I am a social person, and like most extroverts, I get energized by being around other people. However, there are some moments, fleeting and few, when I just want to be alone. Since I rely on Personal Assistants (PA) to help with daily tasks, when I am awake during the work week, I am with another person. Here is an example of a “weekday in the life of Dee” to illustrate my point:
6:00 AM: I grumble at the alarm while my morning PA lets herself into my house and starts making me coffee. She brings me coffee and helps me out of bed into my wheelchair. After a few sips of coffee, she helps me onto the toilet. While I sit there, she makes me lunch and gets out my clothes for the day. When I am done I shower, get dressed, do the hair and makeup routine and leave for work no later than 8:30.
8:30 AM: Drive to work, alone, in my van. If I’m not sucked into a good audiobook, I alternatively sing loudly or swear and shout at the stupid people who don’t know how to drive in rush hour traffic. They always seem to be near me.
9:00 AM: Work. I’m either at an event, doing outreach, or at my desk. I spend my lunch break writing because it is the only time I have to myself at a computer during the work week and I am determined to keep up this writing habit now that I’ve allowed myself to be a writer.
5:00 PM (OK – so more like 5:30 because I never leave on time): Drive home, alone, in my car. Yell at the idiots who don’t know how to stop at stop signs, or merge onto a highway. I tend to yell at the idiots less when I’m listening to NPR or an audiobook.
6:00 PM: Arrive home, where my evening PA is usually already there and waiting for me. I begin my “other job” – the one where I manage the PAs who work for me to meet my needs. I supervise meal preparation, laundry, house cleaning, shopping – all of those things the rehabilitation professionals call Instrumental Activities of Daily Living. In between, my PAs help me use the toilet, change out of my work clothes and shower if I wasn’t able to do so in the morning.
By 9:30 or 10:00 PM I decide I’ve had enough fun for one day and my PA helps me into bed. She plugs my wheelchair into the charger and slips my breathing machine mask over my head before leaving for the night.
That’s the routine. Sure, there are minor changes here and there when a work event keeps me out late. But those changes don’t give me more “alone time.” My time alone is pretty much limited to the weekend, and even then I don’t get as much of it as I would like. During my normal work week, the only time I am alone, by myself, not in the presence of another human is the time I spend in my car, or the time I spend in bed.
Sometimes I get home early, like tonight. I worked all day at a Senior Health Fair. The event ended at 4:00, so by the time I packed up and hit the road, I was home at 5:15. My PA was not scheduled to come until 7:00. With a jolt, I realized I now had almost two hours of “found time” – alone time I had not planned for.
ALMOST TWO HOURS OF FOUND TIME!!! No PAs to supervise, no one who wanted to talk about their day or their problems, NOBODY else in my house on a weeknight but ME! I was so excited to have 2 hours to myself, I wasted almost 15 minutes going through the mail pile that has been growing for 3 weeks in my living room. Then I realized since I had not been in the office, I had not completed my daily writing, and I started writing about the joys of “found time.”
Do people with the luxury of regular alone time understand and appreciate the beautiful gift of “found time?” I have sacrificed the sanctity of time alone in my house in order to self-direct my own personal assistance and remain in the community. I would never change that, but this choice means I can’t just go home and turn off the world when I’ve had a bad day. For better or worse, when I get home from the job which pays my salary, I start my other job as supervisor of the wonderful PAs who work for me. While I am grateful to them, there are times I just don’t want to deal with another person but I must because I am dependent on them to function.
Usually when this happens, I tell my PAs they are not the cause of my grouchy mood. After all, my bad day or desire to be alone is not their fault. They just showed up for work, like a good employee, and even though I may want to sulk we all know good supervisors shouldn’t make their employees suffer for their own bad moods.
So when I’m lucky enough to get a few hours of “found time” I always do something for me. I never feel guilty about not being “productive” or accomplishing a task with the time at hand. Although, this blog post originated in my “found time” so maybe I’m more productive than I thought.
Even though I’m an extrovert, I treasure my “found time” for moments that recharge me in a different way than time spent with others. One day, I may learn to schedule these moments into my life so they occur with regularity. Until then, I revel in the occasional chance to spend some time in my surroundings without the responsibilities of supervising an employee.