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When I meet new people I usually get asked two questions…”Do you have children?” This is a pretty standard question I think that most women get asked. It’s an uncomfortable question to answer when the answer is “no.” Often, people don’t know what to say after that so the conversation drifts off. I guess all women are supposed to have children, even if for the sole purpose of having something to talk about.

The other question that comes up is, “Do you work?” This is another problem question for me because again the answer is “no.” So, no kids and no work. What does my life consist of then, one begins to wonder. I can tell they wonder this by the look on their face, all scrunched up with a crease between their brow. It is obviously perplexing to people that I am childless and unemployed and it is equality uncomfortable for me to give these answers, simply because I know what the response will be.

It would seem that many people define themselves through parenthood and through their work. I can’t speak to the parenthood part, but I know that I used to define myself through my career, so I can see to some extent, the compulsion to define ourselves by what we do. Now that I don’t “do” anything, explaining myself to others has become a bit of a challenge and I often find myself needlessly embarrassed.

This happened today when we met our new neighbors. I was asked first if I had children. “No.” A quite lull ensued and then I was asked what I do for a living and when I said, “I don’t work” another lull, this time longer. I felt the need to fill the uncomfortable silence so I told complete strangers about having sarcoidosis and becoming a blogger. Telling people you just met that you don’t work because you have a rare and chronic disease doesn’t go over well either because in fairness, how exactly are you supposed to respond to that? So, the conundrum continues.

Ironically, having this disease has actually taught me a valuable but, hardly known, little secret. We are more than what we do or who we raise. We are more than parents and we are more than our careers. I can’t tell you how I know this now, I just do. I suspect it’s because I have actually had what once defined me striped away and while I struggle a bit to accept my new identity, I realize that I only struggle because of the social norms we live by. Life is wide up to us. We can be anything and we are all many things.

I happen to be a social worker/healthcare administrator in early retirement because of an unpredictable and unwelcome chronic illness. I am also an awesome wife in a successfully blissful marriage of nearly twenty years. I am a darn good homemaker. I am a blogger and an administrator for two online sarcoidosis support groups. I am an encourager. I am the mother of two adorable sheepdogs. I am a very good and loyal friend to those who have been that to me and I am a daughter and an aunt who loves her nieces and nephews fiercely even when I don’t get to spend much time with them. I am a sister and although sometimes an absent one, I adore my siblings. I am a good neighbor and I am a nice person…most of the time. I am a jewelry maker. I am a vegan who also happens to be an excellent cook. I am a person who looks for gratitude in everyday life. I am someone who appreciates simple things. I am a tennis player. I am a biker. I am a problem solver and I have learned how to make the best of the hand I have been dealt.

Some might call me a “survivor” but I don’t agree. I am not a “survivor”. I am a thriver. I am learning to embrace an imperfect quest for peace and happiness. I am a student of life and I hope to receive high marks when the journey is over. So, the next time someone asks what I do, I think I’ll just say that I’m a person who is just trying to live a good life.