By Marilyn Hay
bodies weather age better than others. In my case, arthritis has
invaded my whole spine and all major joints, so my mobility has
diminished quite significantly over a relatively short period of time.
While I was never much of an athlete, I was always on the go, with
energy to burn, traveling pretty much constantly in my job and for
pleasure … And then, because of the unbearable pain and attendant
exhaustion, I just had to stop. I couldn’t do my job any longer.
scarcely remember the first two months of this change of lifestyle as I
spent most of the time sleeping. When I woke up enough to really look
around, I realized I was no longer the person I had been.
And that’s a hard awakening.
There are so many aspects to this kind of sudden and significant life change.
had to deal with feelings of grief over the loss of what was, guilt
about no longer being able to do my job (and the relief I felt, as
well, that I didn’t have to keep pushing, which just led to more
guilt), despair that sprang from the exhaustion and pain (as well as
from my loss of identity), and fear about how I would be able to manage
on my own. And there was anger that my body had betrayed me. I suspect
some of those endless two months of sleeping was fueled by depression.
I never did get the closure of a retirement function: I just ‘faded
away’ like an Old West hero who just rides off into the sunset.
Would I ever be able to travel again? What was I going to do with all this unfilled time I suddenly had?
Wallowing in a pit of despair wasn’t an acceptable option. Really—I much prefer to be happy.
months, it was all I could do to get out of the house and do grocery
shopping. I had to learn how to live with pain that was never going to
go away and that only got worse. In the light of day, it’s easier. I
can think about other things, distract myself. The pain doesn’t go
away, but at least I can keep moving to some degree. But at night, when
it’s impossible to sleep and the pain is raging, it can be
overwhelming. Medication can help, but that carries its own
pitfalls—foggy thinking, faulty memory, a kind of bleariness or
numbness that takes the edge off living—so I try to avoid taking much
of it. When I’ve had moments of nearly hysterical frustration and
angst, I’ve had to learn to stop and just breathe, tell myself the
night will end … and, sometimes, pray for relief. And then give up
fighting, as focusing on pain only makes it worse. So I find something
to do, to write or read. Insomnia remains an ever-present challenge.
I had to do some serious ‘reframing’.
had to admit that I had to start paying attention to my body, and not
simply use it as a device to carry my head around. I bought a ‘hundred
swims’ pass at the nearby pool, and then discovered it was a cold water
athletic pool that left my joints screaming in protest. Clearly, that
wasn’t going to work. I joined a tai chi class and went religiously
three to four times a week for nearly a year, plus did basic movement
exercises at home. It worked for a while, in terms of rebuilding
general fitness and stamina, but the pain of it became unbearable after
a while, and I gave up on that, too. I still do some basic moves at
home because it really does help maintain a degree of flexibility and
fitness. I tried acupuncture and Chinese tuina massage twice a week for
over a year … and that helped. I worked with physiotherapists, a
personal trainer, and a chiropractor. And I’ve been getting weekly deep
tissue therapeutic massage for two years now, which is what seems to
work best for me.
I couldn’t go back to work. Lack of sleep,
pain meds, the unpredictable flares of pain themselves, all mean that I
never know which day I’ll be functional as opposed to scarcely able to
move or even think clearly. However, I could and did continue to coach
previous staff and colleagues by phone, which helped me fulfill some of
my needs to do something of worth.
That still left a huge
amount of time on my hands. Well, if I couldn’t go out into the world,
I could bring the world to me through my computer. I had the time to
pursue lifelong interests in writing and painting. Now I write fiction,
and find I thoroughly love writing. I’ve taken some art lessons, and
have discovered it’s fun (and I’m pretty good at it). And I’ve always
loved reading. So I find I can still be creative and fill my days with
joyful undertakings. I can do things I never had time to do while
chasing around fulfilling my career responsibilities. For that, I’m