I can’t find my happy place. What on earth is the matter with me? I keep asking. At last I realize I’m mourning: not for a dear friend or valued mentor, but for my younger self. That younger self is gone, dead, passed away. In her place I now find a woman whose body tires easily and whose handgrip, legs and back have decreased in strength in spite of my determination to work out regularly at the gym. A lifelong yoga practice leaves me still flexible. At least I can still touch my toes easily and jump from one Lake Ontario rock to the next as I walk Sammy the Poodle.
I’ve always counted myself among the winners of the aging game.
Long ago as a graduate student in The University of Toronto’s School of Social Work, my placement was in the geriatrics department of a large hospital. There I witnessed hundreds of older folk who hadn’t walked farther than bedroom to living room and bathroom to kitchen from the time they’d stopped having to go to work each day. They’d almost willed their brains and their bodies to stop working.
In more recent times, I visit retirement communities where women my age and a bit older sit hunched-over in their chairs. If you need motivation to stay fit, I recommend a visit to a geriatric centre. There in the lobbies and in the dining rooms you’ll find what happens to the aging body if it isn’t made to work to its capacity.
The really deep mourning began when I was recently diagnosed with COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. ME?! I’m a great breather, a former distance runner, a lifelong practitioner of yoga. In short, a healthy 78 year old who makes sure to run on the treadmill and climb hills with Sammy the Poodle. Cardiovascular fitness, stretching for the joints and a healthy lifestyle are mine. I’m so glad I kept up my yoga practice.
So, how did I get a disease that would only get worse with time?
I’d always maintained that we make our decisions throughout life and then we get to live with them. I thought all my decisions had been the right ones. At age 30 I became a dedicated yoga practitioner and went on to teach this. What had I done to deserve this diagnosis of chronicity?
I smoked. That’s what they told me. Yes, I was a smoker once, long ago. In fact it was half a century ago, when I was an under graduate studying English and Italian and drinking the requisite black coffee while I smoked one cigarette after the other.
It’s strange that smoking would come back to haunt me now. My own theory is that I’ve been through so much change and stress, that the weakest part of my body had to pay the price. I can only assume that my lungs were the weakest part.
Note: As I write this, I’m already moving on to a new awareness and hopefulness about my loss. In my next blog post, I’ll tell you how Mindfulness and Focusing are helping me to move past this blocked stage in my life.