Releasing Attachment and Welcoming Change by Siobhán Dunleavy

From the book, ‘Accepting And Connecting With Muscular Dystrophy’ (Book Hub Publishing, 2021)

In the months that followed my counselling sessions I was feeling quite content but on the other hand I felt like I was in a bit of a slump. My ego was telling me to settle down, pay my rent, continue to work long hours and do what society was telling me to do but my soul was telling me different. Everyone around me seemed to be settling down and having kids but I wasn’t ready for this. I was only in my mid-twenties and even though I was deeply attached to my hometown, the thoughts of settling there at that time, scared the life out of me.

Short holidays and adventures were no longer fulfilling my desires and I craved an adventure as meaningful as the one I experienced in Istanbul. Although I loved and cared deeply for my friends and family it was time for me to spread my wings and continue to follow my own path. I remember reading somewhere at the time “You cannot heal in the same environment that made you sick”, and for some reason this touched my heart. I needed to release the attachments I had to my false sense of security in order to move away from the sensations of stagnation that were creeping back into my life. Something was telling me that if I stopped trying to grasp, own and control the world around me I would find more freedom and happiness.

It may sound quite drastic, but I decided to quit my job, give up my house, sell my car and move to Asia. During meditation and in my dreams, I kept having visions of myself being indulged in Asian cultures and gaining more knowledge. I had learned so much but still felt like my soul craved something deeper. The people closest to me probably thought I was mentally mad, but I knew deep down in my soul this is what I was supposed to do. I was also mindful that my muscles were becoming weaker and if I was to travel solo around Asia, I would need to use a walking aid.

As my consciousness grew and my ability to live in the present moment became more natural, using a walking aid no longer felt like such a big deal to me. I knew if I was to follow my true spiritual path there were practicalities that needed to be considered.

It may sound strange but by accepting how Muscular Dystrophy was affecting my life, I became more open to detaching from the body I once had. I wasn’t giving up on my body but I was open to finding ways to empower it.

In my late teens and early twenties, I had many falls similar to the ones I described such as the time in Istanbul but as I hit my mid-twenties the falls became more recurrent. It got to a stage where walking on any sort of uneven surface would throw me off my tracks and before I knew it, I’d end up on my arse. These frequent falls were forcing my world to become quite small as more and more I began to avoid situations where I envisioned myself being at risk of falling. What concerned me more than falling and seriously injuring myself was the fear of not being able to get back up onto my feet independently.

There was one fall in particular, that happened not long before I moved to Asia which really helped me to come to my senses. It wasn’t pleasant but it was certainly a reality check.

It was a miserable, misty morning in my hometown and I was on the way to get cash out of the ATM on the main street. The disabled parking spot near the machine was being used so I parked across the road. After my not so perfect attempt at parallel parking I grabbed my debit card from the glove box and pulled my hood up to shelter my freshly blow-dried locks from the rain. It was raining that ‘wet’ type of rain which it does quite often in Ireland. You know where it’s not even heavy enough to turn the wipers up full speed but when you’re out in it, it subtly sprays onto you and saturates you in seconds. Excuse my French but we often refer to it as ‘pissy aul rain’.

I took a deep breath and made my way across the road. The town was fairly quiet and I gathered most people were still at home tucked up in bed dodging the dreary morning. I got about four or five not so sturdy steps across the street when a gust of wind came and threw me off my balance and I crashed to my knees. I hit the ground like a tonne of bricks. The pain that immediately shot up my knees was the least of my worries, I was more concerned about getting a belt of a car. I was slightly relieved when I looked left and right to see there were no cars coming. “Thank fuck for that” I thought to myself as I made an attempt to get back onto my feet.

Although I had been trying to keep my flexibility and my ability to get from the floor to a standing position through yoga and especially the downward facing dog pose, it wasn’t happening. I was like a new-born calf who simply hadn’t the strength to stand. I had no other choice but to crawl back over to my car. I was fuming as my knees tore off the bumpy concrete on the main street. There must have been no one watching as I imagine they would have helped, although I did look like a bit of a basket case so I

couldn’t blame anyone for not approaching me. I reached into my pocket for the zapper, unlocked my car, flung the door open and with the support of the seat and the door of my good old Ford Focus I managed to manoeuvre myself onto the driver’s seat. The blood was seeping out through my bony knees and new tracksuit bottoms, I clenched onto the steering wheel head butted it almost giving myself a heart attack when I sounded the horn.

What became clear to me from that morning onwards was that my falls had gotten worse and I was no longer sure of being able to get up off the ground independently. This was a serious reality check and sad realisation for me and I knew it was time to invest in a walking aid, even more so if I was to move abroad. I had been winging it for long enough but it had come to a stage where the risk of falling, being seriously injured and being stranded on the ground had to be minimised. It’s a scary feeling to be left lying on the ground so helpless and I had to ensure it didn’t become a regular occurrence.

After much meditating on things like acceptance, change and self- belief I met with my OT and physio and they provided me with a walker. As much as it was something I wanted to avoid for as long as possible I also knew it wasn’t too early to be using it. It’s what I needed. I knew that a walking aid would help me to move around with more ease and provide me with a sense of assurance and safety. At this point carrying things whist walking had become especially difficult for me and the walker could make situations like shopping less stressful. I could use the walker to carry my bits and bobs on as well as a support to walk longer distances without falling. When I began using the walker it took me a while to grow fond of it and I would still try to walk short distances without it. For example popping into small shops or appointments where I could get parking near the door.

When I began using my new set of wheels at first, I felt like I was flashing a neon sign to the world that I needed help and my body was different. I certainly found that others began to treat me differently. Moving through doorways, down aisles and through crowds with my walker took a bit of getting used to but I kept reminding myself that we all need help to get through life at some stage or another. Feeling self- conscious about this wasn’t an option and I was determined not to let it get in the way of what I needed, especially when I knew it was freedom. I allowed the walker to become a big part of my life but didn’t allow it to define me no matter where I went. I don’t use my walker at home or in small indoor areas as I can usually move around independently but I’ve learned to bring it with me, especially in unknown environments. It can always be parked up and left to one side. It’s better to have it and not need it than not have it and need it.

It was emotional leaving my loved ones and venturing out to the other side of the world with my relatively new walker but the strength and fulfilment that I got when I landed in Bali, which was the first stop on my big adventure, was liberating. Learning all about Balinese Hinduism reminded me that my soul was doing what it was supposed to and my consciousness and spiritual journey was growing.

Once again, by detaching from my comfort zone, my soul had taken me to exactly where I was meant to be. Every day I woke up and looked out over the rice fields I would be absolutely bursting with gratitude and excitement for what the day would bring. Teaching English to Japanese children and adults was an absolute pleasure and I learned as much from them as they did from me. The polite manner and enthusiasm that seeped from my students was invigorating. I often had to pinch myself just to make sure it was real life. As strange as it sounds, teaching English taught me English and the art of linguistics began to fascinate me. My American colleagues, especially Scott, would laugh at how he could barely understand me half the time and he couldn’t believe how my students were learning.

I had to retrain my brain to slow down my speech and pronounce my words properly but this didn’t stop my students, especially the younger ones picking up the Irish accent. Myself and Scott found ourselves in stitches laughing when the kids would attempt to say things like ‘thirty- three’ but instead say ‘tirty tree’. The pronunciation of my th’s never improved, one thing that wasn’t capable of changing was my ingrained Irish accent, but I was happy about that.

The sort of spiritual connection I felt in Asia was not something I could easily put my finger on at the time. On reflection I realise that I was almost in my own little world over there but even though I was in my own little bubble I was still making valuable connections. I was able to experience every beautiful moment with a fresh pair of eyes and connect with Asian people as well as other foreigners, this is something I never would have had the chance to do in Ireland. I felt strangely at home there, like there was some sort of weird cosmic relationship between my soul and my surroundings. Obviously not everyone has to live in Asia to move further along their spiritual awakening. This is just a snippet of my journey and nobody else’s will be the same. What I hope you can gather though, is that your soul will pull you to places throughout your life and you will probably face lots of challenges along the way, but it’s only by taking chances and facing your fears that you can give your soul the opportunity it needs to grow and evolve. It’s normal to feel scared and vulnerable when making decisions and setting goals but remember, if your dreams don’t scare you, maybe they’re not big enough.

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