I have always been a believer in Mind-Over-Matter, sort of a perpetual Little Engine That Could, if I really wanted to. That this attitude has, on occasion, crossed over into Denial (“You can’t.” “I will.”) has made it no less effective. And, usually, I am pretty realistic. I mean, I have never tried to morph into some kind of world class athlete. And, say, if I have a cold and am having trouble breathing, I don’t go to the gym to sweat it out. I know I can’t breathe and fight the elliptical trainer at the same time and live to tell about it.
This otherwise positive attitude has taken a dark turn recently, however, practically an 180-degree turn. The Matter of my body is beginning to dominate my Mind -- so much so that one day I looked in the mirror and was surprised to see how young I looked because I had been feeling so old, so sore and weak, worn out, arthritic and crotchety. I had decided that day, in fact for most of the summer, that 62 was a lot older than I had at first thought. My right thumb, for example, now clicks down to a 90-degree bend and clicks up, as if the hinge is broken or worn out. It’s minimally painful, but annoying as hell, an assault on my illusion that I am, on most fronts, in control of my body.
I had previously lost control of the outside half of my left foot which, again, in the scheme of things, sounds like pretty small potatoes. But it occasions a bit of foot-drop which every health professional in the state of Texas has taken pains to tell me is particularly dangerous for “a woman my age.” They do not want me tripping, falling, and breaking a hip, and thus literally falling in to the beginning-of-the-end. A broken hip, they pointed out, is statistically an event from which many never fully recover, physically or mentally. I got the message. I had surgery to remove the spinal bone spur impinging on the nerve, hoping the nerve function would, at best, be restored or, failing that, the damage would at least be arrested. Initially my toes seemed to come back to life and, as they did, the chronically miserable pain in my butt receded. It must have been the post-op drugs, though, as now, six months later, I continue to walk with a bit of an intentional hitch, making sure I pick up the whole damn foot so I don’t fall. And this just-slightly-unnatural gait wreaks havoc on the ankle I sprained tripping down a step in flip-flops I should no longer wear because my toes won’t flex to hold them on, and on my wickedly crooked back (my surgeon’s words), causing more pain from the left buttocks to the top of the left foot. Still, I told myself (and yes, I have taken to talking to myself these days), No Big Deal: Just stay in shape, be intentional about your gait, and ratchet up the endorphins you enjoy hiking and biking and golfing. Mind-over-Matter.
It sort of worked. I really struggled with the suggestion the new pain in my knees I felt while hiking and biking could be arthritis or decimated cartilage, and then took perverse pleasure in the fact that when I hiked or biked or played golf this summer, it wasn’t so much that the pain in my back was exacerbated, but that my entire body ached for a couple of days. I cut a deal: if I could continue to enjoy hiking and biking and golf, I would pay the price of a slower pace of recovery from the pain(s). After all, thanks to my husband’s retirement, I had two months in the mountains this summer, and not just my usual two weeks. I could take a couple of days off and stuff myself with Advil before the next activity.
Then I tripped, catching the toe of my left golf shoe on the surface of a green I would eventually criss-cross ineffectively with putts. No longer as agile as my 30-something self, I tossed my golf clubs into the air (they were no help with balance), lunged forward, landing on my right foot, staggered to the left and back to the right, and finished standing, finally, upright. Obsessed with their own poor golf, no one I was playing with noticed, so I would have avoided the embarrassment of being so clumsy -- or so old! -- altogether, except for the fact that the adrenalin and force of the near-fall caused me to wet my pants. Just a little. But still. What was this, a compromised bladder, too? I wanted to weep. I was falling apart. Body parts were no longer working the way they were supposed to (I couldn’t even derive much pleasure from a good golf shot; I couldn’t see the ball!), and everything hurt. I finished the 18 holes, damp but determined, stubbornly pushing away horrifying visions of myself as one of those urine-scented old ladies curled into and lined up in wheel chairs with (for added measure) ugly gray hairs sprouting from their lips or chins. Mind-over-Matter.
My husband lifted something too heavy or turned in one direction or another in a quirky manner and hurt his back. For a few days, he limped and hobbled and groaned up and down the stairs into and out of bed. I offered a little sympathy and a lot of Advil, and I was furious. I was too young to have a husband crippled with back pain; we were on this Adventure called Retirement and we had plans, activities to indulge. He embodied all my weaknesses and reflected them back to me (though I must say he was a bit more of a baby about the pain; I tend to be more stoic) and I hated him for it. Was he forcing me to confront a new reality about our bodies and our selves? Did I have to change my Mind to accommodate this Matter? Were we really wearing out after only so many miles? Was it possible we couldn’t be fixed, or cured? It was, to say the least, depressing.
We drove home determined to figure it out and do everything possible to become our best, rather than our worst, selves, committed to no-more-complaints about our bodies, and to optimizing their functionality. We also determined we wouldn’t be making a 25-hour trip in two days anymore; we weren’t safe that tired or that blind in the face of dark roads under construction, the bright lights of oncoming traffic and the neon noise of shopping centers and billboards. We would adjust -- but not to the sedentary. We would do everything we can to take better care of ourselves -- I will start with more exercise, physical therapy, possible cataract surgery, and perhaps an appointment with an arthritis specialist for pain relief. And we will engage more fully in relationships and ideas and activities to stimulate our Minds, if only to distract them from the Matter of Physical Aging and perhaps, just perhaps, to keep them in control.
*I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.*
What works for you?
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