Adjusting to the New Me

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If you read my last post chronicling my nosedive into medical testing, you know my perception of myself as a healthy person changed a few years ago.

When young, I thought I’d grow up, get married and live happily every after. I skipped minor details — graduating from high school, earning money for college, seeking employment, choosing a spouse, being a parent — and hit the highlights: marriage and happily-ever-after.

In constructing this fantasy, I ignored the examples of my extended family, dear friends, and good neighbors. In reality, some never marry; some remain childless; some don’t graduate; some are unemployed; some never have the opportunity to go to college; some fight debilitating illnesses; some suffer life-changing accidents.

And, happy as my childhood was, my mom and dad didn’t go around every day bursting with joy and tra-la-la-ing.

Neither did I. Once married and employed, I bumped into reality on a regular basis; never more so than when I faced divorce and its aftermath: an admission of failure and a flood of grief for what had been.

When I began my career, I entertained another irrational illusion: Retirement would happen to others, never to me. I assumed I would teach happily and successfully until I died. Then my classroom would be sealed and a placard hung: “Mrs. Bohart worked here, so step softly and get rid of your gum.”

However, in my early 60’s, reality intervened: My enthusiasm waned; I grew tired; I loathed my alarm clock. Not wanting to offer less than my best, I wrote my letter, accepted my commemorative clock, and went home.

More recently, health issues destroyed the rose-colored glasses that allowed me to pretend I would suffer minor, inconvenient ailments but remain intact and robust as I aged. In this fairytale, I died peacefully and painlessly in my sleep after snowshoeing all afternoon, snacking on carrot cake, and finishing a good book.

Then I slammed to the pavement on 6th street and underwent countless tests to determine why: electrodes plastered to my skin, my breath stilled as various machines hummed and clanked, my heart challenged by a treadmill, and, finally, an electric transmitter run from my groin into my heart.

As a result of the last test, I now live with a pacemaker: a medical marvel that should, as my silver-tongued cardiologist said, “…keep you ticking until something else kills you.”

I’ve grown accustomed to wearing an embedded mini-computer everywhere I go; but for the first few months, at odd moments, my eyes widened in surprise at the thought that I had a permanent, serious malfunction in my body and that I was dependent on a machine. These things didn’t fit my self-vision; I cherished and tried to protect my health. Didn’t that count?

With time, acceptance of my new reality slowly seeped in, like sunlight leaking through a cloud, and I understood situations beyond my control — accidents, exposure, genes — could impact my health; things would happen I could neither prevent nor fix, things I could neither control nor ignore.

I realized for optimum health, I’d need to schedule regular appointments with health professionals I trusted — and listen to them.

At last, I had gained a bit of  the wisdom old folks are said to possess.

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93 thoughts on “Adjusting to the New Me

  1. I am so happy to hear that things are working out with the pacemaker and that you’re adjusting to it, Janet. Perceptions change as we age. I am certainly in a different place than I thought I would be when I was in my 20s, but I think it’s a better place. I hope you have a long, long run with that device under your skin. All the best!

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    • For the first couple of weeks, Dan, I was hyper aware of the pacemaker, but I rapidly adjusted to it and most of the time forget it’s there — unless the airport security equipment picks it up and pages me for a hand check. Thanks for your good wishes, my friend.

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  2. I’m glad you are doing well.
    I too am adjusting to a new reality. My son and potential daughter in law are visiting and I’m starting to see myself as a possible mother in law. I want to make sure I’m a good one!

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    • Oh, that will be an adjustment, Shelley, but a happy one. From what I know of you from your blog, I think you’ll be an excellent mother-in-law. Mine turned out to be wonderful. Our relationship survived my divorce from her son, and she loved my second husband as much as she loved me.

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    • Thanks for your comment, Margie. It’s good to hear from you. It seems the curves thrown by life that you mentioned increase after age 60. Or maybe, as you also mentioned, it’s God messing with my plans and assumptions.

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    • It’s so good to hear from you, Kathy. Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoy my blog, and congratulation for finding me and making a comment, things you weren’t at all sure you’d be able to do as I recall. I miss you at book club. We’ve been reading some good books. Again, thanks for dropping by; I hope to hear from you again.

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  3. It’s a big pill to swallow when we realize the effects of aging. Part of me thinks we can only fight aging so much–because some things are a given–and the other part wonders why I continue the fight. I will say that when I got my master’s in Aging Studies, I was THRILLED to learn what the brain can do, its actual potential (it’s fascinating). It lessened my fear of aging. I have to muster whole bunches of determination to stick with regular exercise since, with certain body issues, it becomes more difficult (back pain, bunions, bursitis in joints, etc.). I refuse to give up. 🙂 Best of luck adjusting to the new you.

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    • I have adjusted for the most part, Karen, though I do remember every three months when I have to hold a device over the pacemaker and unload its data to the heart center! I agree about the fight against aging. Sometimes I, too, grow weary and wonder if my efforts to be proactive are really worthwhile. But, also like you, I keep plugging away. I admire you for continuing to exercise with the painful conditions you have. It’s nice to know my brain can keep learning and exploring; that’s the most important thing.

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  4. I’m so happy your pacemaker is working out well Janet. I have been waiting to hear about it. I think everybody’s perception of what their life would be is skewed. Where does that come from? I never even included a job in mine. I don’t know what I thought I would be doing unless I worked! Anyway, we don’t expect to “hit the pavement’ as you did. Good health was a given. We are fortunate to have such good medical care in this age.

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    • Yes, I think most of us believe good health is a given and thus have some adjusting to do when it changes. Like you, I’m not sure why we perceive our futures the way we do, so optimistically. Thanks for your concern and good wishes, Kayti.

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    • I’m always pleased to discover that others have shared what I think of as my uniquely foolish perspective on things. Thanks for letting me know that you, too, have suffered the fantasy and that you also appreciate good medical care.

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  5. Life has a habit of interfering with our dreams and fantasies, doesn’t it. This week I was reminded of the serenity prayer- accepting the things we cannot change, having the courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference. Essential for those of us who have reached the stage we never thought would happen to us.

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  6. When one faces their own mortality, it can be a grim wake-up call. For some, that first pops up with the passing of a parent. For others a serious, debilitating or life threatening illness/injury. But at some point we are all forced to look in the mirror and take stock of the quality of our life. By staying focused on the positive things all around me I have been able to live my life to the fullest and remain filled with gratitude. Janet, I see that same spirit and determination in you and feel blessed by your always kind and wise words that you share with us.

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    • Such wisdom in “…staying focused on the positive things all around me,” Joanne. It is an important life lesson. And I’m surprised at how it isn’t the large, costly events that are positive for me now, but the small, simple things that make up much of my life: a laugh with someone I love, the leaves slowly turning gold and crimson, drinking coffee and chatting with my husband to start my day, a good book. As always I enjoyed your reading your thoughts today.

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    • So far, the pacemaker has allowed me to live my life the way I always did, Diane; the only differences being clearing airport security and calling in a data report on it every three months. We have much to thank medical research for.

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  7. I read several post and have found each one so moving. I always imagined growing up when I was young-and all the milestones of adulthood-with the exception of growing older. Now here I am in that place, Thank you for sharing your journey. It is such a comfort for me to hear your beautiful accounts of this season. I understand how to do this and do it well.

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  8. I came to that same realization when I embarked on adulthood. A stroke at the age of seventeen will do that to a person. Still, despite the constant watch for headaches and always always [yes, two times] having something like aspirin on hand to thin the blood, I still managed to stay healthy otherwise until my late fifties when I finally had to take something for high blood pressure. Yes, I think the stroke did make me more aware of my mortality, and I gained empathy for others I probably wouldn’t have fathomed otherwise.

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  9. Ah, that wisdom that old people are said to possess. Some have it. Some don’t. But it usually comes with a cost.

    That said, I loved ALL the wisdom contained in this post. And I agree with everything in the paragraph about dying peacefully after snowshoeing except—for me—instead of carrot cake I’d devour a giant piece of chocolate cake with peanut butter icing!

    Another marvelous read. Thanks, Janet.

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    • That we pay for the wisdom we gain is an interesting thought, Rita. I’d never thought about it that way, but it rings true to me. As for your cake choice, it does sound marvelous, especially the frosting. I enjoyed our chat today and look forward to many more.

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  10. It sucks that life doesn’t like cooperate and go the way that we want it to go. I think I can definitely say that for most, they would have let life beat them down but for I admire that you’ve taken life’s lessons and learned from them to share this wisdom.

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    • So good to hear from you, Jeffrey. One thing I’ve learned for sure is that you have to roll with the punches thrown by life and find humor in them at any age, just as you do in your blog. I think you possess a fair share of wisdom because you think for yourself.

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  11. I feel it is unfair that just when we have it all together (ha, ha, ha), have paid off the mortgage, have some pennies in the bank, the freedom to travel, and no dependents … our darned bodies aren’t aligned with the rest of us. It’s a major flaw I hope to address (for those following after me) when I get to sit upon a pearly cloud and play Brahms on my harp.

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  12. As I remember, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans”, is an old Spanish proverb. I’ve mumbled it to myself many times. Another favorite I wished I’d learned young, before having to repeatedly experience it is, “resistance causes suffering”.
    Janet, reading your previous post, I was reminded of those very, very worrisome days while you waited for the procedures to explain why a vibrant, healthy person would lose consciousness, and all memory of a fall.
    I’m sure I wasn’t the only friend/family who sat in disbelief that you, who faithfully exercised, maintained your weight, ate well, etc., could have a cardiac crisis. I thought “oh my God, I’m doomed for sure”. Your acceptance, good spirits, and willingness to share the experience, is a real lesson in “aging gracefully”.

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    • Mary, as has so often true in our friendship, while you were thinking those thoughts about me, I was thinking how I needed to face my first health crisis with the courage, common sense, and competence with which you faced yours — not to mention the humor. And I remember how you told me to cry as often and as much as I needed to and not to feel like I had to be brave. Advice I followed and have since shared with others. Now I’m going to store away “resistance causes suffering” along with the proverb for future use.

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  13. My Goodness Janet we are energizer bunny twins! I too hit the deck in spectacular fashion at work one day. I had actually handed in my retirement notice of Three months about two weeks earlier as I had been feeling tired and over the bureaucracy of local govt and managing staff. I too ended up with a pacemaker but I had had heart rhythm problems for many years which had been fixed but…… . I have just had my two year check and everything is fine with that. So long as everything else holds together. I must admit to feelings of fragility and being much more aware of all the little changes happening in my body for the first few months. then I gradually calmed down and regained my sense of humour and positivity. I too will keep in mind those quotes. Take care and continue to enjoy your life. 🙂

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    • Lynne, your story is so similar to mine that, if it weren’t for the age difference, I’d consider the possibility that we are twins, separated at birth. I related to everything in your comment except your previous heart rhythm problems, which I didn’t experience. Your words, “I gradually calmed down,” capture my experience exactly. Thanks for your good wishes, and I hope you continue to enjoy your life a well.

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  14. As so often, Janet, you model living well at every stage of life. Your optimism was not crazy but healthy and joyful: far better than cringing through life expecting the worst. Still, getting old is a massive challenge to the self image, and even a threat to one’s identity. How can we be the same person, when so much has changed? Well, you have pretty much sorted that one out, I think! Thank you for your wisdom.

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    • Thank you for this kind post worthy of thought as exemplified by your sentence “Still, getting old is a massive challenge to the self image, and even a threat to one’s identity,” which succinctly summarizes the dilemma we face as we age. On good day I do feel I have it sorted out, Rachel. Then there are the other days…

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  15. Even though I’m of the school of thought that what makes us–well, us–is energy and a soul, I think so many of us identify with our bodies. It is hard to think of this place, our children, etc. without us in the picture. Am so glad you’ve addressed your health issue and are taking care of yourself!

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    • Once again, your comment made me pause and think, Kay. You’re right. We do tend to identify more with our bodies than with our souls, and yet it is the soul visibly shining that attracts me to most of the people I like and admire. There’s much to reflect on in that thought.

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  16. I’m reading this on my smartphone while visiting my uncle in a new York nursing home…too much to say typing with one finger on a small keypad-beautifully written, emotionally powerful…will say more, later…💖

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    • Thank you, Lucie, for making the one-fingered effort on a phone, which takes almost more concentration than I can usually manage,to respond to my post. I look forward to talking with you about your trip and your family. Hope all goes well.

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  17. This was absolutely wonderful and so very true for most of us. I know I
    Chased the happily ever after fantasy and believed I would grow old
    And active like my ninety four year old Grammy. Life did not happen
    Like I expected but it turned out to be wonderful in very different ways.

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    • Laurel, what a place to experience a heart block; at least you were surrounded by people who knew how to be helpful, I assume. Once we get beyond the adjustment stage, bionic hearts certainly do become part of us.

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  18. I was worried when I read the last piece that you were currently going through this and pleased to learn that this is in the past and that you have come through the other side.

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  19. Hi Aunt Beulah,
    So happy to hear your pacemaker is running well with a grease and oil change now and then, this is wonderful news to my electronic ears because it keeps YOUR motor running beautifully too Aunt Beulah.
    Have received your correspondence of late and thank you dearly.
    Love your stories to the moon and back Aunt Beulah
    Love and big hugs heading your way from
    Annie in Australia 🌞 🌴 🌊 💜

    Liked by 3 people

  20. Thank you for sharing your struggle with less than perfect health. From personal experience, acceptance by oneself is one of the hardest steps to take in this journey. It sounds like you have taken it all in stride and not let the doctors’ visits get you down.

    Thank you for the reminder that our health is so very important, and that as much as we do not like to be reminded of our mortality, we do need to take care of ourselves …. and that includes going to the doctor for regular checkups (not my favourite thing to do, I’m afraid, but as you’ve pointed out, a necessary part as we continue to get on).

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      • Thank you for registering that I do try to be pro-active; I do work at it as I chronic issues I’ve lived with since my 20s.

        I think your posts have been particularly poignant because in the past week, I have been dealing with my parent’s struggle with their health (Dad is 77, Mom just turned 70). They are both fairly healthy with some chronic issues, but I think with Mom’s 70th birthday, dealing with mortality has again come to the forefront. She is sad that she might lose my Dad soon because in her words, “I am having so much fun with him!” (Dad has emphesyma & a dinky heart, among other assorted ailments).

        It’s quite serendipitous because I was having a conversation with Mom (just before reading your posts) about getting more exercise and visiting the doctor more regularly; this is a breakthrough for her because she really really doesn’t like doctors!

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      • I’ll bet I would like your parents; being 73 I know I would understand where they are in their lives:mortality and the loss of a beloved partner does seem more imminent and, sometimes, frightening. It sounds like you are a good daughter to them, and if you convinced your mom to see a doctor more regularly, you gave her an important gift. Did you start being proactive about your health as soon as you were diagnosed in your twenties, or did it take a while?

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      • I think you guys would get on like a house on fire! You share this zest for life which I find extremely infectious!

        After my initial diagnoses, I actually went into a downward spiral: depression, denial.

        I only started healing several years later when I met my Husband. My diagnoses did not seem to bother him at all and he had great hopes & plans for us. While not entirely convinced, I decided that as he had enough love for the both of us, I would live by faith (albeit his faith, at that time) and start Living again.

        And when I had the 2 girls, I think self-preservation kicked in and I decided that I really did need to take care of myself, if not for me, then for them.

        Then several years ago, I got busy & exhausted from nursing my Mother-in-law. She lived with acute kidney failure for about 2 years, and in that time, I clung onto running as a means of sanity.

        So, this pro-activeness which I now embrace & cherish & enjoy is relatively new state of mind. I am not running away from anything, or motivated by anyone, save myself. It’s a rather novel place I find myself.

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      • What a trip through life you’ve had, and I’m so happy it’s carried you to the place you are today with a husband who sounds like a great guy and daughters you love and enjoy. the last paragraph in your comment nearly moved me to tears. I’ll forever cherish your two sentences: “I am not running away from anything, or motivated by anyone, save myself. It’s a rather novel place I find myself.” Everyone should have your positive, healthy outlook. The two comments you left on my blog yesterday made my day this morning.

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  21. I’m glad things worked out for you. Wisdom comes in mysterious ways and at odd times, rarely when we’re expecting it or hoping for it. I’ve had bad health all my life so I’m used to doing battle with my body but, even so, trying to come to terms with the fact that some of its newer problems are simply due to the number of years I’ve lived, and that they may get worse, is really still taking its toll on me. Unfortunately my older relatives, most of whom are no longer here, didn’t set me great examples, such as an elder first-cousin who would often say to me “oh, it’s no fun getting old.” Mmm, no – well I understand it wasn’t for her, but I’m sure there is hope still, despite the years adding themselves on.

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    • Val, I feel like I’m really getting to know you through your last couple of comments, and I like that. I appreciate your thought that “Wisdom comes in mysterious ways and at odd times, rarely when we’re expecting it or hoping for it.” So true. I also admire you for your pluck and insistence there is still hope as we age and our health problems increase and our elders warn us of the dire happening that await. And I don’t know about you, but even though my physical woes increase, I’m still having fun more often than not. Again, I loved this comment.

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  22. For the first time, recently, I had trouble lifting a sack of fructose. Your wisdom on aging well gives me hope, which vanquishes fear, stay well, my dear.

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