There comes a time in everyone’s life when a discovery, a piece of news, a flash of understanding changes it forever. That is what happened to me in 2015. It has been a long 18 months, a time of adjusting, of accepting and of working on moving forward. What I have to share, in the hopes that it could help others, is about living with a chronic illness.
For months, years even, I experienced all sorts of odd symptoms seemly unrelated: low-grade fever, joint pain, unexplained cough, upset stomach and on and on. Everyone told me that we all get some aches and pains as we age and we should not over think that. What do you do? you begin to doubt yourself, you begin to think everyone is right and you are just not accepting your age or the changes in your body.
I kept trying until finally, I found a doctor willing to run tests until she found what was wrong. This is most important. A doctor that listens and is willing to go along until the reason for your symptoms is found. I have been lucky with that and are doing better because of it.
Just before Christmas 2015, I received a call from my doctor’s office. She wanted to see me that afternoon. I immediately thought: this cannot be good. It wasn’t. The tests were back and the doctor said the four words that have changed my life: You have Rheumatoid Arthritis. At the moment, I was not familiar with what all that meant. Arthritis didn’t sound good, thought. Well, it was worst than that.
RA is an autoimmune disease that presents many symptoms and causes untold damage to the human body. It is in the same group as Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Crohn’s Disease and other illnesses. It causes the immune system to attack healthy tissues in your body. There is no cure and produces painful inflammation not only in the joints, but the heart, lungs, liver, stomach, kidneys and any other part of your body.
Pain is your constant companion and fatigue is ever-present. Insomnia, brain fog, dry-eyes, forgetfulness are just a few symptoms. Left untreated can be deadly, but known treatments can slow the progress and help with symptoms. Unfortunately, they could also cause untold damage since they involved chemotherapy and steroids. There most be a balance so you need to research and read, inform yourself. Ask questions and go for second opinions. When you find a doctor that understands you, keep her!!!
Most of people suffering from RA have a hard time explaining the illness. It is difficult because most of us do not look sick, we continue our lives as normally as we can and try not to complain. Besides, not everyone is comfortable to sharing everything with everyone.
Each day brings new challenges and we deal with them as best we can. We can make plans and cancel them unexpectedly. There is always a possibility of a flare that will take us to bed and keep us there for a while. A day of activity can render us useless for many days afterwards. So understanding is an important part of what our friends and loved ones can do for us.
Taking care of ourselves is a priority, more than ever. Becoming selfish is a most. You cannot help anyone if you are not fit to help yourself. You learn not to feel bad about standing your ground and saying no when needed. RA is something that will shape your days for the rest of your life.
Each one of us deals with this in our own way, but it is important to realize that we must have a plan. Make changes in our way of doing things, our diet, anything that needs changing. Keep active as much as we can, don’t give up on what we enjoy. Also we must accept that we might need help to do the smallest things and must learn to accept it. Finally, love yourself and take care.
P.S. “The beauty of life and the reality we live with” — perfectly captured in this photo of a Curaçao sunset by Neelam Melwani. Thank you!!!
This is the biggest truth I have lived by. Nothing else can affect your life in such a negative way as paying attention to what people think or say about you. Not only is it a waste of time, but it’s a waste of energy. It cannot do you any good and can cause untold heartache.
When we are young, what our peers think of us is all important. Especially during your teenage years, nothing can unsettle you more. The sad truth is that peer pressure has become outright bullying. This is causing an epidemic of suicides among young people and that is scary.
Now, why is this??? Simple, everyone is too concerned about what people say or think about them. Everyone is very much involved in the lives and actions of everyone else. Bullying is just an expression of this preoccupation. Of course that is my opinion and many will disagree. That is fine.
People would think I am simplifying the issue. That could be true, but all I want is express this idea I have come to accept. It may help. Parents should teach their children that acceptance is not always a good thing. Being yourself, being true to what you like, love, enjoy and who you really are, is the secret of a life well lived.
From a young age, children should be taught to love themselves. Accept themselves because fretting about anyone’s opinion is not healthy. It all start with parents, guardians, mentors, teachers.
Most importantly, we must lead by example. If you live your life according to your true self, your children (or any child in your life) see that and they could learn early that we are all wonderful in our own unique way. They do not need to succumb to the pressures of others to be happy. You can show them, please let’s all make an effort.
I believe we have let go of our children way before it is time. This applies to the children who are trying to cope and to the ones making it difficult. They are both paying excessive attention to what other people think of them, what they say about them. Let’s teach them this doesn’t matter as much as they think.
Psychologists are trying to find the cause, helping those affected deal with the problem. That is as it should be. Unfortunately, we forget that it is the people closer to them who are the first responders. They are the ones that can see, act accordingly and save the day. They should be the ones being prepared and ready to handle the problem.
I have never been one to pay too much attention to what others think. Most of my life I have marched to the beat of my own drum, dance to my own music so to speak. I never belonged to school clicks, I got involved in what I loved, had little interest in what others did, had no patience for people who thought they were oh so important.
Growing up, I was lucky enough to have parents that accepted me for who I am. Doesn’t mean they agreed with everything I said and did…..far from it. I very often got into trouble. Still, they were there for me and I am most grateful. Looking back, I think I felt safe being myself, it was fine to be my own person. It made a great difference.
Finally, I want to reinforce this idea: “What anyone thinks of you, is none of your business“. Apply it to your life, work on living your life as you want without bothering about what anyone thinks. Believe me, it will make you happy!!!
This year has been hard so far. I have lost my mother, dear friends and have seen others suffer with terminal illness. It is true that I am in no way unique. Everyone, everywhere confronts the same challenges everyday. Not one of us reacts or deals with these events in the same way, so I can only speak for myself.
I have done the crying, the denial, the anger, the acceptance. Grief has to be worked through for us to move on. In my case, there has been more than that. I am making a conscientious effort to live in the moment!!! Not very original and not the first time anyone has tried this route. The difference for me is that this time I am older, I know myself better and I want to spend as much time as possible enjoying life, living the moments that make it worthwhile.
Blogging has been a way of keeping my sanity, but also a way to complain or keep up with the past or think too much about what I am doing or want to do. I am sure that is the reason I cannot write more than a couple of posts a month. Why I don’t seem to find new and interesting subjects to write about, or why I seem to get lost in reading instead of writing.
I feels as if a door has opened and I have walked through to find an exciting place. A place that was always there, but which I rarely visited. Some small things have shown up, though, like trying to post only positive messages on Facebook, changing the kind of books I read. Even started again de-cluttering my home, my closet, my life. Slowly, but surely I have come to this point. It is wonderful and I am most grateful.
There is no more time to waste in planning, it is time to grab what is offered and run with it. Take that trip, buy that handbag, go out with your friends, dress as you please, change your hair color, keep in touch with your loved ones. It is time to actually let go and live in the moment!!!
What? That was my reaction when I read a post by Margaret Manning, from Sixty and Me. She has been on a trip to Bali for 8 weeks, rediscovering herself and accepting who she has become. It was very powerful. See for yourself HERE .
My mind understands this is essential to acceptance of ourselves as older women. Changes in our bodies are the first sign we are no longer the young, pretty things we once were. They creep in and slowly transform us. I know that, but since changes come slowly or we are not paying attention, we just wake up one morning and we are older!!! It’s not easy for me to post this picture, but I thought it necessary.
Margaret, of course, is right. This is who we are today and accepting, loving it and moving on is the thing to do. Now, what each one of us mean by accepting is the difference between living in harmony with ourselves or fighting to stay young by any means. This would be hardly harmonious. The desire to hang on to our youth is powerful, I understand. Millions of women spend fortunes in beauty products and surgery to try just that. Who are we to criticize….. but is it worth it? For some it is, but more and more women are changing this view.
The most important thing we should remember: keep healthy, active and involved. Living in harmony with our aging bodies, accepting them, does not mean we are going to let go. Nobody is saying we should just stay home, gain weight, slow down in our activities, dress like our grandmothers did and sit and wait for old age to fully take charge of our lives. Absolutely NOT!!!
Accepting our bodies as they are today involves a lot of work, dedication and care. We should work at keeping our bodies healthy and performing at their best. Make sure you have your physical exams regularly, listen to your body and tell your doctor anything you do not like or understand. This is most important. If you need medication, take it and do not forget to take your vitamins and supplements.
Eat right for your age. I know, here I go again mentioning age, but it’s important. At this stage of our lives we need certain nutrients more than others. We cannot tolerate certain foods and certain drinks. Alcohol should always be taken in moderation, but these days it’s more important. Make sure you know what agrees with you and what doesn’t. There is also the fact that overeating or eating at certain hours could be upsetting to our bodies, pay attention.
If you are exercising, great!!! If you do not like to exercise, try yoga or tai-chi. Your body needs to stay nimble, it will help your aches and pains, your posture and your attitude. Walking tall is always a confidence booster!!!
Finally, and very important, learn to dress as you please. It’s our time, wear what you like, what makes you feel attractive, what feels good. There are no rules about how we should dress…..never mind what certain people say. If you Google this topic, there are countless articles. Ignore them!!! Best go online and look at older women’s blogs: Not Dressed as Lamb, The Sequinist, No Fear of Fashion, Style Crone and Idiosyncratic Fashionistas. You’ll be surprised in a most wonderful way.
Now you know: accepting our aging bodies it’s a powerful statement in a world obsessed with youth. Go out and make it with pride!!!
P.S. Header photograph by Alan Maduro at Caracasbaai, Curaçao. Thank you!!!
Such an old saying, such a great truth, but such ignored one as well!!! Since my daughter moved back to the States from London, I have slowly changed my food shopping habits and my cooking ways. You all know I am not a cook, but we all have to cook at one point or another. I preferred reservations for a long time and I still enjoy dinning out; it’s just that these days I am more careful with everything I prepare and eat.
Healthy eating has become a priority in my life. As we grow older, good health is our most important asset. Taking care of what we eat is the first step to achieve a healthy lifestyle. So, I am now on a quest to spread the word. It has helped me, trust me.
Health issues are part of everyone’s life at one point or another. We do not have to suffer from incurable illnesses to understand this. Painful joints, high blood pressure, borderline sugar levels, problems with insomnia or weight issues just get worse with age. As in any modern society, our first impulse is to visit the doctor and start taking medication. We are all guilty of this!!
Do not get me wrong, when medication is needed, we all should take it, but we should also give Nature a chance. With that in mind, I decided to eat healthy. It surprised me how easy it was and how good it has been for me despite my health issues. Highly recommend it!!!
First thing I did was get my supplements in organic form and ditch the multivitamin pills. I do take more pills in the morning, but only specific ones that help my needs. Besides, I do not take fillers, additives and other harmful substances.
Second decision, drinking more water; not just any water, but flavored water. Anything that can give health benefits have found its way into my water jug: lemons, ginger, cucumbers, chlorophyll and other fruits and veggies. My jug is always full in the fridge, ready for me to enjoy. Soon these two changes started to make a difference, it was time to move on.
I started looking for specific foods that would help with my health issues and with keeping healthy. I came up with: olive oil, fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, organic and raw honey, green tea, organic fruits and vegetables. Chicken and fish are still part of my diet, but they must be organic, a bit more expensive but worth it. Beef and pork make an appearance only once in a while!!! Lots of the veggies I serve are raw or steamed, same with fruits. Eggs, always misunderstood, are good too. I did learn to eat avocados and papaya…never liked then before.
Cooking healthy is also important. You start with the best you can get, you better do a good job preparing them!!! I broil, grill or stew, I never fry. Boiling has become a science since over boiling can make you food bland, destroy nutrients. This include hard-boiled eggs….didn’t know that. This is the healthier way to do hard-boil eggs. Put eggs in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a quick boil, cover and turn off heat. Let eggs stand there for about 10 minutes, put them in cool water and peel….perfect eggs!!!
Most of the time, I do not use recipes…I just improvise using ingredients I have at home. Fresh herbs and spices, onions, garlic, peppers and tomatoes are always welcome. Cheese is a favorite and a challenge. I have accepted the fact that organic cheese is not easy to find where I live. So I try to look for simple kinds: Latin style white cheese, cottage cheese, any brand that offers the least amounts of ingredients in their cheese. It has worked so far.
As I said before, I am no expert in any of this, but I feel strongly about my health. I will continue to learn and share. One last piece of advise: visit farmers markets. It has become the rage to have them in big cities. You are buying local and helping the economy. If you get to know the sellers in your favorite market, you can get the best products. On the other hand, be careful where you go. Some so called farmers markets sell products that are bought from big wholesalers.
It is never too late to take control of your health. Take the challenge and start soon…good luck!!!
I have said it again and again: I do not sweat on purpose. No matter what people tell me, going out of my way to feel sticky and smelly would never be a priority for me. On the other hand, I have to accept that exercising can make a huge difference in our lives. Keeping active and nimble can help us stay healthy for many years to come. So, I have relented….I now exercise more and sweat a bit!!!
I have always walked. I could be because I lived in a beautiful place and walking was more of a treat than a chore…..or because I walked with dear friends and we talked and laughed while we walked. For whatever reason, I’ve always enjoyed it. I still do, but is not as fun. Walking on your own is not the same. Lately, I have taken my husband with me. We don’t talk much, but the company is welcome. The fact that we walk along the water, looking into Biscayne Bay, is an added bonus.
Weights are supposed to help with bone density, keep your muscles in working order and help your posture and balance, aid in combating depression and making you look better. So what’s not to like? I am not talking about anything too heavy, that would involve more sweating. My weights are 3 pounds and bright red!!! Believe me they do their job. I have no flabby arms…..
Stretching is another great thing to do for yourself. Start slowly, develop your routine and just do it. I start before I get out of bed, all the stiffness just melts away. A bonus for me: you don’t sweat stretching and it feels wonderful!!!
Some days, I take out my yoga mat and do some poses for beginners. It’s not that I can’t do more, it’s that the simple poses get me relaxed and nimble in a few minutes. Feels wonderful. Everyone should try yoga, it’s a complete exercise that involves your mind along with your body.
I have discovered that sticking to your plan is what’s important. I am not an expert, but I can tell you that working on your routine on a regular basis is the most important thing. You decide what and how much you are going to do, then you do it consistently. My goal has never been to reach a certain level or to look a certain way. I never thought of exercising so I could eat more!!! My goal is to feel good about myself and do as much as I can. Once you see results, as minor as they might be, you will feel inspired to continue…..I have and that is a lot to say!!!
Have you ever been asked your age only to hear this: you look good, though? Look good, really? Look good for what? Look good compared to whom? What does this really mean?
Well, I know it’s mortifying to many. Some of my friends can go into hissy-fits, some can get depressed and some of them just lie about their age!!! I am sure you belong to one of these groups. Or you could be one of those free spirits to whom age is just a number and you don’t care.
Since I let my hair go grey, I have not been asked my age very often. I guess everyone thinks I am just old!!! When it comes to this subject, life becomes complicated. Society has conditioned people, especially women, to strive for a youthful look. To keep looking young well into their middle-age is a goal for most of the women I know. Many of them go to great lengths to keep up an appearance of youth. Sad. We can try to change our look, but our body is still whatever age we really are. Period.
Do not get me wrong…I like to look good too. I want to feel attractive and strive to always look my best. There is no question about that. Just letting go of everything is not my idea of aging either. There is the fact that keeping healthy, active and focused on our well-being is a priority, regardless of how you feel about aging.
Now, let’s get down to reality. Studies conducted on older women have discovered certain attitudes that will bring a healthier, relaxed and positive lifestyle to anyone as we age. Most of these studies included women in the 80s, 90s and even 100s. The findings are amazing and we must share them.
First: Good posture is essential. We should strive for vertical balance. To help us along, walking is the best exercise. Try doing it everyday. I certainly know this, walking has been part of my routine for years. It is an excellent aerobic workout and gives you the chance to be outdoors enjoying nature!!! Dance when you listen to music, let go of those inhibitions…..it releases Cortisol, lowers your stress levels. Besides, it keeps you limber!!!
Second: Stay in the present. We can reminisce and enjoy our memories, but it is absolutely unnecessary to live in the past. Our future will not be as long as we want, even if we live to be 100. The present is where we live. This means becoming engaged, learning new things: listen to new music artists, learn a new language, watch new movies, get involved in social media!!!
Third: Love yourself. Love how you look, how you move, how you feel. Accept yourself, but keep improving as much as possible. It is never too late to start taking care of your body, your health, your mind. Let go of perfect, it doesn’t exist. Cultivate a positive attitude that will lead to resetting your inner clock, making you feel years younger!!!
Fourth: Get in touch with your feelings and emotions. We forget this when we feel sick or under the weather. Find the cause of what ails you. Pay attention to how you feel. Meditate and listen to your body. Your brain is so powerful, it connects your feelings and emotions to your physical welfare. Use it to make you feel better!!!
Fifth: Savor the good in your life. Trust your instincts and defend what matters most to you. Be compassionate, starting with yourself. Enjoy and savor every experience be it a play, a book, a song, a glass of wine or a fine meal. You do not need anyone’s approval, you don’t need to please anyone but yourself….enjoy this time!!!
Gloria Steinem said once: “Women over 50 are a country to which this youth-obsessed culture has few guides“. Indeed, so it is up to us to gather the knowledge that is out there and use it to improve our lives now. Age is liberating, we can say and think and do what we want. Make it so!!! We must not let the world tell us that we are now pass our prime, ready to put out to pasture, no longer attractive……..Aging is a right of passage just like others we have successfully lived through. It just happens that this time, we are prepared and ready!!!
New Year…….opportunities and chances, choices and changes, a blank book to write wonderful stories. This year is no different, unfortunately, we all make resolutions and we all break them!!!
Thinking along those lines, I decided no to go the usual route. I am not going to get all worked up trying to accomplish the impossible. There had to be a better way, or ways to make this a good year.
Here are my ideas:
A few months ago, on Facebook……yes, I do get some good ideas from that…..I saw my New Year’s project. Going around, I found an article about focusing on the happy moments we have on a given day, week and month. It had a photograph of a jar, decorated and ready. For what you would ask? Well, to receive small notes mentioning those happy moments along the way. I thought it was just the thing because we tend to remember the difficult times more than the happy ones. So I bought three of them, decorated them very simply: one for me and one for each of my sisters. Part of my Christmas present to them.
The past year was very difficult to us. Nine years traveling back and forth to Panama, making sure our mother was well taken care of, struggling as so many other caregivers do. We had little time to focus on anything else and when we did, we discovered we have missed happy moments. When we, finally, put out mother in a home, mixed with the regret and the doubts, we were relieved. She is so much better off where she is and we deserve the rest. Christmas was a joyful family time!!!
The idea of our Happy Moments Jar was all we needed. It will give us the opportunity to stop and enjoy those moments, realize that we do have them and then scribble a small note about each one and put it in the jar. At the end of the year, we will get together and open our jars, read all our happy moments notes and remember what a great year it was. Brilliant idea, whoever had it!!!
Of course, I needed something else. I needed something to keep me busy the rest of the time, the time between those happy moments I was going to write about. On my last visit to Panama, I have picked up some coloring books and some Crayola crayons. Of course, the books were childish and simple. I most definitely needed adult coloring books. Mentioned this to my children in passing…….my son, Frank, got me the most beautiful one. Indian Mandalas and Henna designs….right up my alley!!!
Already colored my first page, randomly picking up crayons in no particular order, just the nearest. The result was very pleasing and, what’s more, it was so relaxing and uncomplicated. That, I discovered is the secret, you need to just go with the flow. Wonderful exercise in letting go!!!
These are my New Year projects, nothing complicated and stressful that would put me off. Nothing that requires a schedule, dieting, trying to get along with difficult people or a long term project that would never be completed. I think this is going to be a great year!!!
Remember that line? it’s from: Dancing in the Moonlight by King Harvest. It was just a feel good song and with a catchy tune. They never had other hit as big, but many of us still remember it. I was in college in Boston…..1972.
Today I woke up with it on my mind and on the tip of my tongue. So I decided to dance around. I know I sound a bit crazy, but I simply had to. Why not? Once a year we get a special day, all our own: our birthday!!! This is the time to just enjoy what has been given to us, count our blessings and give thanks. I know we are told to do this every day, but we don’t. At least, I don’t as often as I should. So on my birthday I will.
I am most thankful for my family: Frankie, Frank and Camille. They make my life complete with their love and support. My sisters and our mother who known me so well and love me anyway. My friends that are there for me and go along with my moods and my eccentricities. Each and everyone of you, thank you for being part of my life!!!
I am thankful for everything that I have learned, for what I am still learning and for the chance to share it all. It is an amazing feeling to be able to express my inner thoughts and see that people appreciate my efforts.
I am thankful for the years I have lived and the experiences I have had. I am who I am because of them. Each and every day, I have learned something and have been given something to be thankful for.
That is why, I have danced and hope to do so for many years to come. Dancing does indeed make you forget your worries, concentrate on the good things and make you realize that dancing is good for your soul because what the song says is true: you can’t dance and stay uptight!!!