Aches and Pains

One of my new friends here is a tall, slender, vivacious woman in her eighties.  She is so bubbly that I am tempted to describe her as a girl in her eighties, but political correctness and some concern that – this would be a long shot – she may be offended, restrain me.  She always seems positive and up for any adventure, in spite of the fact that she was recently in the hospital due to hemorrhaging.  Today, she had difficulty getting up from her chair.  Another woman and I encouraged her to see a doctor.  She insisted that no, she wanted to see if  the problem would away on its own, first.  She said, “if he (the doctor) is young, single, and good-looking, I’ll go.”

I came home from the gathering feeling really tired, worn out.  Who knows why?  Sometimes I feel this way.  Am I getting sick?  What is that pain in my chest, my knees, my shoulder, my stomach?  It has been my habit to call my doctor about anything that might possibly be slightly wrong.  I have been to the ER twice with migraines.  It’s becoming obvious that I can’t go on running to the doctor with every ache and pain.  For one thing, medicare doesn’t cover every single office visit and each esoteric pill like my previous medical insurance.  I’m sure I’ll have much more to say about that soon.  But, more importantly, as I’m learning from my friend;  as we age we face a choice:  Is our life going to be about our aches and pains, or is it going to be about living?

I – with some reservations – subscribe to a philosophy, a central tenet of which is that our thoughts create our experience.  We may not have control over events in our lives (here the philosophy becomes subtle and complex, because ultimately we do have responsibility for what happens to us) but we definitely have control over our response to these events.  One person could total his car and experience anger and resentment, while another person might say, “This is great!  Time for a new car,” or even,”a perfect reminder to stop driving and use more sustainable transportation.”

Thoughts, of course, are carried in words.  When I complain about my aches and pains, not only am I a smashing bore, but according to this philosophy I am potentially creating even more anguish for myself.  I think after a certain age, people understand this.  Social conditioning takes over, and to avoid total isolation, most of us learn to shut up about the upcoming operation, the blurry vision and need for new glasses, the arthritic pain and trouble standing up.  We learn to grin and bear it.  This doesn’t mean that the dialogue inside our heads has stopped, or that we will really be free of disease just from pretending it isn’t there.  That takes a much more thorough approach.  For now, I am learning to shut up.

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5 thoughts on “Aches and Pains

  1. So glad to find your blog and see that it reflects so much of my own meandering reflections. It seems like aging serves as a catalyst for considering what life is all about and sharing our musings is fulfilling.

    I’m wondering about whether it’s so necessary to “to learn to shut up” about the amazing physical changes we go through as we age. Words like “compassion,””intimacy” “acceptance” and “connection” go through my head. To think we must “shut up” implies that our new experiences of having an aging body are “bad.” Why do we feel this way? Are we measuring ourselves and our concerns against those of youth? Do we feel less worthy because we’re getting older and have the issues that older folks face?

    When I visit my vibrant 30 something son, he and his friends talk endlessly about how to generate a successful career for themselves. They share their frustrations, help each other through rough patches, and brainstorm ideas. Not for a minute do I think that airing their angst and seeking support from their peers is negative.

    So why are seniors worried that talking about the particular challenges that being older presents might make them social isolates? The truth is, earlier consuming challenges–such as career and childrearing– generated some pretty obsessive and boring conversation too. Those concerns are over now, but our bodies are clamoring for some attention. What a hoot! A whole new world to pay attention to. And why not share the discoveries and experiences that come with this new stage of our lives? Perhaps we can give support, information, insight to one another. Perhaps we can discover that we are not alone. Perhaps we’ll find ourselves guffawing with another codger friend about the crazy tricks our bodies are playing on us. When I’m with others who are frank about their aches and pains, it’s easy to find humor in my own physical complaints and diminished capacities. This is the truth of life these days, and one can feel ashamed of that truth or share the adventure with our compatriots.

    Of course, I know that there are some people who are chronic and boring complainers, but isn’t the problem that they reject the reality of their lives, not that they are experiencing and talking about it? These are the people who seem to think that this should NOT BE HAPPENING TO ME and project an angry lack of acceptance. No one feels good to themselves or others when they’re involved rejecting what IS. The only place we have to live in is the present, and if the present contains a bum knee, a headache, a set of arthritic fingers that won’t open a jar—well so be it. There’s nothing shameful about telling it like it is and sometimes the telling gives someone else permission to give comfort or to feel less alone. Besides, it doesn’t mean that we can’t also write a poem, listen to birdsong, or arrange some flowers. We’re changing as we age, but I’m in favor of deciding that it’s all right. Not always easy, of course, but that’s why we need our buddies to allow us a little kvetch now and then before we get back to all the new things we can do with our enhanced leisure time.

    I’ve got to say that this is probably one of the happiest periods of my life and it includes a bunch of aches and physical limitations that weren’t there when I was in my stressed and melodramatic prime. How’s that for a cosmic irony. I guess I feel like we shouldn’t have to deny any aspect of our current struggles as long as we give equal attention to the good stuff.

  2. I tend to analyze pretty much every single little aspect of my life. I am constantly checking myself to see if I am being reasonable, if I am overreacting, if a am not paying enough attention to both my physical and mental being, et cetera. Although I am just a schmuck, at a mere 25 years of age, I too go through the very same introspective motions.

    I’m glad that you bring up the point of just learning to live with things and just “shutting up”, because I have been that type of person my whole life. I have always felt that it was a burden on myself, my family, and my friends, to tell discuss my issues and explain my insecurities. But, what I have come to learn so far is that it’s not so much an act of sucking it up and “shutting up”, but more an act of acceptance and viewing the world in its true color; of just being at peace with yourself and your circumstances.

    I have dealt with a lot of unnecessary stress and drama in the past, and I see how it is very easy to get caught up in the craziness and chaos that life entails, but I have also recently learned to take a step back every once and a while and analyze what is good in my life and to try and put everything into perspective.

    I do not have the knowledge and experience that you have accumulated, but from reading your blog I do see a lot of myself and of my own concerns. I am a big believer in the power of positive thinking. Not so much in the way that if I think that something is good, or a way that I want it to be, that it will come true (like magic), but in the sense that if you don’t let the insignificant, little things in left overwhelm you and as long as you hold true to the things that you love and cherish, then everything will be okay.

    I have had only the one instance to get to know you, at your 65th birthday party, and I am very grateful that you accepted me into your home and let me be a part of your celebrations. Although I have had such limited interaction with you, I was still immediately able to pick up on how you are such a warm, genuine, accepting, and kind human being! I see you analyzing your life and recognizing what you have done in the past, and what you still want to achieve, and I just want to tell you that I encourage you to keep taking leaps of faith, keep being true to yourself, and to not let the little things in life hold you down!

  3. Lia and Dan, this post has drawn the most comments, which helps me see that I have touched the surface of one side of a very important question. Actually, I think I can pose it best as two questions: Where is the line between Pollyanna-ish denial and positive thinking? On the other hand, where is the line between being real and being negative? Having been a psychologist as well as a spiritual seeker, I have had to look at these distinctions carefully. I will definitely come back to this question in a future post, and thank you for your interest.

  4. The line that separates denial and positive thinking, being real and being negative, is a very fine one. I feel that as long as you try your best and try to be as true to yourself as you can, you are on the right path. I’m not saying that we won’t ever be kidding ourselves or be negative Nancies; nobody is perfect and everyone certainly gets in funks. From what I’ve experienced, there are certain signs that life throws at us, certain “coincidences”, certain things that open our eyes and our perspectives, that we need to learn to tune our souls to.

    I try to live my life in the following way, a bit cliché, but there is truth behind it: Acknowledge the past, relish the present, and look toward the future. I like to make a retrospective analysis of how the things that I cherish in life came to be (I attempt to do this with the bad in my life as well, but I’m not gonna lie it’s something that I need more work on). I recall the exact circumstances, timings, and obstacles that I had to conquer in order to make those things that much more important to me. I recognize how my life could have been so drastically different and how such events have helped shape me into the person that I am today. By doing this, I try to pick up on certain intuitive patterns and inclinations that I have followed in the past that have been fruitful, and I apply that towards the goals that I set out for myself. I guess some could call it a type of faith exercise, that if you do what you feel is right, or true to you, then things will turn out okay.

    I also feel it is important to maintain relationships people that know you well, that share a history with you, and that love you dearly. This support system helps keep things in perspective and provides a great deal of courage and pride; tools one needs to keep on, keepin’ on!

    1. Hi, Dan, I totally agree with your comments, no apologies needed. Your generation is so – excuse me – damned clear! It seems like some things we hippies had to really work to understand, you were just born knowing! Please continue to read and comment. It helps me be better. Thanks, Thea

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