Illness and how it affects us.
T’was a bast**d year for me 2018. Felt like my body had gone wrong in a 1000 different ways. I was on first name terms with the docs at Siddal Surgery and dismayed at the realisation I was now spending more per month, on prescriptions than I was on cosmetics!
Now I accept I’m at that kind of age that whenever I bend over it’s compulsory to make an odd noise, but each week came a fresh new worrying symptom, accompanied by the usual nail-biting dread and anticipation of impending illness or even death! I realise that’s dramatic and I make no apology for it. From scans to blood tests, from collecting pee in a cup to exposing my saggy old booby-doobies for all to see... I’d been there and flown the flag for hypochondria during my 2018 sick-fest!
Buddha talks about the presence of Dukkha in our lives pertaining to stress, anxiety, unfullfilment, pain, illness and distress to name but a few. I need to tell you at this point, it’s nailed on that at some point in life for every single person, Dukkha will be present. It’s inevitable! No more so than if you’re ageing and you feel like your body is letting you down.
I know this is the way it is and there’s no fighting it. We are born, and so subject to change, disease and ultimately death.
It’s the learning to live with, and accepting this change, that is so hard for so many of us, including me!
How do we learn to live within the new found restraints of regular and sometimes restrictive illness? How do we come to terms with the changes in our bodies and minds when this happens? I guess we become ‘mindful.’ We learn to appreciate the good things that are still there for us, and we learn to just follow our breath and note the bodily sensations as they arise whilst we engage in deep breathing and small acts of appreciation for the good things we still encounter daily.
I do daily breathing exercises and I have an amazing view over the valley from my bedroom window. I can spend 15 minutes just staring at the vista whilst deep breathing. Would I have done that ten years ago? Most likely not, I’d have been too busy to bother.
If you still have to go to work, you can try not to put yourself under the same pressure as you did as youngsters and you can aim to take things slower. You can try not to get as involved as you once did in ‘saving the universe and changing the world’ but give more value and time to the little things that change your world in a good way.
This morning I collected my mate Jayne and we toddled off to Brighouse pool for a dip. I drove into the car park and couldn’t park! Not a space to be found, and after circling round for five mins I thought ‘f**k it... we’ll just go home for a cuppa and a natter. Now one time would have seen me driving round the town trying to find a spot to dump my old car anywhere within walking distance whether legal or otherwise! I’d be on a mission! The risk of a parking ticket added an extra sense of Russian Roulette to the proceedings which you could ‘get off on’ if you were of that whimsical state of mind! I don’t put myself under that kind of pressure any more.
I also try not to focus too much on the future and what that may bring, preferring to live as much in the present as possible. The future is a bit scary when you’re nearing sixty! When we settle in the present we can see beauties and wonders right before our eyes if we take the time to bother. If you can still walk and enjoy it, then get out and walk... BUT be sure to take a bag of M&M’s with you because it will likely bring you added pleasure.
When sick or in pain, a challenge is to avoid actions that exacerbate symptoms. Now I’ve never been an Andy Murray fan but hats off to the guy in recognising that in order to stop punishing his failing body, he has to retire from the sport that has been his lifeblood. I really admire that decision not to push himself to the limits.
Some may ask how you can live a good, fulfilling life when your activities are so curtailed? Well I think it’s about finding the middle ground. The balance between too much and too little. For example, no longer can I push my body and mind through the rigours of performing on stage any more, but I can attend Silver Swans - a gentle adult ballet class (or Dying Ducks as Ade calls it) with my mate Julie and feel like I’ve achieved so much in just an hour!
In times of illness, fatigue or pain, i can think ‘there is sickness here- but I am not sick’ which is helpful in reminding yourself that your ‘core’ is still good even if your body’s knackered!
If you are struggling with an illness or you’re body is letting you down with ageing, then I hope this ‘musing’ may be a starting ‘roadmap’ to finding grace, balance and an element of contentedness amid your affliction. I also hope you never let illness become the enemy.
And if you’re reading this and chuckling inwardly because none of this currently applies to you then remember this dear friends... Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.