Maybe the insurance company is right?
Maybe all the MRIs, all the specialists, and all the blood tests were wrong? Maybe all my symptoms are just figments of imagination? Maybe I don’t really need Clark Able’s assistance? Maybe instead of writing about it, I should just shut up, suck it up, and toughen up buttercup? Maybe I’m just being lazy?
Even though it’s been ten years since I was diagnosed, and even after the validation of a diagnosis, I still question the reality of my condition.
I still struggle with self-acceptance.
I still struggle with self-pity.
I still struggle to answer, “Who am I?”
And when someone, or some trusted, long-standing American institution openly doubts your condition, your own self-doubt becomes as crippling as the condition itself.
Maggie May scratches at the front door again and looks at me.
“Do you have to go out?” I ask.
She cocks her head, whimpers, and stamps her front paws like a seven year old child standing outside an occupied bathroom.
Though this disease has taken so much from me, it has given me perspective. A perspective I lacked when I was active and able. A perspective I often find while walking my dog. Our whole purpose in this life is to discover who we are. Don’t let anyone, or any institution, tell you any different. But to do the hard work of discovery, we must endure the doubt and pain and anguish that lurks in such uncharted territory.
I slip on my coat, swing open the front door, and take a shaky, yet defiant, step out into the afternoon air.
I’m taking my dog for a walk.
No matter what they say.
Checkout my interview with All Author where I talk about the writing process and being hounded for autographs at the food store.
A writer, speaker, former high school English teacher, and award-winning author, Jay Armstrong always enjoyed making people feel something. He was also a stand-up comedian. Ever since he was a child he wanted to write a book. His memoir, Bedtime Stories for the Living won first place in the non-fiction/parenting category of the International Readers’ book contest. He enjoys reading, writing, and exercising. Read full interview…
January Book Promos for You:
Are looking for inspiration? Are you searching for a better version of yourself? This month I joined literary forces with some best-selling authors to promote our books in Become Inspired. Become You.
Memoirs, Biographies, Self-help books…oh my! This month I also joined literary forces with some best-selling authors to promote our books in the inspiring in Nonfiction Grab Bag.
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take…
A few months ago, with low expectations, I took a shot and entered “Bedtime Stories for the Living” in the highly regarded, highly competitive international book contest presented by Readers’ Favorite. Readers’ Favorite is an established force in the publishing industry. They have worked withPenguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Harper Collins, and have received the “Best Websites for Authors” and “Honoring Excellence” awards from the Association of Independent Authors.
Anyway, just before I was about to take a midday nap, I was informed that this suburban dad had won…
First Prize, the Gold Medal, in the Non-Fiction/Parenting genre!
Are you a reader? Looking for your next good book to read or listen to? Check out my new page “Jay’s Book Shelf” for some book recommendations.
Here’s what I’m currently reading: From Strength to Strength by Arthur C. Brooks
If you like this post, you may also like:
Overcoming Monday Morning
How to Climb Today’s Mountain
Your Voice is the Most Powerful Thing You Own
Jay Armstrong is a speaker and an award-winning author. Despite being diagnosed with a rare neurological disease, that impairs his movement, balance, eyesight, and speech–Jay presses on. The leader of the Philadelphia Ataxia Support Group, he hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life. For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:
4. Hearing his three children laugh
5. Hugging his wife
(Bonus points for a dinner with his parents or a drink with his friends)
Jay hasn’t had a bad day in quite a long time.
You can also visit Jay at jayarmstrongwrites.com