Why Aren’t We Born with Good Sense?

 

 

human body

It’s taken me 65 years to learn how intricate the body is and how interconnected all the parts are. If you damage one, you may very well be damaging the whole. But I didn’t see that in my youth. I saw disparate parts, each deserving its own focus and attention and, of course, wholly repairable if my latest fad didn’t work to my advantage.

Up until I left for college, I was pleasantly thin and never worried about what went into my mouth. As a kid I remember going through a butter phase where I would cut off a piece and eat it while I watched television with my parents. I recall my mother laughingly telling my aunt that she thought it was strange but how could a little butter hurt me?

Then I got to college, put on some weight and decided to try some very interesting diets. I started drinking Tab (horrid stuff even then), with a metallic aftertaste that was probably my digestive tract turning to lead. I realized I couldn’t live with Tab long-term and somehow a diet drink didn’t cancel out the crushed oreo covered ice cream I’d have for dessert at the dorm. But then I read about a terrific diet that I knew would be easy to follow – the sherbet diet. That’s all you ate. Yep – sherbet. As much as I love sweets, even I couldn’t stick with that one for long. Who knew I could actually crave a green bean or a spinach leave after a few days of nothing but sherbet?

I’m pretty sure at some point I’ve tried every diet known to mankind. And in my dancing days, I was fixated on the latest trend for improving health – a boatload of vitamins and minerals based on iridology. That would be great if the person “prescribing” the plethora of pills had any medical training, but no, he did not, and yes, I bought close to 15 different products that were going to give me the energy I already possessed as a thirty-year-old and extend my life (which we’ve yet to prove but I hope is accurate). It was the nausea from the handful of pills that finally convinced me to stop.

I’ve learned a lot by working in the medical field and listening to how, as the song goes, “the shin bone’s connected to the knee bone…” The more I hear, the more I understand the complexity of the body and how one small change can have enormous effects up and down the line. It’s no wonder that so many people are loathe to take medications because even though many are great short-term, many are dangerous (even lethal) long-term. In my own case, once I reached perimenopause, my gynecologist decided I needed to get on a low-dose hormone pill. My problems started showing up after about 3-4 months and over the next year got worse and worse. I told our hospice pharmacist that my hips hurt and it felt muscular. He’d never heard of that side effect. I noticed that I couldn’t stand up straight when I got out of bed in the morning and it got so bad that I couldn’t pick up my feet. I would shuffle around the bed to turn off my alarm and then into the bathroom. Oddly, after about half an hour, I would be able to stand up straight. I finally found a doctor who had heard of these drastic symptoms and she agreed I should stop taking this medication. Who would’ve thought that a medication seemingly meant to help me was slowly fusing my joints (my description, because that’s what it felt like).

So here I am at 65, no longer turning my health over to someone else. I’m aware that I eat too many sweets but my cure for that will not be to take a medication; it will be to cut out the majority of the empty calories I eat. It’s taken me decades to listen when I hear people discussing the complexities of the body but it’s fascinating. There’s a ripple effect through the body and it no longer surprises me to find that a pain in my foot is connected to a problem in my eye (I’m making that up but you get the picture) or a muscle spasm in my back is associated with my liver. It’s all connected.

I have a relative who is very heavy . . . and a vegetarian. He has said he can’t understand how he can be so overweight when he eats pretty good meals. Okay, sometimes those “pretty good meals” include soups with a bazillion grams of fat or low-fat products with a bazillion grams of sugar. He’ll liberally salt his meals before he’s even tasted them and then say he can’t figure out why his feet swell.

anti-aging-skin-care-products

Bottom line? I don’t really care if I have wrinkles and grey hair but I do care about how I feel. I realize it’s far more important than I ever understood to know how everything that goes into the body affects all the parts. I figure if I’d had more sense about how complex the body is, how the smallest thing can make such a huge difference, and that some of the damage we cause in our youth is not reversible, I might’ve paid more attention to what I was swallowing a long, long time ago.

Or maybe not. As a kid, I probably wouldn’t have listened because as kids, we know everything, right?

Revising the Dreams

72a90770fd69ee536054a810f250687a

They say getting older is not for the faint of heart. It’s true. You discover that the things you dreamed about doing when you were young, things that you’ve carried over decade to decade, are suddenly no longer within your reach. So now what? Do you persist in going after them, do you give up on the dream entirely, or do you try to find a compromise so you’re still getting some of the experience even if it’s not all it was meant to be?

I find that I have a stubborn streak that holds on to the dream for months and months, reworking it in my mind a dozen times with tiny little concessions each time, so I can still pursue the basic dream. But somewhere along the line, I realize it’s time to let it go and then I start looking at ways to make some of it happen.

One of my dreams was to have a house with enough land to create a garden retreat, a place replete with trees, flowers, vines, grass, and at least one little nook where I could hang out with a good book and enjoy the view and the quiet – sort of like the picture I chose for this post.

Getting close to retirement, I refused to give up this dream and looked only at houses with spacious back yards. But little realities kept creeping in and I must say, they really annoyed me. I have a friend who pointed out that the cost alone of all the foliage would kill me. Then I’d probably have to initially employ a landscaper to till the soil and prepare the beds. Not being much of a horticulturist, I’d probably have to get professional advice on designing my perfect retreat. All of these costsĀ are difficult, if not impossible, when living on social security.

That was my first reality. Then there’s the annoyance of old age. At 65, I’m in relatively good health but my aches and pains have increased and I notice that they do so at an accelerated pace. Perhaps that’s the problem and everyone faces it: You go for decades being in tip-top form and think it will stay that way indefinitely and then one day you discover you need back surgery for the increasing difficulty you’ve been having with what you thought were pulled muscles that were just taking longer and longer to heal, or you have a strange bout of symptoms that mimic heart problems and find you need a medication for GERD, or bounding up the stairs two at a time becomes a slower progression on a daily basis, etc. To top it off, these new issues are not things that are going to return to that 20s physique; they are permanent and likely to get worse.

I didn’t bargain for that when I was younger and, stupidly, didn’t anticipate it, either. Although aware of the possibility, when I was younger I sort of figured they always happened to someone else or that I’d see them coming and make appropriate adjustments (although what those adjustments might have been is anybody’s guess). And now, it’s too late to back up and tackle that garden with the stamina and non-creaky joints of my 20 or 30-year-old self.

So, reluctantly, I’ve realized I would never be able to keep up with the daily maintenance of a garden of that size. That acceptance, oddly, happened almost overnight. I registered the growing list of problems I might encounter but stubbornly stuck to my original plan for months. Then one day, I woke up and instead of talking about buying a house, began talking about renting a condo or townhouse with a small space off a back patio or a balcony where I could put a few potted plants. Just like that, I’d come to terms with a new reality.

And just so you know, the hardest part of this whole thing is moving forward without looking back at the things I could have done, and should have done, when I had the time, the resources and the stamina. People tell you it’s never too late, but sometimes it is, and I hate that.