Adjusting To What’s Next

The Thinker, Auguste Rodin

Bill is 78 and I’m 75 year old. We both have arthritis and these days we talk about aging a lot. As many of you know Bill has already had one knee replaced along with a shoulder. The other “good” knee is now giving him trouble. It isn’t bone on bone yet and he’s taking his time using a brace and gently working on it until he feels he wants to have it replaced. He’s also been having a bit of trouble with memory loss. We haven’t yet heard of brain replacements, and even if that were possible, how do you download 78 years of memories into an artificial brain and still be human?

Although joint replacements never work like the real deal, artificial knees help make those suffering from pain continue to move about comfortably. Our Orthopedist says that those who tell us that we’ll be as good as new after a replacement are full of you know what. And when it does happen it’s extremely rare, especially if you’re of a certain age. But we go for being comfortable and spending our senior years continuing to go on adventures. Bill’s recent week on board a ship with 700 joyful Irish musicians was a wonderfully fun time him and he got around happily using a cane or a wheel chair when he had to.

I myself have just been diagnosed with bone on bone arthritis in my right knee. Although I move around most days comfortably there are days when it’s too painful, especially during this stormy winter when I can predict a tempest coming well before it arrives. I, too, will be trying a brace for a while, and use a heating pad or ice to lessen the pain. Our good doctor does not want to jump in with his knives. He’s conservative and doesn’t like to be overly invasive. So we’ll spend a while seeing how it goes before we enter an OR.

The other complaint you often hear at our house is how long it can take to get things done. We’re moving much more slowly than we used to and completing tasks that used to take an hour can now take up to one or two hours more, depending on how complicated it is.

I’ve just discovered how addicted I have become to schedules and time. It seems to be how the world operates these days. Everyone is in a rush to get somewhere. We wait in line overnight just before a new electronic device comes on the market so that we can be one of the first to own it. And big box stores open their doors on Thanksgiving day giving all the “must haves” a chance to get whatever it is they want before the store runs out. They forget that spending time doing something relaxing with their kids and other family members is essential while the world spews more and more stress our way.

I may not know what to do about my knee right now, but I do know what to do about this newly discovered schedule addiction of mine. Firstly, I quit wearing a watch a few weeks ago. Silly me used to check it constantly to see if I had plenty of time.  Secondly, I’ve discovered that by taking more time to do things, I notice all of things I used to miss when I was in such a hurry. What I sometimes considered distractions, like watching the birds at the feeder or a flower slowly opening its petals in the garden, help me to be at peace with myself and the world around me.

Aging may be something that many people don’t look forward to, but I’m discovering that it is delightful to allow myself to go with a much more slow and gentle flow than the tornadic activity that too often accompanied my younger days.  It’s all about adjusting to what’s next!

Arguing With Myself

Like tiny gnats darting around my head, life can get annoying. I lash out trying to swat irksome obstacles away. But like those minuscule beings, vexing issues keep buzzing until I can’t stand it anymore.

When life gets difficult I tend to complain and try to fix things I have no business fixing. I get stressed and rather than take care of myself I leap into matters that are way over my head.

Here is a conversation I have with myself on a regular basis.

I’m sick and tired of ….

Release it!

Yes, but I ….

Let it go!

But who will ….?

It doesn’t matter!

Well, somebody has to ….

Release it!

I can’t!

Then live with the consequences!

But, you see if I don’t, then ….

I can’t hear you!

Yes, you can! You just responded!

I can’t see you!

Well, what if I ….?

See ya!

Wait! Where did you go?

jzr
9/23/06

Do you have arguments with yourself? See if you can get one down on paper. It’s fun!

Use It Or Lose It

My cross-trainer that hasn’t been used in way to long.

As the years pass I’ve continued to say, “I don’t want to be a ‘rockin’ chair granny.’” But it appears that unless I get my ass in gear, that’s exactly what I’m going to be.

Over the last year, I have used every possible excuse to slowly let my exercise routine go by the wayside. It began to happen over a year ago when my FitBit died. I had been walking well over 10,000 steps a day but not enjoying it. I was dizzy and exhausted after my treks, and developed aches and pains. It was suggested that I was overdoing it. So when the slave-driver I wore constantly on my wrist quit, I decided to just bury it. Besides I was in the thick of writing my book, and time to sit in front of my computer being creative was at a premium.

Last year, when the going got really tough and I was in the midst of beginning to market my upcoming memoir, my then four to five 30 minute walks a week turned to two or maybe three. I continued to go to my yoga class and worked weekly with my pilates coach. All of that seemed to be enough. But I was still tired most of the time. And frankly it was just easier to sit at my desk and do what I had to do. I was constantly behind and stressed by that.

After my book launch in September, I crashed and spent most of my time resting and beginning to find my way back to a more relaxed life. Sitting and doing the daily crossword puzzle, reading, or napping took a lot of my time. When I did go for a walk the aches and pains returned. I knew that I needed to get back into taking short walks on a daily basis, but my lack of energy told me that yoga and pilates were enough. I started getting stiffer and stiffer. And I got depressed.

Then January came. A new year. Time to get into gear again. I promised myself I would take at least 30 minutes a day to stretch and begin walking for short periods of time. I didn’t keep my promise and my sad self gotten even sadder. As the last week in January approached I got angry with myself. I beat myself up and made promises every day that tomorrow would be the day I’d start taking care of myself again.

One morning I was so sick of myself that I went for a neighborhood walk and was out for thirty minutes. I loved it and felt so good afterwards. The next day I was out for a little longer and the next day and the next. My depression was going away. But suddenly the knee that I’d been favoring for months got swollen and I was in tremendous pain. Yikes! What had I done?

I hadn’t started out slowly. I was pushing myself too hard. I am an overachiever, if you haven’t noticed. And I wasn’t stretching enough. My muscles weren’t happy and I was creating my own disaster. I visited my doctor, and I’ll start seeing a physical therapist to begin the work of getting back in shape. I need to be sensible and careful as I return to healthy activity levels. It is possible to do that, but it takes more than a promise. It takes not being lazy and simply doing some work everyday.

Here is as interesting article I found in the Washington Post, last week that has inspired me to get rid of the occasional thought that maybe I’m just getting too old to exercise.

Do you have a regular exercise routine that you stick with? Have you ever taken time off from it and found yourself stiff, with aches and pains? And even depressed?

The Work Of Living

Scattering My Mother's Ashes, October 2012. oakdale, New York

Scattering My Mother’s Ashes, October 2012. Oakdale, New York

Every so often I’m called to get back to work on myself. Old issues, that I thought I was done with, come popping back up. I find myself feeling lost, or that a piece of me is missing. Over the last couple of months that’s how I’ve been feeling. My book, Scattering Ashes, A Memoir of Letting Go, was finished and published in September. The writing and publishing had taken three years. But in reality I had been working on it, since 2001, when my mother came to live with my husband and me. It was a fifteen year odyssey of learning about myself, life lessons, and finding a way to continue moving forward.

Holding the finished book in my hands, doing a reading and book-signing here in Charlottesville, on September 20th, was the joyous finale of those long years of contemplating a particularly difficult time in my life, writing, rewriting, sharing it with others, and rewriting it all over again.

The morning after the reading, I drove to a local radio station at 7:45 AM, where I did a live interview about the book. I went home and crashed. I was exhausted and was ready for some time off. I didn’t want to think or talk about the book or my mother. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was no longer myself. I had become the book that I had spent all those years getting out into the world.

I spent hours examining that idea as if it were a a Zen Koan. “Does the dog wag the tail, or does the tail wag the dog?” It lasted a week or so until I got myself back. I wasn’t the book and I could now go on with the rest of my life. I began looking for a new pathway.

The election happened and then the holidays came along. I was distraught over the results of the election and then Christmas arrived. Not my favorite time of year. Although I was with people and busy day and night, I was depressed and lonely. I snapped at Bill when he said something that I deemed silly, and discovered I was back in an old pattern of not thinking much of myself. While other sister-authors I knew were moving ahead with marketing and promoting of their just published books, I was lagging behind, and feeling ashamed of myself for not having the energy or the desire to move in that direction.

I took time off from writing and started taking care of myself. The book would have to move along on it’s own. I read. I cooked. I slept. I took walks. I cried. I realized that Bill and I were entering what very well could be the last chapter of our lives. My aches and pains were multiplying and watching my sweet husband struggle with healing from two surgeries in one year made me sad.

Deciding to take advantage of whatever time I had left ahead of me, I came to the conclusion that it was time to celebrate us … Two old farts still full of piss and vinegar, who don’t want to waste time on unimportant things. I still have my brain. Although I can’t run a marathon or plan on skiing down an expert mountain slope, there are still things I can do to make my final years fun, important, and interesting while accepting that we will be slowing down and eventually moving on. Finding a way out of the muck of the last few months and making peace with myself seems like a good start.

Last Saturday, I went to an Insight Dialogue Meditation retreat taught by one of my favorite teachers and began finding my way back to myself. For those who don’t know about Insight Dialogue, it is learning to be aware of our own feelings, both physical and emotional, while speaking and listening to another person. One of the first things we learn is to pause, take our time when we speak, and become a better listener while being aware of our own feelings. The theme of the day was Living Peace, and as the outside world spun around me, I found Peace, at least for the moment. In early April I hope to attend a 5 day Insight Dialogue retreat, “Working with Difficult Emotions.”

Hopefully Bill and will also begin making some future travel plans and find ways to make life with our aging bodies more easeful.

Do you find yourself moving backwards at times? What do you do to begin moving yourself forward again?

Change

The Capitol. taken from our countries botanical garden.

The Capitol, taken from the United States Botanical Garden.

I haven’t done any writing except for making lists for the last week. Even my journal has been untouched. No, I don’t have writer’s block. There have been many times over the past seven days that I have wanted to write, but then something would change. Between hours of feeling little to no anxiety, waves of grief, fear, and depression came crashing through. I could be smiling and happy one minute. Then boom! One of those waves would hit. Words that had been gathering in my head would disappear in a sea of despair. I know I wasn’t alone.

I’ve needed time to wrap my head around what I believed would happen when I went to bed at 11 PM, last Tuesday night … that Hillary would lose. I had gone to the polls on Tuesday morning like most everyone else, and imagined the celebrations that would be happening that evening. When the first rays of light came through my window on Wednesday morning, my stomach started churning like a cement mixer. I didn’t want to hear the news. I wanted to close my eyes and fall into a peaceful slumber that would last forever. But being one who faces what’s ahead, regardless of what it is, I got up and listened and watched. It hurt. On my way up the street as I walked my dogs, a neighbor in tears, asked, “What happened? It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.” We hugged, feeling each other’s pain, then moved on into the day.

I’ve been watching what’s been happening on the news. As in the rest of the country, there have been incidences of hate in this city. And sometimes it’s felt like the end of the world has come. And in a way it has. At least the world as I knew it.

But it’s not the end. It’s about change and the beginning of something new. It happens every moment of every day, as time slips through our fingers and a new moment opens up. If it’s good change, we celebrate. If it’s bad change, we piss and moan, and stubbornly march ahead insisting that life will remain as it was or … what? Half of our population is grieving and are in deep pain. The others are happy and celebrating. Some of us ask what can be done to make it like it was before November 8th.

Change. We can’t stop it from happening. But even when it’s bad, I believe something good always happens as a result. Pain will still be evident and bad things will still happen. But change is what all of us had on our minds as we went to the polls on Tuesday. Whether it was equal pay for women, gun control, or simply wanting recognition that we exist. We all wanted change of some sort. And now we have it. Whether we like it or not.

I believe that the good part of this change is that we are being forced to wake up. There has been a smugness and entitlement afoot here in America especially among those of us who have enough to live comfortably. What doesn’t affect us is somebody else’s problem.  It has kept us from really dealing with issues that have needed to be addressed … education, equal opportunities in all phases of life, and a way to come together to work on how to bring our country and world to a better place and serve all of its people.

It’s easier said than done, and I admit I’ve been just as blind as everyone else. But this is an opportunity to really change things up. We can become aware of the people who stand next to us at the cash register or on line as we all wait to cast our votes. It’s time to share our thoughts without fear of being judged. It’s time to be kind to those who disagree with us and/or scare us. It’s time for us to listen.

It’s also time to allow ourselves to adapt to the changes ahead without being told we’re not moving fast enough or are pushing ahead too fast. We each have our own needs and ways of addressing what is ahead. I need to have time to contemplate what to do and how to approach what could be a more than a difficult time, without being told how to go about it.

I believe that what’s ahead is about being mindful of my own feelings and what I believe in. It’s about learning to be a good listener and being aware of what others need. It’s about staying awake and not making assumptions. It’s about reaching out to those who are suffering and needing help.

There are lots of things we can do. We can run for office, donate to a cause, sign petitions, join a group with similar issues, march in protests, or wear a safety pin. A friend of mine collects gently used used hats, scarves, gloves, and socks to hand out to the homeless in our town at this time of year.

But what we really must do is to stay awake, pay attention, make noise when it’s called for, and be kind. The rest is up to what each one of us is most comfortable doing.

I have seen two films this week that should not be missed and have helped me sort through my feelings and these dreadful times. The first is Moonlight. The other one is Arrival. I came home feeling as though both movies were made just for us, right now, at this time. Don’t miss them. I don’t want to tell you anything about them but they both lifted my spirits and gave me an idea of where I stand in the dilemma we all face.

Things will continue to change as they always do. None of us knows what will happen next. For me it’s about being as positive as I can and taking in the light shining through the cracks.