Fit and older

I do not understand someone who will go to all the money and time of making their house handicapped accessible but they won’t spend the same amount of money and time on making their body less likely to become handicapped. Sure, there are accidents that happen but generally the biggest reason that people become disabled is because they stop taking care of themselves.

Being infirm is not a natural part of becoming older. It is a natural result of stopping taking care of yourself. If you don’t use it you will indeed lose it.

There is no reason that older means less fit. Less active means less healthy, yes. Being active shouldn’t be something that just young people do. Being active is something that people should do. If you stop working, it doesn’t mean you stop moving. You don’t have a reason to anymore – so you have to make up reasons. Volunteer. Go to the Y. Garden. Stay active, or you’ll become immobile.

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Not letting the disease win.

Sometimes my motivation to do something is simply so that the disease will not win.

I have bipolar disorder, which is a polite way of saying I am manic-depressive. I’ve noticed that I tend to become unbalanced when I stop taking care of myself. The biggest thing I can do to take care of myself is to make sure I get enough sleep and avoid stress. Eating well and exercising also help a lot.

It is easy to equate avoiding stress with not doing anything that is difficult. But to me that is letting the disease win. It is very important for me to not let it win so I set goals and reach for them so that I get stronger. And every time I achieve one of these goals it makes it easier for me the next time.

It makes it easier for me to look at this disease when it says “No, you can’t do that” or “That is too hard for you.” and say “But look at these four other things I’ve done and I did them just fine.”

That is why I take classes. One of the hardest classes was the pastoral care class that was downtown on Tuesday nights. It was hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of taking a class every Tuesday for nearly three months. Then it was hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of having to drive myself downtown at night. It was hard for me to even imagine asking my boss for that time off to do it. But I did it, and I did it because I knew that what I was doing was important. I did it because I didn’t want the disease to win.

While I knew that what I was going to learn from the class was going to be important, what I was going to learn from just attending the class was going to be even more important. It was going to teach me that I can take care of myself.

I used to be really good at driving. I used to drive myself everywhere alone for hours at a time. I drove by myself to Washington, DC work one summer. That was a 10 hour drive, one way.

But then something changed when my bipolar disorder manifested. Shortly after I was diagnosed, I went on a camping trip and I got so unwell that I had to be driven home. Everything I owned had to be packed up for me by my friends, and I had to have someone else take me home.

It affected me, not only because it was embarrassing, but also because I don’t want to be a burden to other people. I don’t want to get to a point where I have to have someone else rescue me. So it is important for me to not put myself in situations where I think I’m going to fail.

But that sometimes meant that for years I didn’t put myself in any situations at all. It meant that sometimes I only did things that were safe. And when I only do things that are safe, I don’t grow or get stronger.

And that is letting the disease win.

And I can’t let it win.

Unappreciated – on gifts and on using your words

I know a lady who has jumped in to help her husband with his parents. Really, it is more accurate to say she has taken over the care-giving chore. They are getting older and needing more help. She feels like it is her responsibility to help out. The problem is that she wasn’t asked for her help, and nobody is taking her advice anyway.

She feels ignored and devalued.

Plenty of women feel it is their wifely duty to help when their parents in law get older. They feel that is a chore that women take care of. They feel that their husbands are inept at care-giving. They then shoulder the burden all by themselves, and they feel put upon.

There are a lot of problems to this.

A gift that is given freely is a good gift. It isn’t a gift if it has to be given. It isn’t a gift if it is given under duress. Even if nobody asked, but the giver felt obliged, it is duress.

Now, of course, that is all on the giver’s head. It is never a good idea to make up a script. If nobody told you what was expected of you, but you just felt that was something you had to do and did it anyway and felt unhappy about it, that is your problem.

Another problem is that it takes away responsibility from the husband. Men are just as able to be caregivers as women. There is nothing biological about being a caregiver. There is something in our society about it, but that isn’t set in stone. Roles can change, and often should.

If a wife takes over the care-giving responsibilities of her parents in law, the husband may feel grateful. That is one less chore he has to deal with. Say he always mowed the lawn, but she always felt he was doing it poorly. One day, she takes over that responsibility without saying anything to him. He notices what she is doing, realizes that this means he has more time to do what he wants to do, and lets her. She, then, feels resentment that her hard work isn’t appreciated.

It isn’t a gift. She didn’t do that out of love, but out of something darker.

There is a lot of unspoken expectation mixed up in all of this, and because of that, a lot of feelings will get hurt. Un-asked for promises and rewards aren’t forthcoming, because they weren’t put in the contract. There is no “if I do this, then you’ll do that” that is mentioned. The wife will feel unappreciated, and the husband will simply feel like she is doing something she wants to do.

She’ll continue helping (read “taking over”) with the care-giving of her parents in law, and he’ll keep not getting that she really doesn’t want to do it because she hasn’t said anything about it.

People can’t read minds. That is why we invented language.

Notice how small children get frustrated when they want something but they don’t use their words. They are hungry, or tired, or want their favorite toy, and all they can do is wail. Their parents can’t understand what they want, so the child’s needs continue to not be met, so the wails continue and get louder.

“Use your words” they might say, and the child has to slow down long enough to get out what is the problem. Then healing can start.

As long as the wife continues to do something she doesn’t really want to do, something that really should be the responsibility of her husband (because after all, they are his parents), resentment will build. She won’t wail outwardly, but she will seethe inwardly. It will come out in ugly ways.

It isn’t his responsibility to second guess her. It is her responsibility to talk, to say how she feels.