Friday, March 2, 2007

Aging Gracefully

For as long as I can remember, I wondered why people dreaded getting older. Why was it so bad? Why did people dread it, fight it, avoid it? From a very young age, I remember thinking that I would be different. I would embrace aging. I was going to age gracefully.

My first sliver of reality occurred at the age of 19. I was brushing my hair and saw something glimmering in the bathroom light. I looked closer. Could it be? No. No way. I was only 19! No way did I have a gray hair! I carefully examined my entire scalp, using mirrors and positions I now only dream about. Well, that was it. Only one. It had to be some sort of fluke. I carefully plucked it out of my head and threw it into the garbage can. The kitchen garbage can. Underneath some other stuff.

Somewhere in my mid-twenties, I noticed a couple more gray hairs. Just a couple. They didn't really bother me. When I was 33 and pregnant with my son, my hairdresser said, "Whoa! After you have that kid, give me a call and I'll take care of those grays for you!" That's exactly what I did. It's okay, I reasoned. Curly hair that grays early runs in our family. No big deal.

I've been through years of coloring, highlighting, orange hair, chunky streaks, you name it. Every six months or so I think back to my promise to myself about aging gracefully. I decide to let my gray grow in. I usually last a couple of months or so; then I see my grandmother's face staring back at me from the mirror (the one with the curly gray hair), and it's back to the coloring. One time, a friend I hadn't seen for a while said, "What is up with your hair????" "Uhmmm, I'm trying to be more natural?" I whispered, hopefully. "Yeah, well, you look old. Here's the phone, call the salon or I will." And I folded, just like that.

And so it goes.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I gained 54 pounds. I lost 60 pounds fairly easily and was wearing a bikini the next summer. I silently wondered what all the fuss was about. Baby fat? No problem. Those were the days when I could eat an apple for dinner for two or three nights and drop 5 pounds.

Then I hit 40-ish. I don't remember the date, but I remember the jeans. (I might even still have them.) I'd spent the summer wearing stretchy shorts and loose-fitting skirts, and when the weather turned cooler, I pulled out my jeans. They were too tight and riding right up my butt. Huh. I must have put these in the dryer... for a really long time... and forgot about them. So, I pulled out the Gap khakis. Same story. Shrunk in the dryer? Suddenly it hit me: I had gained weight. I was shocked and appalled. Okay, I can deal with this. I spent the winter in stretchy elastic waisted pants from Costco. I tried every diet you can think of: low carb, low fat, cabbage soup, rice, grapefruit... did I forget any? I jogged, I aerobicised, I lifted weights. I never got back into those jeans. Now, at age 46, I am starting to slowly accept that this is my body, and it's as good as it's ever going to be.

I don't think I'll go into the sagging body parts. Let's just say that everything that was once pert and perky is no longer.

My latest aging woe has hit me hard. I injured my back about 4 years ago, and it was a bad one. The doctor said it was probably a pulled muscle. Then it moved into my hip and down my leg into sciatica. I went to a chiropractor. Oh, yes, I was all out of alignment. He adjusted me and it helped, for a while, but it never really totally healed. A sudden movement could send my back into spasms and cause pain for days. The acupuncturist helped, too, for a while.

For the past couple of months, the pain has been progressing. I resisted seeing anyone, thinking that it was going to heal. All by itself. Okay, I'd buy a new mattress, then it would be better. I'd find some magic supplement, I'd eat right, I'd exercise right, I'd lose weight, I'd meditate. Somehow, it was going to get better, I just knew it, I held on to that hope. Maybe even a miracle would occur! A miracle cure! Maybe I could cure myself?

Meanwhile, I was in pain. I broke down and made an appointment at the chiropractor everyone I know recommended to me. (Thank you, Kelly and Anne and Karen!) He was wonderful. The Derek Jeter of chiropractors. He listened to my story, then expertly ran his fingers down my spine. "Oh, there it is, " he said. Yes, that was the spot. "Yeah, it's the disc at L4. You have sort of twisted your spine in compensation, and you have tightened up right here." He touched below my left shoulder blade. Yes, more pain, he was right. "You know," he said, matter-of-factly, "once you have a disc injury, it never really totally heals. You will always have a weak spot there, for the rest of your life." I don't know why, but for just a moment, my world stopped. For the rest of my life?? So, I wasn't going to get better? I wasn't going to be able to practice all those yoga twists? I wasn't even going to be able to practice headstand variations? This was it? It was all over????

Okay, it wasn't just yoga. I have to be careful any time I bend over to pick something up. I even have to watch it when I step into my pants in the morning. Secretly, in my heart of hearts, I knew. I knew it was a disc, and I knew the injury would always be with me. Still, until I heard someone say it to me, I could deny it. Those days were over.

So, the good doc feels my cervical spine and moves my head around a little, and says, "Oh, you've also lost a little bit of rotation in your neck." "No I haven't!" He smiled, then demonstrated how my head moved easily in one direction and not so the other way. "I couldn't have lost rotation; I do YOGA!" I exclaimed. "That probably helped, and helped your shoulder, too. It could be a lot worse."

I got my adjustment. I bought the supplements and I'm taking them. I've made my next appointment. I came home, and I cried. Yes, you do gain wisdom and confidence, and the wrinkles aren't so bad. It's the loss of the dreams that hurts. And now, I get to put my resolution of aging gracefully to the test.


Cheryl said...

Have I told you how much I enjoy your blog? I always feel like I've sat down and had a cup of tea with you when I read your blog. Hope we get a chance to do it irl someday :~)

Cheryl said...

Thanks, Cheryl! Me, too.

Mike said...

I think this is beautiful... like you.