A few years ago, friend Barb said that old age is a process of “patch, patch, patch.” We weren’t that old when she said this but I laughed because I was old enough to begin feeling it. Now I really get it.
In my younger years I went to the doctor with the expectation that whatever was wrong would be fixed. I didn’t have any chronic conditions so with some pills, ointment or a scalpel my acting up body could be made good as new. In the past few years the goal of my medical treatment has shifted. First I am sent for an x-ray or some other more sinister test to make sure there isn’t something “serious” going on. Then the work begins. Patch, patch, patch.
They call it life-style changes – until there isn’t any style left to my life. Maybe I could keep a food diary to find out what is irritating my digestive system – although I already know what foods don’t agree with me. They are the foods I enjoy eating, that I eat when I am with friends or for date night. I’m flexible and can compromise by ordering something different – I suppose. But research says that, after good health, having a strong, caring social network is most import for graceful, happy aging. Sitting around a table, laughing with friends who love me, and sharing food that is good (but not good for me) is just what the researcher ordered. Trumps my doc, although I do a good job of eating healthy foods when I do the cooking.
Another life-style change I have been urged to make is exercising. Now this is even harder for me than changing my eating habits. It is a whole new concept; there is nothing to change because exercise was never a part of my life. I hated gym class. If I hadn’t loved math and English and government classes, I would have quit school because of gym class. Now I am working to embrace exercise as a life-style. I have my feet taped to decrease heal pain so I can walk. I go to a gym to keep my core and legs strong so I don’t fall. I climb stairs to… well, to keep my titanium knees working so I can climb stairs. I carry a step counter in my pocket to motivate me to take a few more every day to keep my bones from breaking. Patch, patch, patch.
I think I’ve accepted the fact that my body is wearing out, meaning that I will face deterioration for the rest of my life. Put like that, it hits hard. It is scary. But I have also felt something close to relief since I accepted this fact. I am no longer fighting a losing battle of trying to get back the body I had 20 years ago. It has helped me focus on what I can do to maintain as much functioning as I can while realizing that I can also relax with the flow of time. There is real joy in taking a guilt-free nap on those days when I need one.
I’ve never been happier. I think this a lot but hesitate to say it out loud. There is a part of me that says that can’t be. How can a person be happiest at 70 when her body is falling apart and death is right around the corner? Wasn’t I happier as a newly wed, as a young mother, when I went back to school, when I was having a successful career? I was very happy then, but this is where I am, and my life is the best I can make it for who I am, what I am, and where I am. I can’t be who I was, and don’t want to be. To add to the lyrics that inspired me in another decade, “I am woman. I am now.”