By Ellen Lenox Smith.
Aging is such fun! Whose idea was it to add even more challenges to daily life as we get older? No one can really prepare you for the aging process along with the inevitable changes which accompanies it. Some of the changes occur very gradually and some can be quite rapid. The bottom line is, we need to learn how to take on this huge challenge, hopefully with dignity and grace. I am now at the age of sixty-eight and living with two incurable conditions which seem to be escalating the rate of my physical decline, much to my dismay. I am attempting to learn to change my attitude of feeling loss and frustration over not being able to accomplish all that I once could.
I have to remind myself two things:
- All people go through this process, so if others can do it, so can I.
- This is the one life I get to live, so I want to be remembered as one that took on this challenge with a smile and determination.
It is funny how you can suddenly have a moment that jolts you and gives you strength. I was recently in the shower and noticing the bruising on my arm that spontaneously appeared, as I can bleed easily. For some reason, it occurred to me that I needed to view these scars, bruises, braces etc. in a new light – I should view these physical markings as badges of courage and honor. Whether it’s my electric wheelchair or the manual one we use in stores and traveling, the abundance of braces, the scars from now twenty-four surgeries, or numerous other signs of struggles and challenges, I realize these are the markings of a person who has been living their life and taking on the challenges that have been presented to them. No one is immune from the aging process. I hope that I have learned some valuable lessons from the often-extreme physical challenges I have been forced to confront over the years. I have attempted to persevere by trying to not give in with despair and a sense of hopelessness. Perhaps this is the silver lining for those of us who suffer prematurely the pain and indignities of disease, pain and disability. We may have, in a sense, been in training for the losses and trauma of aging. Some are able to show such courage taking on this challenge, approaching closer to the final years of life. I want to learn to be like that! So now, I will look at these markings life has given my body in a new light.
I recently stumbled across the following quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” I love this quote but do get caught on the first words, that the purpose of life is not to be happy. I have always felt I have had the responsibility to be happy, no matter what is thrown at me. It may not be a purpose but it feels important to me. The rest I totally agree with and try hard to live by. The more I find I care about others, the more I like who I am and feel I have purpose to still be here.
So, those of us living with chronic medical issues need to be proud of the courage and determination required to live our lives while confronting what, at the time, seems to be insurmountable obstacles. We have to learn to find hope in our lives to hold on to. No one could have told me that is was possible to get out of that wheelchair after four years of living life in it or get my gut back to normal functioning after two years of it being totally shut down. By not giving up, we can generate a sense of hope which is the magic elixir upon which we all depend to preserve. It is not always easy to embrace this attitude, but it does make you look at life with rosier glasses when you do. I want my family and friends to remember me as a fighter, advocate and one that has taken on all life’s challenges with determination and courage. So, I will wear my badges of honor with pride and may you, too, find a way to be proud of your coping skills.
May life be kind to you.
Author of: It Hurts Like Hell!: I Live With Pain– And Have a Good Life, Anyway, and My Life as a Service Dog!
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report.
Ellen Lenox Smith and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical cannabis advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation, along with Ellen on the board and they both also serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. For more information about medical cannabis visit their website. https://ellenandstuartsmith.squarespace.com/