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  • Writer's pictureJena Ball


I am sitting on the floor of my living room crying. We're talking uncontrollable sobs that claw at my chest and reduce breathing to loud, heaving gasps. Snot is running from my nose and my eyes are swollen shut. I can’t seem to stop.

I’ve just learned that after 18 months of trying to cure an infection in my mother’s foot – months of grappling with out of control diabetes, doctor visits, wound care, insurance forms, and caring for her like a small child, the big toe has become gangrenous and will have to be amputated.

At this point I am exhausted, frustrated, and beside myself with worry. But my tears are about more than these perfectly understandable emotions. At the back of my mind - in places where I only go with the help of a very good therapist - a voice is whispering, "Your best isn't good enough. You let her down. You let your family down. Your sister was right. You are a self-centered loser who is wasting her life."

To be clear, I know that voice belongs to messages I internalized over the years growing up in a dysfunctional family where physical and emotional abuse were routine. I also know that my sister's accusations (recently delivered in a scathing email) are the result of her own hurt and unresolved anger. However knowing is one thing, feelings are another, and I'm feeling pretty lost and alone at the moment.

It's past sundown by the time my body has no more tears to shed and my cat's persistent efforts to comfort me finally register. A glance at the clock tells me my mother should have had her dinner and meds 30 minutes ago. After that it will be time to check her blood sugar, administer insulin, change the bandages on her foot, and help her get ready for bed. Despite the immediacy of these tasks, I can't make myself move.

I pull my cat into my lap, stroke her fur, and force myself to take a few deeps breaths. This situation, I know, is unsustainable. Something has to be done. My life has been reduced to trying to keep my mother alive. I have no time for friends, no time for exercise, and no one to talk to who can relate to my situation. That's when I remember an odd voicemail left by a friend a few days ago. As a medical librarian her response to my dilemma has been to research ways I could connect to others without having to leave my mom alone for any length of time. Her recommendation? Sign up for an account in a virtual world called Second Life.

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