Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Aging is not for wimps

I used to take pride in calling myself low maintenance.  I never cared much about clothing trends or how my hair looked, and getting ready never took more than a few minutes.  This was fortunate in my student days when all I had to do was roll out of bed at 7:45am, shower, and run off to my 8:00am classes.  While I still don't put much energy into clothing and hair styles, the getting out of bed part takes a lot more effort as I've aged. It's as if my body itself has become high maintenance.  Now it takes me longer to get out of bed in the morning than my entire routine a decade ago.

Here's the thing about aging: although I've been blessed with relatively good health, there is a shift that happens somewhere in your thirties.  The simple act of getting up is not so simple any more.  I'm aware of my joints and body in a way I haven't previously been.  It's hard not to notice when the act of standing up sounds like a bowl of Rice Krispies.  I'm too young to feel this old, but it is what it is.

My husband and I decided to recommit to a healthy lifestyle, and paid for a personal trainer as our Christmas gift to one another.  I remember thinking it would be like a date--hanging out and getting strong together. What a horrible idea.  We spend each session wondering how we will survive, shooting death glances at our torturer (i.e. the trainer), and bemoaning the fact that we actually PAID MONEY to go through this pain.  The trainer makes us keep a food diary, so we don't even get the comfort of drowning our unhappy feelings in doughnuts.

I was so sore after our session the other day that I had to go get a massage (I know, just terrible).  But that wasn't the end of the pain.  Come to find out, my hips are out of whack and I was referred to a chiropractor.  The hip injury comes from my brief stint as a runner a couple years ago, the last time I tried to get healthy.  That was probably the beginning of the end of my low maintenance lifestyle as I had to be fitted for running shoes at the fancy running store.  A pair of shoes, insoles, and $150 later, I learned that I have difficult feet (so no more cheap shoes).  Now we can add to that difficult hips, which leads to lower back pain as well.

It seems like my body doesn't actually want this healthy lifestyle.  But the good news from my chiropractor is that I'm not so bad off yet.  Yes, one hip is a few millimeters lower than the other one, which is causing my spine to curve slightly and the vertebrae are pressing on the nerves, causing back and hip pain.  But it can be fixed with alignments and a heel lift and orthotic inserts for my shoes (guess how much all that will cost?).  My funny husband asked if I would buy a pair of velcro old lady shoes to go with them.

Part of getting older means devoting more energy to taking care of ourselves.  We take vitamins and worry about our cholesterol.  There are invasive screenings at the annual physicals we wouldn't think of missing.  I scheduled one on my birthday one year so I wouldn't forget.  Don't say I don't know how to party.  But as I watch the declining health of family members, I know the importance of preventative care.

There's a theological lesson in it as well.  When people find out you're a minister, they love to share their thoughts on faith (whether to grumble about it or to share inspiration).  I've noticed that medical professionals in particular love to connect a spiritual element to my care after seeing my profession on the forms.  I wonder sometimes if it's because they think I need or expect it, or because they don't usually get an outlet to talk about it in their work.  My massage therapist explained my experience this way:  "God creates us in perfect alignment, so that are bodies can do what we need them to do.  But we put stress on them and treat them harshly, so things get out of whack.  Then we must take the time to nurture them back to health again."

My chiropractor explained that pain is our body's signal that things aren't right.  We must listen to it and trust in our capacity to heal if we care for ourselves in the right ways.  He reiterated that God made us whole and well and that we can get back to that place if we put in the time and commitment.

I've noticed that many times my body has had to get my attention when I have been too busy to tune into my spiritual needs.  I have literally lost my voice numerous times when I've been immersed in preparing for an important worship event, and lately the pain in my back has forced me to stop and take a break from work.  Perhaps the voice of God is not always a still, small voice, but a pain in the back.

Throughout this experience, I've been moving past seeing my body as a liability, something that gets in my way or has to be managed.  I've spent far too many years bemoaning how it doesn't look or move the way I would like it to.  But in seeing the x-rays of my slightly curved spine (with an extra vertebrae, no less...who knew?  Only 2% of the population has an extra one), and understanding the connection between how I care for it and how it functions, I see the wonder of it and the miracle that it works the way it does.  What a God-given gift to be able to be alive, in health and in pain.  It's a lesson once again in controlling what I can control and letting go of the rest.

Aging is not for wimps, so I have to keep my strength up.  My goal for this week is to go to our last personal training session and celebrate the strength of my muscles and joints.  As I challenge them to work and grow stronger, I will listen to the pain that is a reminder to care well for my body and spirit.  Getting older may not be easy, but it certainly beats the alternative.

And now I have a good excuse for more massages.

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