The biggest change for most people over time is their health. Some of us are born healthy, live relatively accident free childhoods, reach adulthood, begin families and then begin to age. At some point everyone begins aging and their health breaks down.
Some of us don’t get so lucky. I was born with a heart defect that required open heart surgery when I was three years old. I had all the childhood illnesses, including chicken pox, measles, and mumps. I also had walking pneumonia, winter bronchitis and a hearing loss. I had dental problems and needed braces. I was smart but not very coordinated. I read voraciously and defined “myself” as that (as intellect) and my body/health as an adversary, as an other that was always thwarting me.
I tried college, but my fatal flaw is over planning things. When I do that, I lose interest in actually doing those things. That’s why it took six colleges and twenty years for me get my bachelor’s degree. I got married and began trying to see myself as a total package. For my 30th birthday, I got my first tattoo. It was a symbol of self-acceptance and reconciliation. Since then, I’ve been trying to define myself differently, but time passes and I get older.
As I get older, health becomes an issue again. I live with minimized chronic illnesses: first migraine, then licanplanus, fibromyalgia and hay fever. I made serious efforts to live a less stressful life. But aging isn’t forgiving and I don’t have the best lifestyle. High cholesterol runs in my mom’s side of the family. I gained weight. I got divorced at 40, had a heart scare at 45 (which turned out to be acute pericarditis), had another heart defect repaired and broke my upper right arm at 50. As all these things loom large again and impose some limitations, does the divide develop again? Is it back to “me” and my deviant body? Are we at war again?
People define one another over and over again. We have categories based on appearance (tall, short, skinny, fat, white, black), on relationships (mother, father, child, wife, husband, friend, enemy) including “tribe” which today is nationality, on affiliations (Muslim, Christian, Republican, Democrat, conservative, progressive), on socio-economic factors (rich, poor, gay, straight, middle class, educated, illiterate, urban, rural), and on ability (especially health-related).
My struggle now, since I’ve mostly achieved my goal to stop sweating all the small stuff, is to accept limitations without resentment and to find other ways to do the things that I really want to when I hit barriers. In essence, to accept that I am the sum of all my parts without being defined by any of them and to understand that will change over time.