Illness shows no mercy. It can stop you in your tracks and make you wonder what you’re good for when most days you can barely get out of bed.
I’ve always been a hard worker and a social change agent, expressing my passions as a writer, community activist, and promoter of spiritual awareness and creative living. I have great friends, love to attend and participate in arts happenings, and enjoy biking, tennis, hiking, and more. I didn’t expect any of this to change as I moved into my late sixties and early seventies. I intended to live a vibrant old age. I surely wanted to go on building a better world, especially for older adults.
But health problems, including chronic fatigue syndrome and endless episodes of atrial fibrillation, have slammed me to the floor (or the bed) again and again. As a result, my ability to pursue the many things I’m passionate about has taken a hit. I don’t have the physical or mental wherewithal to do what I used to, and I don’t like it.
But it’s also true that I’m learning to like it. I’m finding new ways to draw on my lifetime of experience, creative drive, and willingness to lead and follow in order to keep on learning, make improvements in the world, and enjoy life to the fullest.
I’ve used online learning sources and other media to pursue studies of creativity, spiritual consciousness, socio-political issues, healthy eating, and more. Little effort is required beyond listening or watching. And because I had to quit my job and now have fewer activities distracting me, I can more easily focus on learning deeply what’s important to me. As a result, I have become more aware, confident, and capable. I’ve made some wonderful new friends worldwide among the online people studying with me.
Because I’m not rushed and feel calmer, friends and colleagues feel at ease when I spend time with them as a listener, adviser, and supporter. I even took in the grandson of a friend of mine to live in my downstairs area while he had to be home monitored with an ankle bracelet due to being on probation. He just needed a break, and I gave it to him. He’s now off to a great fresh start.
On most days, I can manage at least one meeting or event per day, often by phone or Skype, so I continue to do professional work as writer, teacher, and writing coach on a limited basis. I also occasionally consult and provide training in the creative aging field. I even attend some weekend workshops and activist events that interest me. What makes these activities possible is that I nap as needed. Taking out a pillow and blanket I’ve brought along, I go over in a corner and rest as often as needed. I can’t tell you how many people have appreciated this role modeling of self-care. They also tell me I play an important role as listener and supporter from the sidelines just by my presence.
I’ve also turned my home into a silent retreat sanctuary for people I care about. Since I’m often at home and nap a lot, it’s lovely for me to have guests in my home who are enjoying a restful time as well. On a few occasions, I’ve invited a group of friends for a full day of silent retreat. They come and go as they please, enjoying in their own way a time of respite and renewal next to my beautiful pond that has plenty of wildlife visitors.
Illness left me weak in some ways, but I have gained in patience, calmness, generosity, clarity, flexibility, and compassion. My appreciation for each moment, person, and experience has deepened, often leaving me in awe. I continue to learn, create, and contribute in many ways.
I don’t think we have to let illness stop us completely in our tracks. We can switch to different tracks, perhaps on a slower train, that open us up to new worlds.
Pat Samples is a writer and a champion for creative aging. She was a co-founder for the Minnesota Creative Arts and Aging Network (now ArtSage), and continues consulting and training with arts and senior-serving organizations. Pat is also the author of five books on conscious aging and caregiving. She shares her poetry and an inspiring blog on her website, www.patsamples.com, and offers writing and editing support to individuals and organizations.