The day began with a reminder call that my portable oxygen tanks would be delivered between ten and twelve o’clock. “O.K.” is my standard answer. I have learned that the delivery may happen at any time. Sometimes the delivery time may be a different day. These tanks are not an emergency. They will be available for times when I leave the house. I have a large concentrator that is to be used around the clock at home. I also have a large portable tank that will be available in case of a power outage.
I have needed these tanks for the past 1 1/2 years. I smile as I remember the beginning of all this. I cleaned the house to the best of my ability. I wore clothes that would have been reserved for dress up. Now days, the oxygen delivery finds me and the house “as is”. What was once a big deal is now a casual occurrence.
The need for this delivery has not yet become a casual occurrence. A huge part of me wants to say that this delivery person must have the wrong house. This part of me finds it hard to believe that I am considered this ill.
For many years, when I worked for a family service agency, a large part of my job was to serve people via home visits. I was the one who rang people’s bell and entered their homes. I was the healthy one who climbed over drifting snow to get to the door. They put the Christmas tree out for me. Sometimes I would be the only visitor that season.
I still feel like that provider of services. As I open the door and accept the oxygen, I tell the provider how I am doing. The other part of me is also present. That part says that the person must have the wrong house. They better leave now because I have to go to work.
The traits of introversion are an asset when someone is burdened with a chronic illness. It has been two years since my diagnosis of Myasthenia Gravis. All of my muscles are weakened. My arms, hands and legs have lost strength. I have double/triple vision. It is difficult to speak because my chest muscles are not strong enough to move my vocal chords. Over exerting makes all of this worse. Rest has been emphasized as a key part of treatment. When this began, I was still working. I expected the illness to be followed by recovery. I grieved my busy life.
Prior to this illness, I developed the ability to go inside myself for answers. I love to read. I love to make art. I find myself in the zone, when creating. Seclusion doesn’t scare me; it delights me. Silence fills me up.
I know people who need commotion and drama to fill themselves up. They need outside structure and conversation. A person with those needs would have a much more difficult time coping with the isolation of chronic illness.
I am not accepting my situation. I do miss my activities. However, I believe that I am having an easier time because I can find joy in solitude.
I have worn the rose colored glasses throughout my life. My childhood role in the family deemed the glasses as necessary. I flashed that smile and said, “I can do this”. Most of the time I could. I grew into a multitasking adult who was always fine. I pushed through tasks when I was tired or ill. I did not accept limits.
For the past two years, I have been struggling with the chronic illness, Myasthenia Gravis. My pattern was to use my optimistic coping skills to deal with my MG. During the first year of this illness, I made the mistake of exerting myself whenever I felt the least amount of increased strength. This did not work. My illness and weakness increased with exercise. My neurologist said, “Exertion will make you sicker and rest will make you stronger”. During a ten day stay in ICU, I told my doctor that I was “O.K.” He told me to stop lying to him because we both knew that I was not “O.K.”. He pointed out that optimism is a good approach to many parts of life, but not this illness. I learned so much during the conversation that pursued.
During this second year of this illness, I am learning how to be realistic without being pessimistic. I have learned how to break my minimal activities into small parts. I move slowly, for the first time in my life. I have learned plan to rest completely the day before and after an appointment. I say “no” sometimes. I can ask for help.
I continue to wear the rose colored glasses quite a bit. Things are not going as I had planned, but the glasses now help me see the way things are. The glasses help me see that I do not have to be a productivity number. The glasses help me not feel guilty when I can see that some friends want and expect me to be the way I once was. The glasses help me choose people and experiences that fill me up rather than drain me.
I am learning how to be honest about my weakness and limits. At the same time I feel happy most of the time. With a few changes in technique, I can make art. I hear and enjoy music. I meditate. In spite of double vision, I read. Digital devices help me increase my font. Prisms change double and triple images to a single image. I have a big TV and I like movies. It is difficult for me to speak and for others to understand me. No, I don’t like my speech limits, but when I put the rose colored glasses on, I feel so grateful to be living in the world of social media. I have decided to keep the rosy glasses nearby at all times.
There is a wisdom that can be obtained by aging that cannot be found any other way. When I speak of aging, I use the word “old” quite freely. OLD is just as beautiful a word as YOUNG. An old face is just as beautiful as a young face. Facial lines tell awesome stories of the journey. Why would someone want these lines erased?
When was in my twenties, I facilitated a support group for older women. I held these values about aging being a positive experience. Several of my colleagues were pushing forty. They had negative attitudes about getting old. They said to me, “Just wait til it happens to you..you will see.” They were so wrong. Decades later, I continue to celebrate aging. I encourage everyone, young and old, to celebrate aging.
As my career evolved, I presented many workshops about aging. Agism is a growing topic. Why? It sells products. Agist ads tout that if someone wears goop on their face, they will look young. People are told that they should inject their skin to remove their beautiful story lines. The anti aging products and procedures are expensive. Ongoing brainwashing by the media has caused people to want these creams and needles.
As an old person, I see it as my responsibility to model and point out the joys of getting older. I frequently tell young adults not to buy the propaganda they hear about aging. I hope they will spread this information. The wisdom that can be achieved by aging cannot be achieved in another way. We cannot google it. When I think of the insight and wisdom that I have acquired each decade, I can only imagine the insights that await. I find it energizing to know that there is so much left for me to learn.
Did you know that in some Native American nations, a person is not considered an adult until age 51? It is considered normal to be indecisive as the individual travels around the medicine wheel. People under age 51 are described as not knowing enough to give advice. After 51, we become wisdom keepers. As wisdom keepers, it becomes our responsibility to pass along what we know.