Shriveling Up?

Flexibility is important.

Ever since I turned 50, my hands have been giving me problems. First it was de Quervain’s Tendonitis, which got so bad that I was in a brace for 9 months and then had to resort to surgery. Most recently, it was trigger finger, in which my finger seemed to have a painful mind of its own, and would vibrate and snap against my will. Surgery was suggested for that, too, but how many tendons can one cut before losing functionality?

As a last resort, I went to an acupuncturist, and now my finger is fine. But during one visit I lamented that this kind of thing would keep happening to me, and I need my hands to type this blog. She told me something very interesting.

She said as we get older, we tend to curl our hands more and more, and that plays hell with one’s tendons. It made me think of a desiccated leaf in the Autumn of its life. Curling. Shriveling up.

Now, I’m no doctor, so I can’t tell you how accurate this is, but after she told me that, I began looking at people’s hands. And I did notice, in a purely unscientific way, that young people seem to hold their hands flatter than old people do.

After that, I started doing hand stretches. Bending my fingers back as much as I could. And while driving, I’d place my hands flat on the steering wheel instead of curving my fingers around it. (Of course, I only did that when it felt safe to do so. I’m not encouraging you to be reckless.)

And I’ll be darned if I’m not feeling an improvement in my hands. I mean, a serious improvement. I’m going to keep this up.

Since then, I’ve noticed I also tend to curl up in my shoulders and feet, too. I hunch over the keyboard. I curl my feet in bed. So I’m stretching those areas as well. If my work schedule weren’t so weird, I’d get back into yoga. When I did yoga, I felt great.

Still, I’m opening myself up. Flattening myself out. Flexibility is important. I wouldn’t want to shrivel up before my time.

Close-up of autumn leaves fallen to the ground

A book about gratitude is a gift that keeps on giving! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Starting Out Silver

Dating in one’s 50’s, or even later than that, is something else again. It’s not for sissies. It adds another whole layer of complexity to things.

In your 50’s, you’re more apt to come with appliances. Glasses. Dentures. Night Guards, canes or back braces, arch supports, bottles of pills.

There are things you can no longer do. Maybe your lower back isn’t up to that 10-mile hike. Or you don’t hear well enough to hang out in that noisy bar. You become less flexible, both physically and emotionally.

Chances are you’ve outgrown a lot of the shenanigans of your youth, too. Getting drunk isn’t as much fun anymore. One night stands are just depressing. And yes, I’d love that slice of pizza, but green peppers give me indigestion.

You also come with a boatload of baggage. You’ve got your whacky adult children, for a start. And ex-husbands or wives. Experiences you’d rather not repeat. You are skittish.

And lest we forget, that first impression of you naked is not going to be as stellar as it was when you were in your 20’s. Gravity has taken its toll. There are surgery scars. There are wrinkles and sags and grey hair, or no hair at all. Some things don’t work as well as they used to.

And, speaking from a purely female perspective, there are a whole lot of older men who are still looking for women in their 30’s. Lord knows why. They won’t be able to keep up with them. But they still expect you to be lean and athletic, with nice tight… skin. In other words, they’re in a fantasy world.

But oh, when you get it right… it’s magical. Age-appropriate partners are much easier to relate to. They get your cultural references. They understand your jokes. There’s a feeling of “we’re in this together.” You’ve each made your share of mistakes and have therefore learned a great deal. You’re hopefully more patient. You have many more stories to tell.

And even better, you get to feel young again. Just when you thought those butterflies in your stomach had moved on, they’re baaaaack! You forgot you knew how to blush. Life seems much more exciting. Hope springs eternal. And best of all, you appreciate things so much more because you never thought you’d ever have those things again.

What a gift!

silver

Start a gratitude practice today. Read my book. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Giving Up

Not every dream you have is going to work out. Not every person you fall for is going to love you back. Sometimes you will make the wrong choices, life will get in the way, or things will be out of your control.

That was made abundantly clear the other day when I was unpacking boxes that I had been storing in my guest room. I was confronted with about 25 pounds of notes that I had taken when I was pursuing my Dental Laboratory Technology degree. Despite graduating with honors and having high hopes about buying a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina and starting my own dental lab out of the garage, here I am, a bridgetender in Seattle.

I wanted that dream so badly I could taste it. But I couldn’t convince anyone to hire me so that I could gain the needed experience, and I certainly couldn’t control the fact that 6 months later I needed surgery on my wrist that would make it physically impossible to do that work.

The death of a dream. Hate when that happens. I think I went into mourning for about a year, and despite the fact that I’ve since moved on, I couldn’t quite bring myself to get rid of those notes. I lugged them all the way across the country with me, even though I knew, without a doubt, that I’d have no use for them. I just wasn’t ready to let go.

So here was this massive pile of emotionally-charged notes that were taking up space in my guest room. But this was ridiculous. The last thing I need is a 25 pound albatross around my neck. So, trying not to think too much, I pitched them all into the recycle bin.

Well, no, not all of them. I kept my orthodontic notes. And textbooks. And tools. Because that’s what I wanted to do—make orthodontic appliances, like retainers. I know I’m being silly. I know that dream isn’t happening, ever. But it’s a part of who I was, who I am. And those tools might actually come in handy. You never know.

But it was rather cleansing, getting rid of all the other stuff. It felt like another step toward healing. It was high time.

Giving up on something or someone after you’ve exhausted all viable avenues of pursuit isn’t necessarily defeat. It isn’t abject failure, either. It means, quite often, that you’re being a mature adult who is being realistic and moving on.

There’s no shame in that. It’s a huge part of life. And if you’re lucky, like I’ve been, you can look back from a good place and realize you actually wound up right where you were supposed to be all along. You may not have been able to see it in the past, but things have a funny way of working out the way they should.

Sometimes you have to give up in order to get something spectacular. Sometimes giving up is the right thing to do.

white_flag_surrender

Hey! Look what I wrote! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Knock, Knock, Knocking on Mortality’s Door

Spring is a time when life feels so abundant. Flowers are blooming and there are baby animals everywhere. Spring, for me, is the most hopeful time of the year. I went decades without experiencing it because I lived in Florida. Now that I am in Seattle, I have that hope once again, and I will never, ever take it for granted. It’s such a gift.

But this has been a strange spring. Mortality seems to be trying to get my attention of late. A dear friend of mine has been in and out of the hospital as his kidneys are failing. This, of course, has me extremely worried. I can’t imagine my life without him in it. He’s so young. Too young to be going through this. And then Don Rickles goes and dies of kidney failure. The last of the rat pack, reminding me that this is a big deal.

And then the other day, I Googled an ex-boyfriend just out of curiosity, only to discover that he died two years ago. He also managed to have nine children in the 25 years since I last saw him. But it’s a strange feeling, having boyfriends old enough to kick the bucket.

As I write this, I’m worried about my sister, who goes in for (granted, routine) surgery tomorrow. She’s my last sibling. She’s not worried. But just in case, I called her just now to tell her I love her, and to say that if she up and dies on me, I’m going to be really pissed off. Update: She did just fine and is recovering nicely.

I guess the older you get, the more this type of stuff enters your world–contemporaries dying, or having close calls. It makes life very bittersweet, but all the more precious for the frequent reminders that it’s all so finite.

Spring

Start a gratitude practice today. Read my book. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Post Surgery, You’re Still You

Back in 2013, I wrote a blog entry entitled, “Where are YOU Located?” In it I talked about how I basically think of myself as residing somewhere behind my eyes, and that my body is kind of the vehicle I ride around in. I still think that way the vast majority of the time.

But there are some exceptions. Prior to my hysterectomy, I wondered if I’d still feel like a woman afterward. Would I still be me? Or would I feel as though an important part of who I am was now missing?

This is actually a common anxiety. I’ve heard women express it just before having a mastectomy, too. After all, as women, we are taught to reduce ourselves to the sum of our body parts.

And during that horrible window of anxiety, many of us can’t or won’t discuss these fears with our loved ones, because we feel they wouldn’t understand, or the subject would make them uncomfortable. How could a man get it? Or an adult child?

But believe me, your family is worried about the procedure too. And they will be just as relieved to see you come out the other side. So try to talk to them about it. It will help all concerned.

If you’re needing reassurance, I can tell you that every woman I’ve talked to about this subject agrees that after the fact, much to our relief, we still feel like ourselves. We all learn that “we” are not our body parts. When that pound (or more) of flesh gets removed, we still exist. We still have our personalities, our thought processes, our character. We still live and love and laugh.

“We” survive. We survive. And you will, too. I promise.

i-am-461804_960_720

Body Hacking and Modification

When I had my hysterectomy back in 1999, I had them take my appendix out at the same time. My reasoning was simple: I genuinely and sincerely hope that no one will ever have to slice into my body again, so while they were rooting around in there, I figured they better make the most of it. If it were up to me, this was going to be a one way, albeit necessary, trip.

I suppose I come by this attitude honestly. My maternal grandmother used to say, in an ominous voice, “Once they cut you open, it’s alllllll over.” That still sends chills up my spine.

Granted, for her generation, born at the tail end of the 19th century, this was often the case. Unfortunately, because of that she didn’t get some surgery that she really needed. I’m not quite that bad, but I still would much rather remain as intact as possible.

This is why I can’t relate to this body hacking trend. More and more people are getting RFID chips and magnets and the like placed under their skin. And these procedures are often not performed by medical professionals. The opportunities for disaster are many. Infections, rejections, scarring, nerve damage, pain, unintended side effects… so many things can go wrong.

And what is the half-life of these devices? Anyone who has ever owned an iPhone can tell you there’s always going to be that desire for an upgrade. Do you really want to be cut upon again and again and again? How about a nice game of Russian roulette while you’re at it? Not me. No thanks.

And then there are those people into body modification. It must be nice to think your tastes will never change again as long as you live. Sitting up here at age 51, I can assure you that that hasn’t been the case for me. I wouldn’t be caught dead in some of the stuff I used to wear in the 70’s, and I thank God every day that clothing choice isn’t permanent.

And trust me, it’s hard enough to get a date or a job in this world without voluntarily putting yourself out in the fringes of society. I defy you to show me a single CEO of a Fortune 500 company who has had horns implanted, or is sporting a forked tongue or elf ears.

If you want to express your individuality, more power to you. But I strongly suggest that you do it in a way that’s reversible, or at the very least hide-able, because the individual that you are now is most likely not the individual you will be 20 years from now.

So go out and dye your hair purple. Let your freak flag fly. Just make sure that at the end of the day, you can take that flag back down if the spirit moves you. Think of it as a gift that you’re giving to the future you. The gift of not being painted into a corner.

2-implant-body-modification
I suspect this guy will never be president. [Image credit: america.pink]

The Danish Girl

I had a very unique, delightful and emotionally fraught experience on my birthday recently. I invited a friend of mine who just happens to be transgender to go with me to see The Danish Girl, a movie about one of the very first people to go through gender reassignment surgery.

First of all, if you deprive yourself of this movie, it will be a tragedy. Not since Doctor Zhivago have I seen such epic cinematography that sweeps you up and places you right in the time and place, in this case Copenhagen, Paris, and Dresden in the late 1920’s. Every single frame of this film is a work of art.

And the costumes are luscious, the color vivid, the music spectacular. And the acting? If this movie doesn’t bring home a boatload of Oscars, especially for Eddie Redmayne, then there is something wrong in the universe.

So now let’s address the elephant in the room: the controversial subject matter. I can’t pretend to understand what it must be like to be transgender. I can’t imagine the struggle for acceptance, the feeling that you’re being forced by society to be someone that you really aren’t and never were, the utter confusion as you try to make it to selfhood despite the resistance of pretty much everyone around you. But this movie helped me imagine it more clearly than ever before.

And then try making this type of transition in the 1920’s, when many women weren’t even allowed to vote. Talk about piling on. It must have felt like trying to embrace being a sub-species. No doubt about it—Lili Elbe was very brave. And I just discovered, thanks to Wikipedia, that she shared my birthday! That makes me proud. While I watched that movie, celebrating my birthday, I was unknowingly celebrating hers, too.

The experience was all the more intense because of the friend sitting next to me. Every tear shed on screen, every physical blow endured, every yearning moment, seemed to be radiating outward from the seat beside me. It made me want to cry. And all I could do was hold her hand. In the face of such brave struggle, that gesture seemed pretty darned pathetic.

The-Danish-Girl_poster_goldposter_com_1

Thank Your Hands

Last November I fell down a flight of stairs, dislocated my thumb, stupidly popped it back into place on my own with a resounding crunch (I sometimes have a freakishly high threshold of pain), and the result was a nasty case of De Quervain’s Tendonitis in my dominant hand. I was in agony and a wrist brace for a long, long time. I could barely write. I couldn’t lift things. I couldn’t shake hands. Even wiping my own behind became a challenge. I only slept sporadically due to the pain. I shed more than a few tears of frustration.

Recently, though, after several unsuccessful non-invasive attempts to resolve the problem, I finally resorted to surgery. That was a little scary because they had to cut the sheath tendon, which is a bracelet type tendon that keeps all the tendons that radiate down from your hand to your forearm in place. And to cut it, they had to move a nerve bundle, which meant if things went wrong I wouldn’t have feeling in my hand anymore. That’s a rather daunting proposition.

After the surgery I had a hard cast on my wrist and hand for a week. Cooking was difficult. Showering one-handed was not fun. And if I thought I had trouble wiping my butt before…

The good news is that the surgery was a success, and while I’m still healing, most of the time I feel pretty much back to normal. It only took nine months. I will never take my hands for granted again.

You shouldn’t, either. You have no idea how much you use your hands in the course of a day until you can’t anymore. Your hands are the most unsung heroes in your life. They really deserve some appreciation. Maybe some nice lotion or a hand massage. Trust me, it’s the very least you can do.

[Image credit: magichandsbysimon.com]
[Image credit: magichandsbysimon.com]

Scars

After my recent surgery I spent a week in a cast, wondering what my scar was going to look like. I didn’t look while the procedure was in progress. I’d have passed out cold.

I needn’t have worried, because upon removing the cast I discovered the incision was less than a half inch long, and right where my skin naturally creases, so I suspect that eventually no one will even notice it but me. More shocking was the huge green bruise on my wrist and palm, but that will fade with time.

Me, in a state of transition.
Me, in a state of transition.

I actually love scars. On other people. Scars usually come with really interesting stories. They are evidence of a life well-lived. They make people seem more human, somehow.

I remember sitting in a mall as a teenager, and an absolutely mind-blowingly handsome guy walked by. I was in awe. And then he turned his head, and the entire other side of his face was severely, irretrievably burned. It brought tears to my eyes. Not because of the dreadful sight, or what the poor man had obviously been through, but because he’ll probably go through his life never knowing how gorgeous he is. That broke my heart. If I had been older and more confident, I might have told him so. I wish I had.

I was talking to a friend the other day about scars. He mentioned that we have a word for the hardening, toughening of skin. Scarring. But we don’t have a word for the softening, the opening up, the making more vulnerable.

“Yes we do,” I said. “Healing.”

The World’s Best Bedside Manner

A little over a week ago I had surgery on my wrist. I was scared silly. Mostly because I’d be all alone during my recovery, but also because it’s downright unnatural to voluntarily subject oneself to getting sliced open. I mean, seriously, who in their right mind says, “Here. Cut me, please.” You have to be in a heck of a lot of pain in order to seek out pain as a remedy for that pain. After many months of procrastinating, I had reached that point.

I had every confidence in my surgeon. Her name is Dr. Elizabeth Joneschild, and she’s part of the Seattle Hand Surgery Group. I’d seen her several times prior to this last, surgical resort, so I had developed a great professional relationship with her. Not only does she clearly know what she’s doing, but she’s very patient when you ask her questions, has an excellent reputation, and, let’s face it, she wouldn’t have an office with such a spectacular view if she weren’t doing something right. So if you have problems with your hand or wrist, I highly recommend her.

The anesthesiologist, on the other hand, I only got to meet on the morning of the surgery. That’s, of course, pretty standard, but it doesn’t do much to inspire confidence. Here’s someone who can knock you out in a variety of ways, who you don’t meet until he’s about to knock you out.

In this case, I was to remain conscious. They were only numbing the arm and putting a drape across so I couldn’t see what was happening (for which I was extremely grateful). But I was still scared and I’ve no doubt that it showed.

But I was lucky enough to have Dr. Stephen Markowitz as my anesthesiologist. I’ve known a lot of great people in the medical field in my lifetime, but this guy really went the extra mile. Obviously Dr. J had to concentrate on what she was doing, so Dr. M started asking me about my job. What’s it like to be a bridgetender? What bridge do you work on? How high is it above the water? Any question he could think of.

Not only did this conversation distract me, but (and I have no idea if he was conscious that he was doing this or not) it also allowed my mind to leave a realm where I was feeling pretty helpless and scared, and enter a realm where I was an expert and actually had something to teach and contribute. The surgery was over in about 15 minutes, and I didn’t feel a thing, not even panic. What a gift.

I’ve got to say that my hand was definitely in good hands. I’ll be forever grateful for that. When you only have two of something, you tend to want to hold on to them at all costs.

HomeHands