Stop Striving, Start Thriving – Guest Post by Suzann Robins
Once in awhile I read a truly authentic description of a snippet of life. Here is a poignant expression of one woman’s exploration into her own aging process. I have heard it said that aging is not for the faint of heart, the weak or the cowardly. To survive and thrive as the years are added onto our life, there are inevitable challenges, diminishing strengths and chronic ailments that will affect each of us in different ways and at different points in time. Some of the challenges are caused by our genetic makeup, some result from life experiences, some are caused by environmental factors, and some of our aging problems may have been preventable, triggered by a less than healthy lifestyle.
Stop Striving, Start Thriving – Guest Post by Suzann Robins
I am a crone with a changing body. So many people are unhappy with their size or shape, and until recently I was doing fine with mine. I began practicing yoga and taking aerobic classes as a young mother in the early ’70s. After my third child, I carried a few extra pounds, but otherwise I was happy with the shape I was in. When I turned 50, I learned tai chi and began teaching flow yoga and aquatic exercise to seniors. It was great because I was the youngest one in class and I loved getting paid to exercise. Most weeks, I led ten different classes; now I can hardly move.
How could things change so quickly? I moved to Denver in 2009, and suddenly I had a different body. At first we blamed the altitude—I had always lived at sea level, but after two years in the Mile High City I still had not adjusted. I gained weight and found it difficult to breathe after the slightest exertion, impossible to walk and talk at the same time. Every muscle hurt and I frequently dropped things. I knew something was wrong. My usual treatment of acupuncture and homeopathic remedies was not working. I was growing weaker all the time and could hardly lift my right arm. I needed help getting dressed; cooking was a dreaded chore, and eating a painful experience. At our family reunion, I could not pick up my grandsons and needed help getting in and out of a car. I had little energy to do anything but move from the bed to the couch. All I wanted to do was sleep.
Something had to change. My first step was a new invention called the “Life Vessel,” designed to align the autonomic and sympathetic nervous systems. Next was blood work to determine why I still felt so badly. Blood tests showed nothing unusual and a naturopathic doctor suggested that when that happens, they often suspect Lymes disease. I remembered being bitten by a tick months before moving to Denver. A list of Lymes symptoms explained everything. I started on an antibiotic, a variety of vitamins and minerals, and a few dietary changes. A few months into my therapy, which includes gentle yoga and tai chi classes, and network chiropractic, I am still weak. It seems I can’t do much else than take care of my tired old body. Will I ever be “better”? I will never be 60 again, and maybe that comfortable, familiar body is gone forever. What’s an ole crone to do?
I have choices: 1) give in to the pain and move slowly from the bed to the couch, becoming dependent on others to cook and clean, and accepting help with activities of daily living; or 2) struggle to keep the little energy I have available for pursuing treatments that “might” make a difference. Obviously, I am making the choice to keep going, exploring different Complementary and Alternative Modalities. Called CAM by the National Institute of Health (NIH), they have been an interest of mine since my 10-year-old son was in a near fatal accident in 1979.
We used an integrative-spiritual approach while he was in a coma for two weeks. Two months later, he was released from the children’s head trauma hospital as their most amazing recovery. For the next several years, I took him from one healer to another—people who worked with their hands, such as massage, Rolfing, and reflexology; and those who worked with his head, using sensory integration, Brain Gym®, and eye exercises. Thirty years later, he is married and has two sons of his own. His healthy young body was able to heal in spite of extensive injuries. All bodies are made up of a combination of water and electrical circuits; some we understand, others we do not. The flow of energy, or vital life force, is essential to well-being. Can we feel “good” even if we are in pain or can hardly move? People in wheelchairs, for whatever reason, have demonstrated that this is possible. It is all about attitude. Does the body control the mind or does the mind control the body?
Since my son’s accident, I believe in the power of the mind as the best path to healing. When diagnosed with Lymes, I began to question this, and once again discovered if my activities are limited, I can either complain and feel badly, or do whatever I can with the energy I have. When I run out of energy, I can find a place to sit down or take a nap when possible. I’ve had to acknowledge that I can no longer teach exercise classes or tote heavy books across campus, as I have for years. I can create activities that don’t require a great expenditure of energy and avoid the things that literally take the wind out of me. I know when I can’t stand for any length of time, and often find myself looking for the closest chair. I am learning to cook while sitting down and finding adaptive ways to get dressed.
Lymes disease includes symptoms similar to chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Many strains of viruses and bacteria from tick bites are resistant to some antibiotics, and often require more than one round of different kinds before a person experiences any relief. In the midst of this process, I don’t know from one day to the next how I am going to feel. Because we age constantly, I will never be back in the body I had when all of this started; and this body is no longer dependable.
We change from the day we are born, until the day we die. Our bodies are never the same from one year to the next as we make our assent from maiden to mother to crone. In the descent to death, the decline is slow for some and rapid for others. There is no way of knowing in advance if we are going to age well or poorly. And then there is the loss of the mind, and I don’t mean just the memory. I could cope more easily with the decline of my body if I didn’t feel so confused. Before beginning my healing journey, I felt as if I couldn’t track things; I didn’t sequence well, could not put two thoughts together to draw a conclusion. Pain is a terrible thing, but does it cause all of this as well?
Another step in my process was to have my eyes examined, because my vision was changing rapidly. I wondered if that could be the root of my thinking problems. The diagnosis was both glaucoma and cataracts. No wonder I could not see clearly. I began to research these problems and found, in addition to the preventative things one can do, other remedies have proven effective for changing the course of vision loss. I am now doing all of those things in addition to taking more time to be introspective, more meditative, and mindful of my shortcomings. I give myself time off, time out, and go within to that quiet place where there is complete peace and harmony. I am fortunate that I learned to meditate many years ago, even before my son’s accident, and I truly believe that having a practice of meditation provided the skills I needed to cope with that situation, as well as others in my life. Using the breath to still the mind is a potent antidote to stress.
Another great relief for stress is healthy relationships. I am fortunate to be in a very loving relationship after being married for 20 years, followed by 10 years of living with a woman, and 10 years of being single. My current partner and I met just before my 61st birthday and the intimacy we experience is greater than I ever imagined; not only sexual intimacy but the opportunity to look into ourselves and see our shortcomings, and be able and willing to name them and change them. This is not always an easy process. Willingness is the main ingredient.
We both desire to create healthy relationships, and therefore we are willing to notice when we are not fully present or fully honest with each other. We are patient with each other and spend time talking and listening to our visions for the future. In order to build trust, we must constantly stay aware, not fall into old negative patterns or default settings. We empower each other to be the best we can be as we spill over with love that is often hot and juicy, and other times cool and level-headed. We are not sure what the future holds. We both love to travel listen to the sound of the ocean. I am drawn to the San Francisco Bay area and have always imagined retiring there. He too thinks about that possibility, but has lived in the same house for 40+ years and I have moved often. We slowly work out the logistics.
Together we are creating a vision for an elder community, where a group of people commit to caring for each other “till death do us part.” We don’t want to be dependent on our children and we don’t want to live in an “old folks home” with people we don’t know. Instead, we are discussing various concepts with a group who have worked on friendships and open, loving communication with each other for years. As we all grow older, we envision living within close proximity, which makes sharing talents and resources possible—skills and labor, goods and services will be pooled, and therefore go further.
This vision is not yet a reality but a probability for the near future. Perhaps several of us will live in a big house with four or five bedrooms, sharing one kitchen and laundry room. This is something I have been talking about for years, wondering why people go off two by two, as if that is the maximum number that we can get along with. I don’t want to live alone. I never have, and I don’t want to be stuck listening to only one other person’s conversation and set of problems. Nor do I want to be a burden to only one person.
If we join together in community homes, the cost of living would be much cheaper. If a small group agrees to care for one another, we can each provide whatever we can to the best of our ability at the time. Eventually, we might need to hire a younger person to help with the food and the laundry, and another to manage the finances. But more than likely, in a group of six or eight people, even age 70-90, there will be at least one with an interest in preparing a meal and another with the capacity to work with the numbers. I am holding this vision, not only for my own future but as a possibility for others.
Active senior living, assisted living, progressive care, and nursing homes were designed for our parents’ generation. As so many baby boomers approach our crone and sage years, we need to keep our creativity intact and continue to share our talents with those around us. Those of us who have always thought outside the box and rebelled against the status quo will find ways to age differently. We are part of the revolution, part of revolving toward bringing more LOVE into the world with our music and dancing and willingness to embrace change. Our generation has brought about changes in civil rights, in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and polyamorous world, in the realm of disabilities, the hospice movement; and now we are addressing our own aging. We will find ways to age gracefully, with dignity and innovation.
In the near future, many of us will drive tiny electric cars and use wood stoves and fireplaces more efficiently. We will put up wind mills and solar panels, finding new ways to heat water, perhaps with a system as simple as hoses on the roof. Things we have been talking about and imagining for years will be more practical as we find ways to save rather than spend money.
It begins with me: putting out my vision and publishing my ideas while I can make the font bigger so I can see it. As long as my fingers can type and spell-check keeps working, I will be able to make a contribution to society. I am hopeful about the future, in spite of the fact that I am not as strong as I used to be. I look forward to having more quiet and gardening time. I look forward to listening to books on tape and learning new things from teleseminars and webinars.
I look forward to sharing whatever I can with those who are willing to listen to me talk about what I have learned throughout my lifetime. And when no one is willing to listen, then I look forward to going to the place of peace and complete harmony that I find within my own psyche. That place where I get to be the best crone I can possibly be and I don’t need this body any longer.
I even look forward to shedding this body and going on to the next level of incarnation, or whatever is beyond this lifetime—heaven, hell, a bit of purgatory—nirvana, the wheel of life, the vast unknown, the final resting-place. Whatever is next will simply be another set of learning experiences. I have enjoyed this set, in spite of many disappointments, and I will enjoy the next set as well, and maybe even better.
About the Author
Suzann Panek Robins, is a fun loving, sex positive author of Exploring Intimacy: Cultivating Healthy Relationships through Insight and Intuition. She is available to travel for workshops, retreats and speaking engagements on topics of Aging, Building Powerful Teams, Healthy Relationships at home and at work, and Stress Reduction through Mindfulness. Her background as a college professor, counselor and coach specializing in personal growth, anger management, hypnotherapy, emotions and related areas, makes her well suited for events of any size. At the time of this writing she teaches at Community College of Denver, Colorado, and looks forward to full time travel in whatever future she has left. Connect with Suzann