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The secret lives of our bodies

May 13th, 2005 · 2 Comments

We draw lines inside ourselves and don’t realize it. Or maybe we do. Perhaps we are gnostics, separating our bodies from our souls, disregarding and dismissing the discomforts. Or we were taught that etiquette requires us to say we are fine when we are not so we nod when asked “how are you?”. As we decide to keep secret what is happening to us, whether the changes come with childbirth or aging, accident or illness, as we run from the physical reality and pretend everything’s okay, we isolate ourselves, creating further separation and loneliness, both within and without.

Ronni at Time Goes By emphasized the need to share the experience of aging in her post Getting Old is Hard Redux:

What I was trying to get at in that post is that in keeping silent, keeping secret the changes in our capabilities, others have no knowledge or understanding of the physical part of growing old. I want to know what the older years before the old-old age of my neighbor and Aunt Edith are like. I want to know how accommodations to gradual changes are made. What was it like the day it became impossible to move the sofa or climb a ladder? And I’d like to know how these things affect people’s perspectives and beliefs on age and dying.

As Evelyn rightly points out, “how are you” is a greeting, not a request for information. But too much silence poorly serves everyone who is growing older. It’s all part of “what it’s really like to get older” that has been a mystery too long.

I never meant to suggest that we maintain a running commentary on every ache and pain – you are right, that’s boring. But health or, at least, capabilities do wane with age and in silence, we deny reality, pretending that we are just wrinkled kids when we are not.

I’m grateful Ronni wants to break the silence surrounding aging. Her mission is to take away the mystery. I too want to know what it is like. I want empathy and compassion, understanding and gratitude, appreciation and insight. I want to be prepared for what is to come. Those I love and I myself will undergo these changes. Someday I won’t be able to move a sofa or scrub the floor on my knees.

The aging has begun. Today I went to the dentist and I cried. It’s silly. I know. I cried because it required enormous effort to rearrange schedules and bring three young kids along for a teeth cleaning, effort I’d rather spend for something fun. When I finally stop to sit down, I’m in the dentist’s chair – not relaxing. But I also cried because I miss the days when I enjoyed the dentist. Now my teeth ache. They have stains. There are concerns.It’s not an easy in-and-out anymore. My dentist claims I’m not cleaning my teeth well. Yet I neglected my dental care for years of my youth and I didn’t have problems. I suppose this change is one of the first signs of aging.

After a day like today, spent contemplating my teeth, I could relate to Jory’s post describing how her body is like a Honda

I’ve had an interesting relationship with my body. In the past it has been a vehicle, like a beaten up Honda that I drove everywhere because it got me places. I never thought to maintain it, or give it premium gas, and when it rebelled and broke down I was often pissed at it and pushed it harder. During times of full-time employment I tended to drive it to dangerous levels. These days I am much more willing to admit that I live in it; I notice it much more.

I notice it too.

I look in the mirror and see my teeth. I see my hair with gray here and there. And I see wrinkles. I see my parents in the mirror. I remember my perception of them as a child, their fingers, feet and faces, and now when I see myself I see my mom and dad, in the ways the skin and bones have come together on my body over the years. But I’ve started to accept and welcome this resemblance. As a biologist, I see the simple fact of genetic inheritance, but I think I can see also a sense of humility and understanding growing in me emotionally.

So I enjoyed Tamar’s perspective:

I like to think that I am looking more like my father as I get older. I say to my newly acquired wrinkles: “Welcome.”

How can we welcome the changes that come? By realizing that they connect us to others, to our family and friends, to the past and the present. Too often we feel taboos. I know I have resisted describing aspects of my life. I have limits beyond which I refuse to blog. But sometimes I wonder whether revealing these secret sides of myself would help me and help others.

Childbirth brings its own changes to the body. After I had my first baby, I remember conspiring with a friend: we would write a book to tell other potential moms what no one had told us. We made our list. Even though I had taken classes and read books, I was surprised by the body I had after birth. Each woman’s experience is different. Yet I believe we all have pains and joys. The more we can share with each other, the more we can encourage each other as mothers. Annie Feighery in recent posts on preparing for childbirth and c-sections reminded me of Lisa Williams’ informative How does a scheduled birth feel?. Both of these bloggers are excellent resources as well as Liza Sabater’s [explicit] post on sex after childbirth, featuring an interview with her.

What do you wish you’d known about sex after having your baby? I was not at all prepared for how much stress. For an insomniac, the extra lack of sleep can be brutal —doubly brutal with a colicy child. Lack of sleep seriously inhibits your libido.

The sleep deprivation surprised and affected me, in a number of ways. And then I was surprised by my surprise: hadn’t I educated myself? Why wasn’t I prepared? Why didn’t anyone warn me?

One of the best-selling pregnancy books is titled What to expect when you’re expecting. We all want to know what to expect. Life has its curves and corners. Sometimes we have to go it alone. But as we break the patterns and taboos to talk about what’s happening inside us, emotionally, physically, spiritually, we discover we are not alone, and we bless other travellers who are beside, ahead or behind us in the journey of life. Thanks to Ronni, Tamar, Jory, Annie, Lisa, Liza and many others for breaking the taboos and speaking through the silence.

Tags: journal

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Tamar // May 13, 2005 at 4:10 am

    Julie, thanks for the link.

    “But as we break the patterns and taboos to talk about what’s happening inside us, emotionally, physically, spiritually, we discover we are not alone, and we bless other travellers who are beside, ahead or behind us in the journey of life.”
    I shall make that the quote of the day!.

    As usual – a beautiful post.

  • 2 Ronni Bennett // May 15, 2005 at 6:11 am

    Ah, teeth, Julie. I can’t even talk about teeth. I’d be a rich woman if I still had all the money I’ve put in my mouth.

    I’m so grateful when others pick up on this subject and help to break the silence on getting old. I was frustrated in the years I researched aging before I started Time Goes By. There is hardly any useful, popular writing about it that isn’t clinical or about disease and debility or soppy or filled with false heartiness. I’ve learned a hundred times more about what it’s like to get old from comments at my blog and posts like this.

    “How can we welcome the changes that come? By realizing that they connect us to others, to our family and friends, to the past and the present.”

    I love that. Thanks, Julie.

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