Archive | Aging Ungracefully

An Exercise Jingle for Chronic Pain in Middle Age

pilates

pilatesThere’s a popular children’s song meant to inspire kids to exercise. It’s called Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. If you’ve ever had children, grandchildren, step-children or just spent time with little kids, you’ll undoubtedly be familiar with it.

Lately, I’ve been thinking that they should create a grown up version of that song, one that captures that time of life when you become acutely aware that your body is slowing down. You know that phase: After a lifetime of perfect vision, you’re suddenly wearing glasses. Long after your own children have long graduated from orthodontia, your dentist has informed you that you, too, need braces…again! 

Aches in New Places

In my case, I’d already been battling something called piriformis syndrome for years. Piriformis syndrome – for those not in the know – is, quite literally, a “pain in the ass.” It comes about due to over-use of the piriformis muscle, which connects the base of your spine to your hip. In many people, the piriformis also surrounds the sciatic nerve that runs up and down your leg. such that – when strained – you might feel pain anywhere from your bum right down to your toes. Ouch.

I could handle that. I’d been doing stretches to help manage that pain for a while now. But then around the turn of the new year, a few new pains emerged to complement my ongoing sore hip.

First, I had surgery on my vocal cords and lost my voice completely. Since January,  I have been working with assorted speech and physio-therapists to retrain myself how to speak and breathe.

Next, my eyes started stinging. It also felt like there was something inside them all the time. A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with blepharitis. My husband has had this condition for years. I wasn’t sympathetic and used to mock him for endlessly telling anyone who would listen about his “dry eyes.” Now that person doing the endless complaining is me. (“It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.” Sorry, couldn’t resist…)

And then, finally, my jaw started to ache whenever I chewed anything (TMJ). The diagnosis for that particular condition was stress. I briefly consulted with a dental psychologist (yes, that’s a profession!), who basically told me that I needed to relax.

“Yup! Working on that,” I told her.

Grrrr.

Do we all turn into our mothers?

All of these conditions are likely to remain with me, to some degree or another, for the rest of my time on earth. And I know that I’m not alone. 70% of those who experience chronic pain are women. Women also perceive pain more intensely than men do.

In order to manage these assorted medical problems without ending up back in the hospital, I now spend a good 45 minutes a day stretching, putting a warm cloth on my eyes, doing vocal warm-ups and practicing my breathing.

Which, among other things, makes me feel like my mother. I have this theory that by the time we hit middle age, we all end up turning into our mothers. When I was a kid, it seemed like my mother was forever lying on the bedroom floor “wogging” her back. I used to think that was nuts.

Now I do it all the time.

At first, I was really frustrated that I was losing so much of my day to a “non-essential” activity.

Over time, I’ve tried to change my framing of my ablutions. I try to view this “lost” time that as time gained:  I’m listening to more podcasts. Stretching also makes me feel stronger.

A New Exercise Jingle

All of which is to say that if you soon hear a jingle aimed at we middle-aged folk that goes something like this: “Throat, jaw, hip and eyes. Hip and eyes! Throat, jaw, hip and eyes…,” you’ll know who penned it.

Come to think of it, I think I better trademark that now.

What are your middle-aged ailments? By all means, feel free to moan!

Image: Pilates by alexcdcarts via Pixabay

Career Change: Finding Your Moment In Middle Age

time

timeI had coffee with a friend last week whom I hadn’t seen in a while. She and I used to work together. Like me, she left that company roughly a year ago. And, like me, she’s spent the better part of this year regrouping to figure out what’s next for her professionally.

We share a lot in common, and not only our previous place of employment. Both of us are working mothers. Both of us would like to launch our own businesses. And while both of us have experimented with different ideas over the course of the past year, our plans have evolved into something much more concrete since we last had lunch in March.

The difference is that while I feel like my new professional life is about to take off, she feels that her future is momentarily on hold. A host of domestic issues have simultaneously cropped up that are distracting her from her goals: some unexpected travel…her kids’ education…her new puppy who isn’t yet house trained. (OK, so I can’t relate to the last one).

Crucially, she is also waiting to find out whether or not she will have to go back to a full-time “normal” job in order to help her keep her family afloat.

I don’t say any of this critically. To the contrary,I say it with great empathy. I was her six years ago. Literally.

Back in 2012, I was again thinking about my next career move. (Yes, it’s a condition. My husband likes to say that I’m an “expert in career change.”) I wanted a job that would be both fulfilling and challenging. But I also had two kids aged 11 and 8 who couldn’t travel around the city on their own yet. The “11+ exams”  loomed on the horizon. (If you’re American and don’t know what these are, consider yourself lucky.)

Plus, we were in the midst of trying to buy a house. Let’s just say that having “unemployed” on your mortgage application doesn’t exactly look fantastic.

So I took a job. I was lucky that it turned out to be a good job with wonderful colleagues. But I knew the whole time I was there that it wasn’t really authentically me. Although I was acquiring a lot of new skills, it wasn’t a place that I intended to stay. But I did stay – for five years – because the timing in other parts of my life was never right for me to leave.

I’m in a different place now. My kids are in secondary school. We own a house. Sure, the banister lifts out of the staircase if you put your hand on it. And our shower was recently replaced because sewage – yes, sewage – was clogging one of the pipes in the bathroom. But the house has four walls and a floor. Mostly, anyhow.

More importantly, I feel like things are slowly beginning to fall into place. I finished the draft of a book I’d been working on for ages. Now I’m trying to sell it. I’ve got some potential clients for my soon-t0-be-disclosed business. I may well fail at both projects. But I have enough energy – and a sufficiently  uncluttered horizon – to be able to “take a punt” now in a way that I couldn’t have contemplated before.

I reassured my friend that she just needs to be patient. This may not be “her” moment, just like 2012 wasn’t mine. But if she’s patient, I’m confident that she’ll get there eventually.

How about you? Did you ever put off something you really wanted to do because the timing wasn’t right? Conversely, did the stars ever align and enable you to take a professional risk?

Image: time-2160154_1920 by Sevgi001453d via Pixabay

My Midlife Search for Authenticity and Integrity

integrity

integrityI had coffee with a friend of mine in London recently. We talked about our joint desire to make our second half of life both meaningful and productive.

He’s in his early 60’s, and he told me that he had decided to organize the rest of his life around the principle of “integrity.” By integrity, he did not mean moral probity. He was referring instead to the less frequently used definition of integrity – unity, wholeness, coherence and cohesion.

I knew exactly what he meant. I, too, had recently come to the same conclusion.

Indulging One Side of One’s Self

For the last several years, my own personal “watchword” has been authenticity. Particularly in the professional realm, I felt that I had drifted too far in the direction of being a “manager” in recent years, and had lost touch with my “maker” self.

And so, when I found myself lucky enough to get laid off from my job last summer – with a generous severance package,I went 180 degrees in the opposite direction: I wrote a book, I took acting classes, I started swimming every day. I immersed myself in a creative life.

It was a corrective of sorts, and I reveled in the rush that came from focusing on the side of me that had been starved for so long. Ideas flowed. Writing Flowed. I felt like I was re-introducing myself – to myself  – and that was exhilarating.

Bringing the Manager Back In

Over time, however, that corrective began to need a corrective. As refreshing as it was to call myself a writer again – and to feel the truth of that identity wash over me every morning as I sat down at my desk – in the back of my mind, I knew that my manager self could not be entirely eliminated from the picture.

At first, I brought her in to accomplish small things, like cooking. Then I realized that I needed a safe way to incorporate my manager self into my journey of career change – not to dominate my maker self – but to co-exist with her on equal footing. And that meant fashioning a professional identity that would not miraculously render me the Director of a Musical Theatre revue (though a non-trivial part of me does pine for that identity.) Nor would it mean making a living simply by leveraging my most marketable skills. Rather, I would need to find a way to enable the writer, blogger and aspiring actress to co-exist with the social scientist, editor and project manager.

That sounds simple and obvious. But it isn’t. For me, anyway. For deeply psychological reasons that are far too complicated to go into here, I’ve always been more comfortable bifurcating myself into two halves. Being a fully integrated manager/maker -right brain/left brain sorta gal has been an incredibly hard thing to realize. My body, soul and mind want me to choose one side or the other, and I am using every fiber of my being right now not to do that.

I am resolved to achieve this however. I know, at the end of the day, that I will only ever feel myself when I enable all of the different voices inside me to surface and co-mingle, messy as that might be. I wasn’t born an engineer. Nor was I born an artist. I’m a bit of both.

In Search of Balance

Accepting that has been one of midlife’s biggest challenges.

But I’m getting there. As a big fan of mindfulness, I was delighted to discover a new series on my Headspace App called “Balance.” It is all about trying to identify those things in your life – not just your job, but what you eat, how you spend your time – that make you feel imbalanced. And once you notice them, you are then empowered to decide whether or not you wish to remedy them.

I no longer do any work on the weekends, for example. (Granted, I have the luxury of being unemployed right now, so it’s quite easy to fob things off until Monday.) But the change I see in myself over the past eight months is that I no longer *want* to work on the weekends anymore. Because that feels imbalanced. Whereas it used to just feel normal.

I don’t think this is the kind of thing that one can appreciate, let alone rectify, until we hit mid-life. When you’re young, you simply act on your impulses. You don’t examine them and try to do better.

How about you? Do you struggle to achieve balance in life and how does that manifest itself? What would an “integral” life look like?

Image: Integrity by Nick Youngson via The Blue Diamond Gallery

 

 

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons Weddings Make You Feel Young

wedding

weddingOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve always loved weddings. When I was younger, I saw them as a giant, free party.

And I still do. But as I age – and move out of the wedding phase of life and into the era when everybody starts getting divorced – I don’t go to all that many weddings anymore.

So when I do,  they are a real source of rejuvenation for me personally.

There are the obvious reasons for this: true love, the pageantry, Pachelbel’s Canon etc.

But there are also other ways in which attending a wedding will give you an much needed energy boost. Here are five:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Romantic Weddings at Janna Sur Mer d’Amour, Lebanon via Wikimedia Commons

The Designated Adult Club

retirement calendar

retirement calendarI was on Facebook the other day when a former colleague who has just started a new job jumped in with a query about pension plans.

“I need an accountant,” she wrote on her wall. “I need advice on what to with the multiple pension plans I’ve accrued since I started working. I’m not sure if I should combine them –  or keep them separate.”

Within minutes, a whole bunch of us who’d worked together with her had glommed onto this thread. Turns out, she wasn’t alone. Several of us had more than one pension plan and we all needed the same advice.

At some point several comments in, someone on the thread suggested that if my colleague was able to obtain the answer to this question, she could share it with the rest of us over drinks. (We’d pick up the tab.)

And then someone else had this brilliant idea: Why don’t we make a deal where one of us is put in charge of making these sorts of vital, grown-up decisions for the entire group on a six-month, rotating basis.

And just like that, the “Designated Adult” (DA) Club was born. (I gave it this name, in honor of the “designated driver” who volunteers to drive when everyone else wants to get sloshed.) Before long, everyone wanted to claim the IP on this thing.

All joking aside, I don’t think the DA Club is a half bad idea. Let’s be honest. Just as there are many tasks you’d love to outsource as a parent when your kids are little (swimming lessons being a particular favorite of my own), there are things you simply don’t have – or want to have – the bandwidth to figure out when you grow up.

In addition to pension plans, I’d like to add to our list of queries things like: figuring out which “color” you are without paying someone $1,000 to tell you…how to keep outdoor plants alive indoors during the winter months…what to do when your Siemens dryer tells you that the water is “full” and you have no idea how to fix it…what to bring to someone’s house in the UK when they invite you for “tea” at 5 pm….(Answer to that last one: Not Vodka. Trust me. I learned the hard way.)

Plus, I like the idea of having a rotating DA Club President, sort of like the Presidency of the EU. I have a friend who used to meet up on Friday afternoons with some of her friends to do what they called “Admin Club,” where everybody sits around plowing through the pile of gross items on their individual to do lists – e.g., filing their taxes, writing thank you cards for their cousin’s bridal shower, knitting a shawl for their Great Aunt Betty Sue, organizing their photos, etc.

I thought that was a brilliant idea. But I like this one even better. You wear the grown up hat for a six month period that works for your work/life/family needs, and then you turn it over to someone else. (“Sorry, friend. My term expired yesterday. I’m afraid you’ll have to figure out for the rest of us how how to obtain European citizenship if you don’t have a European grandparent…”)

One of my former colleagues, who liked the idea of this DA club very much, nonetheless stipulated that if we did ever incorporate as a proper LLC, I would not be able to blog about the different requests. She feared that it might reveal our collective dysfunction.

Sorry, hon. I don’t think I saw that clause in my contract…

Please join in the fun. What sorts of things would you like the DA Club to sort out for you?

Image: Retirement Calendar by American Advisors Group via Flickr

Why Losing My Voice Made Me Feel Like a 5 Year-Old

children's scisssors

children's scisssorsInside Voice.” “Listening Ears.”

These are terms I’d not thought about in a decade since my daughter – now 14 – was in reception (kindergarten) at primary school.

But in the aftermath of a recent surgery on my vocal cords, they are now flooding back. I was unable to speak at all for a full three days last week and must rest my voice for the next two weeks. So I am now, at the tender age of …well, never mind, a pre-school teacher’s dream student.

As a consummate extrovert – someone who can frequently be found talking to herself when no one else will listen – not speaking is hard for me. But it’s all the harder when I am forced to feel like I still ought to be drinking out of a sippy cup.

A case in point. The first night back from surgery, I was watching my favorite French cop show, Spiral, with my husband. Despite being an otherwise rather intelligent man, my husband has difficulty absorbing plot twists rapidly. So every few minutes he would hit “pause” and then I would have to furiously scribble down my explanation for whatever was going on in the show on a piece of paper.

Unfortunately – and this hasn’t shifted very much since I was five – my handwriting is quite poor. So my husband could not decipher my graffiti and (silent) conflict would then ensue.

It got worse from there. With my two teenagers, I was unable to interrupt/scold/micro-manage/cajole/pick your poison with my usual alacrity. This resulted in me resorting to a variety of hand gestures that were definitely NSFW. I know, I know. Bad parenting. But it’s so much more efficient to deploy the odd chin flick when they fail to do the dishes, than to actually try and express my annoyance longhand.

This week, I am thankfully allowed to talk (more) but I am now doing speech therapy. Turns out, the main thing I need to work on is my breathing. When I breathe, far too much of the activity comes from my shoulders and neck, rather than from my diaphragm. It’s actually possible that the stress built up from a lifetime of incorrect breathing caused my voice problem in the first place. To rectify that, I now spend about half of my day blowing bubbles into a glass of water while humming notes and doing scales. Here’s what it sounds like.

I know that a month ago – the last time I was told not to speak – I found the experience to be an important source of life lessons concerning things like empathy and the value of alone time. On some level, I’m sure that losing my voice has also been good for reflecting on how I want to redefine myself professionally right now. (Inside the Crysalis, no one can hear you scream…)

More on that another time.

But this week, all I can say is that I do feel like I belong back in kindergarten. All I’m missing is the art smock and a set of those colorful scissors.

I know I talk a lot about being young at heart on this blog, but this is really pushing it…

Image: Colorful Scissors by Natural Pastels via Pixabay

 

 

 

 

It Takes A (Retirement) Village: Solving the Elderly Housing Crisis in the UK

retirement village

retirement village

“It takes a Village,” Hillary Rodham Clinton once famously wrote. She was referring to how societies can best support children to become able, resilient adults. But I think the same principle might readily be applied to how we care for a rapidly ageing population.

I began to turn this over in my mind whilst checking into a recent flight back to America to help my 86 year-old mother move into an “independent living” unit located within a larger retirement village. After years of living in a large house on her own, she’d decided to live in a smaller, more manageable space and with more people around her.

In such villages, you buy or rent your own apartment, but have access to dozens of basic support and care services as you need them (for a fee). (The retirement home also takes an “exit fee” when you die or move on to assisted living.)

When I explained all of this to the British Airways employee checking me into my flight, a look of amazement crossed her face.

“I’d love to do something like that for my mother,” she confided. “But in my country (Romania), the family is expected to provide everything, even if you’re working. My sister and I were shamed in my village for not moving back to take care of our mother. I don’t know what to do.”

Read the rest of this post over on the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing blog

Image: The Hawthornes Eastbourne Retirement Home via Wikimedia Commons

Five Reasons Funerals Can Be Uplifting

casket

Tips for Adulthood: Five Things To Do Before You Die

bible

bibleOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

We all have those lists, whether formalized or not. One of my friends wants to run a marathon on all seven continents. (I think he’s up to four or five by now.) Another has sworn that she’ll open her own coffee import/export business.

Obviously, every person’s bucket list will be different. So the advice here is really to create your own list and then figure out how you can begin moving towards realizing some of your goals.

I’ll go first.

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Bible by Nick Youngson via the Blue Diamond Gallery

Tips For Adulthood: Do You Wish You Could Change Your Past?

etch a sketch

etch a sketchOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

A while back on Facebook, a friend of mine posted the following status update:

“If you could go back and etch-a-sketch away some part of your life, what would it be?”

Wow. What  a great question. I’ve always believed that regret is a central component of adulthood. But many of our regrets are really longings,  so we wouldn’t want to erase them, because they define who we are.

In contrast, I love the concept of the etch-a-sketch – that iconic childhood toy – to capture those aspects of our past that we’d truly like to eliminate so that even the vestiges of their imprint don’t remain.

So I got to thinking about what would be on my etch-a-sketch list. Here’s what I came up with. 

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

 

 

 

Image: Shake it, Start Over by Rex Sorgatz via Flickr