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Dear Mary: I’m a single mum to my adult son who has severe disabilities. I am so very lonely

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"I feel like I am hanging on to my old life by a straw and fear that I will be sucked into our own little quiet world and lost there forever."

"I feel like I am hanging on to my old life by a straw and fear that I will be sucked into our own little quiet world and lost there forever."

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting dearmary.ie or email her at dearmary@independent.ie or write c/o 27-32 Talbot St, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately. Picture By David Conachy

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting dearmary.ie or email her at dearmary@independent.ie or write c/o 27-32 Talbot St, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately. Picture By David Conachy

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"I feel like I am hanging on to my old life by a straw and fear that I will be sucked into our own little quiet world and lost there forever."

I am a 41-year-old single mother of an adult son with a severe intellectual disability, among other disabilities.

I am desperately lonely. I have a supportive family and good friends, but because of my son’s disabilities, I am quite isolated from the rest of society.

I live my life around all his needs and I rarely even consider my own. He can’t be in most social situations so we stay at home a lot or just go out to quiet parks etc. My parents sometimes come too. I work part-time. His father has never been involved, which still hurts.

I had a few relationships when he was younger and things were easier but the older he gets, the more difficult he gets and the more I withdraw from the world. I feel like I am hanging on to my old life by a straw and fear that I will be sucked into our own little quiet world and lost there forever. I used to be so sociable and the life and soul of the party. You’d never know looking at me now. The last six years or so have just gotten so hard.

I love him so much — don’t get me wrong. I’d love to be able to meet someone, even for companionship. But who is going to want to be part of my life?

It would be great to even be more sociable but all my friends have their own busy lives. Or should I just accept my life with the very occasional evening out and try to make it a happy one with just the two of us? I really just want to be happy.

Mary replies: It is difficult being a single parent on all sorts of levels, but when you are solely responsible for an adult son with a serious disability it makes it even more difficult. I’m not surprised that you are weary and questioning if you are ever going to get to the stage of having even a reasonable chance of happiness.

Your love for your son shines through your email, but I’m not picking up the same love for yourself. You say that you are so wrapped up in caring for him that you rarely consider your own needs.

This will be detrimental to both of you if you allow things to continue like this, as you will get more and more unhappy and this will not benefit your son.

One of the most difficult things for most people is to ask for help. Of course, all your friends have busy lives, but have you told any of them that you would really benefit from resuming even a pared-back social life? Because you will have to start, in small steps, setting aside time for you. I realise there would be a problem in having your son looked after for a few hours, but there must be some way around that.

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We all need something to look forward to and you don’t have anything — just the prospect of an increasingly small world containing yourself and your son. Try setting yourself a goal of, once a week, having some time for yourself to socialise, no matter what it is. Bear in mind that it doesn’t have to be at night.

Most people experienced some form of loneliness during the pandemic, but your loneliness is ongoing. Family Carers Ireland has a motto that “No one should have to care alone”. Its website, familycarers.ie, is well worth a visit. It organised lots of Zoom activities during the pandemic and these are now largely back to meeting in person — have a look at its events calendar. This would be a great starting point for you to meet up with others who will share your experience and help you not to feel quite so alone.

Also, Inclusion Ireland, inclusionireland.ie, is there for people with intellectual disabilities to champion their human rights and also to support family and carers.

You are having a really hard time and thank you for bringing your plight to the attention of those of us who haven’t had this experience. I know that there are lots of carers out there, very often single parents, and you all deserve so much support from us all.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting dearmary.ie or email her at dearmary@independent.ie or write c/o 27-32 Talbot St, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.


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