This past year I decided I needed an attitude adjustment regarding personal health – my own and others. You see, for most of my life I’ve had a pretty odd relationship with conversations around health issues. Up until now I’ve been what I would call, dismissive and intolerant and my mind seems to automatically shut down when friends and family start talking about medical details.
Personally, I power through fatigue, retreat to my yoga mat to stretch my aches and generally avoid the doctor. I take no vitamins and pray hard that I’ll get the thumbs up during my annual physicals. Up until now I have subscribed to exercise and diet as my medicine with a few z-packs on the side and gotten away with it.
Somehow, I’ve perceived giving into discomfort as equivalent to feeling old. My Dad was very judgmental about health issues. When my mom would get sick his line was, “your Mom is enjoying poor health.” Empathy around health issues was not in his vocabulary. I adopted my Dad’s attitude and decided that those who complained were indulgent – full stop.
That worked until recently. Life in my 50’s is demanding a change in my language and attitude around health issues. Instead of fixing – it’s about “living with and adapting to.” My very knowledgeable dear friend recently told me that most people of our generation will be “living with cancer vs. dying from cancer.” When he first said this, I was frightened (that was 2 years ago), today, that comforts me.
One of my dearest friends is suffering from a virulent cancer and she has been “living with her cancer” for 3 years now. The road has been very very difficult, she is strong and so is the medicine but unfortunately, so is the cancer. Nonetheless, she lives with it and makes the best out of each and every day.
Wisdom and age hopefully live side by side at midlife and beyond so, at 50 it stands to reason that old knee jerk behaviors begin to evolve when reason merges with experience. And now that the health conversation is prevalent amongst family and friends – I’ve noted that my pre-50 year old outlook no longer serves me.
This is why recently when confronted with my dear friend’s illness, I have chosen to stay vs. retreat – to listen and ask vs. distract the conversation –and admit to myself that I am limited to being present and loving. This is the best me I can bring in times of need to those I love. This is a huge shift.
While this change in behavior has happened gradually, it has come with a lot of self-criticism and a lot of inner dialogue. Being more present raises the issue of – “What more can I do to help”?
Accepting my own limitations to give, to comfort, and to share the finite hours in my day challenges me to step up even more – question whether I can do more. “Doing the best I can”, never quite feels like enough… yet I know it needs to FEEL like it’s enough.
So now in my 50’s I am working on balancing self-kindness and giving. I have exhausted myself time and again thinking I could do more.
The evolution continues.