Thursday, October 27, 2005

Aging Part 2: The numbers game

I have a followup appointment in February for a recheck on my cholesterol, which is, of course, currently too high. My doctor is a dear and very comprehensive, but I'm afraid right now my health care concern (besides the mysterious thyroid nodule) is essentially reduced to two numbers - total cholesterol 259 and LDL 179. Until February at least, that's where the focus will be.

I am intrigued by the commercials for cholesterol-lowering medications where the participants have their cholesterol numbers taped to their chests, especially the one where the man tries outrun his number but it catches up with him and attaches itself securely to his shirt.

In my profession of medical transcription, it certainly can be a numbers game. When dictators get going with lab tests and such, numbers and discussion of numbers can easily take up half a patient's report. In my case, it's the cholesterol and the size of the thyroid nodule. In Ed's case, it's blood sugar. The pronouncement of his hemoglobin A1c (the test that gives the doctor an idea of what his blood sugar has been running for the last 3 months) is the highlight of his office visit. Ed knows that a sense of jubilation or utter failure will descend on him when he leaves that office, according to the number. He can't hide from the number. It squeals on him.

Add to our specific problem numbers other important numbers - the numbers of temperature, blood pressure, pulse, respirations, and - of course, I wouldn't forget this one - the almighty weight, or the new variation thereof, BMI.

I am not suggesting that to our physicians we are only a conglomeration of numbers; on the contrary, the numbers are the tools they need to make diagnoses and plan care.

I am suggesting, however, that how we feel about our own numbers, specifically our ages, may have some bearing on how we make our own diagnoses and plan our own care. And here, my acquaintance Rod's favorite word comes in - judgment. Boy, it's not nice to make judgments about other people, but you can really get into trouble when making them for yourself!

On an MT site I frequent, there is a recent discussion of age and what it means to get older. It runs the gamut, of course, for everything is relative. I write about what life is like at 51, and another lady is scared of turning 40, and yet another lady is already disgusted with photos of herself at 36. (Message to Rod: As pretty as the sequoia trees are, and as peaceful as you are with the aging concept - those are trees and you are a male and it is somewhat different for women in our culture. This is not to say that is a good or bad thing, but it is different.)

However, numbers do not create our identities. Neither do a lot of other things.

I think the problem so many women have with empty nest syndrome is that their whole identities have been based on their role as "full-time mothers." All of a sudden, they have to find out their true identity not based on a role. We read about problems with women identifying only with their profession - then they lose that or retire and have to rethink who they are. She might be a wife and then the word "widow" suddenly defines her to the world. Even Hollywood actresses have a hard time with the transition from "cover girl" to "character actress."

Have you ever heard someone discuss aging and say, "At age ___ I came into my own"? I always thought that expression was strange. Came into my own? My own what? The more I think about it, the more it sounds like identity to me. She came into her own identity - she realized who she really was - outside of the numbers, the roles she played in life, the labels society had given her, the fears that had ruled her. She came into her own wisdom, her own sense of power and accomplishment, her acceptance of the past and contentment regarding the future. She came into the knowledge that she can flow with changes and transitions and come out with her true self intact.

"I'm coming into my own." I like that. Now to work on that cholesterol...


Rod said...

First, I'd like to say thank you for the direct mention in your message and the direct message to me. It's good to feel the dialogue.

Yes, from what I've learned, the act of judgement is perhaps the key to most of the contention within living. A sequoia IS different from a female human in American culture in that it has NO culture. It is (always in "its own"). What we call culture is simply the collection of judgements we've learned to acquiesce to (of others and, as you say, most dangerously of ourselves); the great collusion of values defined by, in modern times, the media and money and fashion and religion and tradition and....

You will find that my other word of meaning is that one you used yourself...IDENTIY. I think I can truly say I resonate with the plight of the "empty nester", the loss of focus in identity. Having endured a marital separation (soon to be finalized in divorce) after 23 years of marriage, I know what it's like to suddenly find yourself without a very large chunk of how you defined yourself. In many ways it was like a baby being pushed out into a cold and relatively harsh world. But the advantage a newborn has is that it comes into the world ALREADY IN ITS "OWN". The disadvantage is that baby has no defense against the enculturation that is soon thrust upon it, in name, nationality, ethinicity, religion....values and judgements that quickly render it "pot bound" not only by external labels but most bindingly by internalized self-identification, which it continaully reinforces from culture. Those of us who are lucky to live long enough (getting "old" as we do), might find the opening to "come into our own" which is only a matter of "repotting" oursleves. Hopefully, we find a way to "unpot" ourselves, plant ourselves in the unbound soil of Truth, the Now, What Is, not just a slightly bigger pot, a slightly broader range of values, that will eventually bind again.

So, the journey/not journey is to recognize (become conscious of, again)our "own" which is and has ALWAYS BEEN Identity (as opposed to our identity), and to relegate our enculturation to its rightful place, a fable that gives us the shadow against which to know the light of What Is.

As you are a mother (and grandmother?) I'd like to pass on to you something I wrote early this year in honor of that special essence the feminine creative brings to this world in the form of the eternal nurturing of Mother. Maybe it will help to put a different perspective on your empty nest.

Life Line

It starts within you,
The stir of being;
The quickening; a kick!
Life from your life, your living…
The chord is cut
But the connection carries on
In mother’s loving caress…

The creative fount
Forever flows,
From momma’s loving job
To grandma’s blissful joy.
The Mother’s Heart moves ever onward
In the eternal line
Of Love,
Of Life.

rcd (merlin,myrddin,Arcidi) 7/2005

Please feel free to pass this on to ALL the mothers/grandmothers you know.

Peace and Love, Rod

Carol Tiffin James said...

How beautiful! Thank you!