IntrepidWoman's Journey

Change in life is constant. Our journey has forks in the road; we constantly have people enter and leave our lives as we trudge along through time. We move, we change jobs, (and sometime partners) and do our best to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Each of our paths is unique, but is filled with valleys and mountain tops. Life is often hard; we experience pain, loneliness and sorrow. Life is also glorious, filled with joy, love, and hope. If it was not for the valleys, could we really appreciate the mountain tops?

For me, retirement has been one of the biggest changes in my life. I moved through the adult years as a single parent struggling to juggle family and finances and finally stepped off the hamster wheel 21 days after my 66th birthday. My first year after was spent just recovering from life’s hectic pace. I was so exhausted!

Now in my second year, I am on a journey to cleanse my body and become the best I can be. Chronic illnesses have plagued me for many years. After a near-death experience in February 2013, and the recent realization that my life expectancy is not way into the future, I have taken control of my physical self.

First thing was to research to find out why there is so much chronic disease, obesity, and early deaths due to so many cancers and the effects of high blood pressure and diabetes. It all comes back to what we eat and the amount of exercise we get. Desk job + processed foods in the stores and quick-and-dirty drive-thru meals all add up to an unhealthy life style. Research has proven it. There is lots of data out there. Nothing new here, but changing it however, is not easy. We live on treadmills. Ours lives are super busy. We are raising our kids to be super busy as well and in between work and chauffering kids to lessons, we are thankful for the chicken nuggets and drive-thru coffee.

It is life. It is how it is. It has evolved over time to this. I have the privilege now, in the winter of my life, to make big changes and it is going well. My taste buds have changed after a few months of eating fresh foods, juicing vegetables and fruit daily, riding an exercise bike and taking yoga and NIA. I rarely eat bread products and have sworn off processed meats and most processed foods. Research has helped me locate locally grown and raised food where I live. Life is good. My energy is through the roof. Physically, I feel better every day.

But… Isn’t there always a but? My poor brain continues to suffer from information overload. Easy access to social media fills my head daily with the horrors of murders and natural disasters. The provincial and federal elections this year were full of hateful statements and images. I have witnessed how abuse and bullying are alive and growing on the internet.

So, what to do about it? I get up, have my hot lemon water and turn on my computer to Facebook, then read emails, then news sites. I end the day the same way. I check in during the day when I am at home. (At least when I worked, I could only do it in the morning and at night.) Some of what I see is good. I like pictures of ex-students and their families and seeing how their lives are unfolding. I enjoy posts from long-time friends and knowing what is going on at Jack’s school and in my neighborhood. Facebook has become the window to my retired life, but I have been sitting in front of it way too much, reading about other people’s lives instead of living my own.

The elements of negativity in social media are pulling me down, mentally and spiritally. As I gain energy and improve my physical self, my mental self is deteriorating.

My addiction to social media is keeping me from real-life experiences. It is time to do something about that. Tucked into my fleece sheets last night, trying to clear my head and go to sleep, I decided to go off Facebook for a month. If I can learn to love vegetables over chocolate, surely I can learn to love real people interactions over FB interactions. There is much more to me than being a Facebook troll!

I am going to deactivate my account today. For 30 days. I would like to never go back, but time will tell. Just as I crave a little chocolate once in a while and hope to learn to eat it in moderation some day, my desire is to limit FB to maybe once a week for only for a few minutes. Maybe I could eat a piece of chocolate when I check Facebook? I would have to turn it off when the chocolate is gone. Lofty goal! Better to say I could drink a freshly-made vegetable juice while I check FB for a few minutes once a week.

I will be back on December 2nd to check in. Wish me luck. I will have 30 days to make art, interact with real people and connect more strongly to my Higher Power. I will still have email, but I think Messenger will be gone with FB.

Now I am going to make my vegetable juice, and while I sip it, read Facebook, then press ‘Deactivate’. The rest of the day will be an exciting, blank canvas!

It is all about finding balance in one’s life, as well as living it to be our very best! Every single day.

Too much of a good thing for me has included: chocolate, art supplies, buying wool and knitting scarves, and exercise programs. I thought that meant I was OCD, but it does not fit the criteria. I do not wash my hands a lot, just sometimes after a lot of chocolate.

I have eaten enough chocolate bars in my lifetime to build a fort, knit enough scarves to warm over 40 necks, filled an old trunk with enough art supplies to last 5 years and spent the last few months taking chair yoga, NIA and riding an exercise bike as if my life depended on it.

My life does depend on it so I have been burning down the fort, found a place to sell my scarves for cheap, gave a bag of wool to Jack’s class for a project, began reading ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love), to get over the fear of creating, and continued going to yoga, NIA and riding my exercise bike except when having a fibromyalgia flare up.

I have also been researching chronic illnesses and their connection to how and what we eat. Documentaries that have become my friends include: “Fat, Sick and Almost Dead”, “Food Inc.”, “Vegucated”, “Hungry for Change”, “Forks Over Knives”, and “Food Matters”.

Watching how food is altered, processed and poisoned and how animals are raised and slaughtered has not turned me into a vegetarian, although it should have, but it has made me change my ways.

I am astounded by the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, many cancers and heart diseases that can be directly connected to what we eat. The proof is out there through studies of eating habits around the world.

Because my first year of retirement was dedicated to recovering from work exhaustion, getting up when my eyes opened, reading every book I could get my hands on physically and digitally, and spending more time with family and friends, it went by quickly. My second year began with goal setting, facing my sorry, sick self and pulling up my big girl panties.

Actually, a diagnosis of another chronic disease in July was the jolt I needed. My one big goal now is to dance at my grandchildren’s weddings. To that end, I have met with a nurse every few weeks at the medical clinic to discuss nutrition, found and watched all those documentaries, joined exercise programs at the seniors’ centre and stopped eating mindlessly to fix what ails me. The eating and non-exercise were causing what ails me.

After a few months of this total self-care, I have had my blood pressure medication cut in half, lowered my blood sugar so that I am no longer considered to be pre-diabetic, lost nearly 30 pounds and 4.75 inches off my waist. I still have a long way to go but I am on the road.

I am putting this out there to be accountable. That is scary but necessary. It has not been an easy process. I have stumbled and emotionally beat myself up, but have kept my eyes on the dancing ahead.

Joe Cross has taught me about juicing and micro nutrients, and learning about nutrition has taught me to stay away from bread and processed foods as much as possible. I gave up caffeine.

I am not on a diet. I do not deprive myself. My tastebuds have changed because of juicing dark green vegetables and fruit and from having a local vegetable share this summer with Noble Gardens. I just signed up for a winter share because they grow without chemical pesticides and I am supporting a family business.

I also gave away my Keurig so I would have more room on the counter for my juicing machine and cutting board. My energy level has quadrupled. I have gone from a walking zombie with chronic fatigue and multiple aches and pains to looking for things to do like clean out closets and wash windows.

There. It is out there. I am accountable to you now. That should make me lose a pound or two, just by sweating at the thought!

Canada just had a very long and very painful federal election process. It is a relief to have it end. There is a FB photo out recently of the new and the old leaders hugging, which is wonderful, but unfortunately, there have also been FB casualties.

The question I ponder today: why are people so mean on social media, to the point of violence? I have witnessed countless images that degraded political leaders, spewed hatred and showed violence. The worst was a photo of the leader of our country sitting in a chair and his head exploding into bloody pulp. Come on! Really?

Whatever did he do that caused so much anger? I see the same anger directed at the American president, including hate-filled comments towards him when he has nothing to do with the situation being discussed!

Social media scares me. It is infested with hate-mongers, bigots and bullies. They see nothing wrong with threatening violence, name-calling, bashing peoples intelligence and integrity.

Is it because I am old and just not receptive to the current total freedom of self-expression?

I am writing this post because I did something I never thought I would ever do. I believe in free speech and the value of everyone’s opinions, but I blocked two people from FB, one during the election and one right after.

During all the hate-filled comments against the Prime Minister, I posted a positive photo/info about him and was lambasted with cutting, rude words on my page that stated I was ridiculous and ignorant to think he was a good leader. In shock, I deleted the comment, then deleted the person. I can forgive many things, including his swearing and rants about how hard life is, but I hold strong my democratic privilege of freedom of speech. Say what you want, but don’t bad-mouth on my page!

Alas, after it was all over and I was relieved to have the negative stuff in the past, another person decided to state that a local candidate won because “aging boomers with their religiosity HANDED her the seat. People who are narrow-minded and suffer SEVERE memory loss.” A friend of the poster challenged this by stating she had voted for this person and found it insulting that hard working people who build this country were being put down.  The original poster said she “was not insulting our elders”, but the person still “got the vote by default.”

I could not contain myself, which is proof that I need to get off FB for either a good, long time or forever! I responded by stating the person “got the win by receiving the majority of votes from people of all ages in the riding” and stated that the writer was “insulting boomers who have been around a lot longer” (than her) “and we do have brains and far more experiences with life and politics! ‘Narrow minded’ and ‘suffering from memory loss’ = totally insulting!” My rant included “The people have spoken in this fine democracy and it is time to get back to working hard at making an honest living, paying forward with good deeds, and showing love and respect for our fellow humans!” Of course she took offence. To me, that is a bully. When someone stands up to a bully, they get louder, but eventually go away. I did not wait. I unfriended her to make her go away.

So, now I sit and ponder the whole thing. Am I terrible for standing up for my beliefs? Her statements were on her own page, so I did not have the right to comment, but isn’t that what everyone does, comment? We tell people how awesome their new image is, how incredible their holiday sounds and how cute their kids are.

I guess the rules change during an election and also when the discussion is about religion. Religion and politics. They say we should never discuss those two things. What is the third thing we should not discuss? Sex? I can’t remember. Maybe because I am a senior.

I am a baby boomer, after all with “severe memory loss”, at least according to an ex-FB friend. Sigh!

I have been retired for 14 months. The first year was spent with no agenda, just waking without an alarm, not taking on tasks if I was tired, reading every book I could get my hands on, personally and digitally, learning about my new city, and spending time with family and friends.

Before retirement, I was always tired. During the last year of working, I could barely make it through each day without overwhelming fatigue and chronic pain everywhere. It was a tough year because I was determined to do my job well, despite having high blood pressure, being pre-diabetic, having active fibromayalgia and lupus in remission but attacking me in insideous ways like causing neuropathy in my feet and legs. I also had osteoarthritis in my knees, hips and right ankle ( where I had a steel plate installed many years ago after chasing my horse and falling into a cattle guard.)

I was a physical wreck when I turned 65, but was determined to work one more year before retiring. It was a financial necessity even though it seemed logically and physically impossible.

I made it. In my terrible physical state, I single-handedly downsized for a second time within 5 years, (from 2200 square feet to 750 to 560), packed what was left by myself, rented a UHaul, hired 2 men to load it, and relocated to a new city, the same day that my job ended. I barely remember the 2 hour drive from Okotoks to Lethbridge as I was so exhausted. It was raining when I arrived, and a father and son who I had never met but hired through a friend, unloaded my truck in the downpour, and I was left with the bed put together, but everything else piled up high around me and damp. Crazy.

Moving is like giving birth. At the time, it is horrible, painful and you swear you will never do it again, but life gets better after you are unpacked and start to forget how horrible and painful the experience was!

I am still hanging pictures, rearranging the kitchen cupboards and coming up with new ideas for my private little patio. It is a work in progress.

Retirement is seven-day weekends. It is time for personal discovery and reinventing self. It is worth working for 48 years to achieve. Everyday is a gift and a joy. I am going one year at a time now. It is the winter of my life and I am finally number one on my list of important things.

Written in 2012 and just published now, in October 2015.

Regrets are like leaves on a tree. They come and they go. We can try to hang on to them, but they are of little use as they shrivel up. Besides, there are always new ones to replace them if we want to have them.

Many adults have mountains of regrets that go all the way back to childhood. Those who carry them on their backs are ending up with chronic pain and damage to the body and eventually the spirit. To carry them does nothing to change them.

Some of my regrets include: (a) being a workaholic and having no energy left for better family time, (b) trying to pay a mortgage off to the detriment of our daily needs as a single parent family, and (c) using energy to be mad at my ex-husband for not stepping up to the plate more with our kids while they were growing up.

All these years later, I look back on my jobs and that is all they were. They took valuable time away from what was really important. I am renting now, and it is so much easier than juggling mortgage, several utilities and insurances, property taxes, repairs, etc. And finally, if my ex had stepped up to the plate, I probably would not have left him in the first place.

The other side to these things – I hope I made a difference with some of my careers in some people’s lives. I know I learned a lot from students and my teaching years were and always will be very dear to my memories. While raising kids, it felt very secure to pay a mortgage and not worry about landlords giving us notice (and the kids could paint their rooms any colors they wanted). My ex was not all bad, just not really into having the responsibility of a family.

So, now comes the part of giving up the regrets. They have been with me a long time and I have carried them faithfully. (There are far more than previously mentioned, of course.)

I am working on being guilt-free these days. An ‘a-ha’ moment brought this to my attention when I decided that it was time to more actively participate in R.A.O.K.  I did a couple of things anonymously and felt great. Mentioning this to a young man who I admire for his wisdom beyond his years, he asked me if I was doing anything to be kinder to myself. Yikes! What a question!

Of course not. I beat myself up regularly, on a daily basis, just out of habit.

Well, it finally happened. After 12 surgeries and surviving cancer twice, I was THISCLOSE to the final exit. Going into my 13th surgery, which was for hernia repair that I had left way too long, I had a sense of impending doom that I kept pushing away in my mind.

My long-time doctor, who actually attended the same high school I did in pre-historic times, came to my rescue when I phoned him because of escalating pain and attacks which were symptoms of hernia strangulation. I had not lived there for the past 4 years, but he immediately connected me with the surgeon in the small town where I had lived and taught for many years.

The surgery seemed to go well, although it lasted many hours and others scheduled after mine had to be cancelled. The surgeon repaired at least five herniated areas and the next day I was up and walking the halls, expecting to go home soon.

On the second day, my blood pressure suddenly plummeted and my kidneys shut down. Staff packed my belongings onto the ambulance gurney for my trip to ICU in the closest city. Ambulance attendants were standing by. I was unaware of this at the time, but I do remember thinking that I was in a very dark place and mentally decided to pull myself out of it. I can only guess that this is when everything started functioning again and they did not send me to the city. My doctor had waited and watched, hoping….

I was alive and functioning again, but was full of drugs from surgery and post surgery that had not been eliminated from my body. This resulted in 6 days of drug detox. I could only have Tylenol Extra Strength every 4 hours for pain, nothing else. During that time, I experienced really horrific hallucinations and thought that I was trapped in a very terrible place forever. I was afraid to close my eyes because I would sink into mind-chilling dreams that ended with me waking in full terror, trying to breathe and attempting to pull out all the tubes that I became tangled in by thrashing around.

The nursing staff was with me constantly, trying to keep me calm. Their voices and those of my sons kept me anchored briefly in reality. Each day got a little better as the dreams lessened. In the beginning, I would try to stay awake all night. One night I remember the nurses appeared to have floating heads and their faces were ghastly white with very bright, scarlet lips and blue-black hair. There was a nauseating floral fragrance that nearly choked me. The room seemed to be a long tunnel with walls moving inward, and I thought I was imprisoned in a terrible institution where I was trapped for the rest of my existence. Only the voices of the caregivers and my sons would bring me back to reality, sometimes only briefly during the first few days. When I was lucid, I would joke with the nurses, calling one The Mean Nurse because she was so firm, making me concentrate on her voice. I trusted her and sensed she was there for me. Later she told me she had over 30 years experience helping people in trauma situations. What a wonderful way to have spent her career years, taking care of people during such dark times in their lives.

This has to have been one of the worst experiences of my long life, but it is also one of the very best. I have always been ‘a rock and an island’, keeping people at arms length and attempting to suppress most emotions as I pounded my way through life. There was lots of happiness along the way but I never let too many people get too close…. once hurt – you likely know that story.

This time I was totally helpless. I had no control over anything about my circumstances. If I had been in a large city hospital, I do not think I would have made it. In all my previous surgeries over the years, I cannot remember any faces or conversations with the many caregivers and surgeons as it was all so impersonal. But this time I knew all the staff. Having lived in this town for over 30 years, I had either taught their children or the younger staff were my past students. Everyone was overwhelmingly kind. The young woman who came daily to take blood had been my student and she would stop in everyday and visit before her shift. Nurses would come in and ask if I remembered them. I have never felt so loved and so cared for in my entire life.

My doctor was there throughout the dark days, making the call to send me to the city, and then deciding to keep me there. The surgeon came in several times a day, even on the long weekend. He was kind and humorous and very compassionate, spending time as well talking with my sons. They were never in a hurry.

When the day finally arrived that I was able to take care of myself, shower and look human, I walked the halls and received numerous hugs from staff as they came on shift, telling me how great I looked.

I am filled with such joy as a result of my near-death experience. I left that hospital after two weeks filled with a humble sense of thankfulness and a desire to live my life differently. I have begun to really listen to people and look them in the eyes when we talk. My sense of my job being the top priority is gone. Nothing matters now but the people in my life. I am thankful to have a good job that I love, but I am most grateful for my family and friends and for that incredible hospital staff that cared for me with such love and compassion. I will never forget how my sons came and were my life line with reality, keeping me sane. It is my turn now to use my gift of more time to make a more meaningful difference in the lives of others. The first person I am starting to take good care of is me.

A post surgery visit with the surgeon a few weeks later ended with him warmly shaking my hand and saying, “Say hi to the boys from me.” Imagine! I grinned all the way home.

I am in the winter of my life. It came so quickly, too quickly it seems. When I look back at my childhood, then life as a single parent raising a family, and the autumn period when I was a free spirit with a horse, running a cafe in an old church and ‘finding myself’, I accept that every experience has melted together to create who I am today. A lot of the past feels like it happened to another person. A lot of the past fades into vagueness.

I do not have any regrets, not because I did everything in my life ‘right’, but because it is a waste of time to regret. Of course there are things I should have done and many that I should not have. I can wile away the hours by reminiscing and wondering what would have happened if I had taken a different turn in the road at the many junctions in my life. That is actually a fun thing to do, as long as a person does not get sad from these contemplations. It is not something to do more than once and it certainly can be replaced by better activities like a nap or entering a book.

It is done now. I always learned something of value from every decision, good and bad that I made in the past.

I cannot change anything in the past and I cannot totally predict the future, so I am only able to happily enjoy the present. The winter of one’s life has really only one downside – that it comes so quickly. Other than that, it is a wonderful time.

Did you ever ride in a car at night during a snowstorm when the snow was falling softly and the headlights lit up the flakes like a million twinkling stars? I remember that, when I was about 19 and in love. I remember the magic, and I had so much emotion about life and love and trying to control my path. It is a comfort to be old and realize that you have very little control, but what you do with life’s events is what counts.

In the winter of my life, I am enjoying each day, literally. I stop during the workday to think about what fun my job is, even though it can be stressful as well. I am trying not to get caught up in the “what ifs”. I see others do this and they create stress that is a waste of their time. I used to do that in my youth. So much time is wasted on ‘what ifs’ that never happen. Enough does happen that you will need your energy to deal with when it comes.

The winter of my life is still too busy at the moment, but it has more periods of stopping to enjoy the smell of rain, feel the cool breeze in the evening, enjoy the satisfaction of a good book or working with a soft wool and turning it into a warm scarf for a wee grandchild.

I hope the winter of my life is long, but there are no guarantees, which is why it is so important to feel each day and don’t leave it until the clock says you must. I am learning to live in the moment, in the winter of my life.

Historically Speaking

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