Live your life!
Advice from a physician to his patient following her recovery from illness
This past week I went for a routine medical test- to make sure my body (or a part of my body) was in good working order. Medical tests and visits to the doctor become an increasing fact of life once you reach that magic age of 50. They also bring with them a sense of trepidation and greater level of concern that I find disconcerting.
Things change as we get older, including our bodies and the changes can be varied and unexpected. For example, there are the physical changes that creep up on you such as thinning hair and thickened waistlines and those sensations (not sure what else to call them) that can only be described as perplexing and pesky. These include the vague and quirky aches that come and go; stiffness; joint pain; sleep disturbances; memory lapses; floaters (those spots before our eyes); and innocuous or questionable skin lesions. On it goes.
The dilemma that presents itself is whether to accept these occurrences as the new normal or get them checked out. Suddenly the realization dawns -which we knew but maybe didn’t fully grasp- that we cannot take our health for granted and that life as we know it on this earth has a finite quality to it.
Many of us live our lives, thinking that disease (or dis-ease as I like to think of it) and illness are what happen to others. But sometimes those “others” are people near and dear to us or they may even be us. There is nothing like unexpected (read: unwelcome) news about your health to stop you in your tracks. Issues that we thought were pressing, abruptly lose their punch.
Illness at its core is an equal opportunity experience that disregards if you are rich or poor; have a great deal of power or very little at all. It also fails to take into account what other curve balls life is currently throwing at you such as job loss or difficult relationship issues. Illness is the most inconvenient of interruptions and there is nothing fair about it.
Suddenly those screening tests and checkups take on a new meaning. Test is very much the operative word. If the results are not what we hoped for we may feel our body has let us down and we head down the path of treatment or need for changes to how we live our life. If the results are good ones, we often experience a palpable sense of relief- that we are somehow off the hook. I was lucky this time. As Anne Lamott has observed, it feels like dodging a bullet. There is a randomness about it that is unsettling.
And so we go into necessary denial for a while and put off booking the next test we need because we really just don’t want to know and maybe things will resolve themselves. Or we think about quitting those nasty habits we so enjoy (the extra glass of wine; the double chocolate doughnut; being horizontal on the couch) and promise ourselves to do “better”. In the meantime, we try to avoid the scourge of rumination and wild imaginings that can take hold.
I do not have an answer about how to deal with any of this stuff. Issues of health and illness and getting older are deeply personal. Such issues, though, do create an opportunity to think more deeply about how we live our lives because in an instant they cut a swath through the trivial and mundane to reveal what is important and true. And what is true is that regardless of what health concerns we face or worry about, no matter how small or how serious, matters of health and illness (physical, mental, spiritual) do not define us. It is not who we are.
Each of us needs to decide how to best live our own life when faced with uncertainty and getting older. Perhaps in the meantime we can:
- lovingly thank our body for what it does every day including the capacity to heal
- pay attention to the messages from our bodies because our bodies are wise
- extend a hand to someone who needs help and ask for help when we need it
- live our life on our own terms- jumping in wholeheartedly, outrageously, enjoying the sacredness of ordinary tasks and cultivating a sense of play
- experience a sense of well-being regardless of our state of health
In short: Celebrate La Dolce Vita! We are the ones who get to decide what that will look like. And in so doing, may we always be well.