A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Aging

I apologize for not posting for a week. It's the holiday season and I was preparing to visit my parents in Florida. Traveling unnerves me now more than when I was younger. I'm not too happy with plane flights even though I know they're safer than traveling by car. And this time my brother and I missed our connecting flight due to bad weather and had to stay in the airport for over twelve hours till we could board another plane. Though I must say that on the whole I haven't had too many problems when traveling, so I have to count my blessings.

My parents retired to Florida in 1989. Initially they lived on Sanibel Island but now live in a retirement community in Fort Myers. It's quite an upscale place with tons of healthcare options. At first I was a bit dismayed by how old everyone appeared to be, not wanting to acknowledge that my parents, too, were now old. Then I began to become more familiar with the faces and the rhythms of the place and just felt so grateful that my parents were safe and well taken care of. I don't get to see my parents very often, between two and four times a year, so I value the time I spend with them. These last few trips I've brought along a tape recorder to record conversations, so that I'll have something of my parents (and uncle) when they are no longer here (that is if I survive them, for who knows?). I can't quite accept mortality yet either theirs or my own and have not encountered human death and illness much in my lifetime (knock wood, as my mother would say). I have experienced the illness and death of beloved cats, but that's as close as I've gotten. And that's close enough for pets are like children, innocent and undeserving of illness (though no one really is deserving of illness).

Schizophrenia struck me at age 36 and ushered me into middle age, so now I am not just encountering my parents aging but my own aging as well. The anti-psychotic meds have made me put on weight, my hair is starting to thin, my skin is no longer as smooth and supple as it once was. Now when I look in the mirror I smile at myself with tolerance for my growing physical imperfections. My tolerance has grown from having survived such horrible experiences and because I know life could be much worse because it already has been. I've survived and I've cultivated an attitude of gratitude which has served me well. Even so, there is this touch of nostalgia, this feeling of regret for all the missed opportunities of my youth and young adulthood. Like most people I think "If only I had known then what I know now...". And if only I could start over again. But I still have some optimism, I still believe I can start over again, just from an older (wiser?) perspective and that hope enriches my life, gives me something to hold onto.

It is wisdom not to fight the aging process, but to go with the flow or as the I Ching would say be like water, non resisting. Many people come to such grief because they want to stay 25 or 30 forever. We live in a world that idolizes youth and shuns middle to old age. To me, that is deeply rooted immaturity. Survival should engender a deep respect and not dismissal. It was respect I felt towards my mother's mother when she was in her 80's and 90's. I didn't care that she was covered in wrinkles, that she couldn't see or hear well, that she was small and delicate; I respected her for just living as long as she did. I saw it as a great accomplishment and aspired to follow her. And now, it is my parents that I hope to follow. The focus in my family has been to value people and each other for being good people and not for youth and beauty. Youth and beauty are wonderful too but ever so temporary. They are not things to base one's life upon.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi,

The useless tree, in taoist legend, the one everyone ignores, lives longest. Isn't it?

Takes a quiet courage to speak the truth about age and decline in our immature culture. Especially if one is female, where one's sole value is placed in being beautiful.

hollis

Kate Waters Kiernan said...

Hi hollis,

Yes, lately I've been thinking that I should write more about the aging process. It's such a valuable topic and one that gets ignored so easily. I've found that it's almost a profound feeling to no longer look at myself and others through the lens of physical appearance. Or rather to look at others for what is uniquely them, their smile or hands or the tone of their voice rather than any superficial standard of beauty. It really is the heart and mind that are most valuable, most beautiful.

Anonymous said...

"Or rather to look at others for what is uniquely them"

: )

that's really lovely.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kate,

I thought your comments about aging were quite cogent and very wise. I have never looked at people with regard to their appearance; it has never occured to me to judge someone by his or her appearance. That has always seemed to me to be irrelevant. Similarly has my own appearance been of little concern to me up till now: I have rarely showered or washed my hair or brushed my teeth or even changed my clothes during many long periods and even then I wore only jeans and tee shirts exclusively up into my fifties.

With recovery, though, has come a new consciousness of my appearance, both good and bad. I can tell my hair is dirty when it is, now, and so I wash it regularly. I change my clothes regularly because I know when they are dirty, but also because I want to wear different clothes, other clothes, clothing that fits me better, that looks better than tee shirts and jeans. But with this new consciousness comes awareness of my lost youth, all of it, to schizophrenia; all the years when I might have looked young are gone and now I look at a fifty four year old in the mirror, and have to make do with -- Well, I won't go there, but it isn't always easy to remain wise, I admit.

Your friend, Pam W

Kate Waters Kiernan said...

Hi Pam,

I'm still not so good about my hygiene though I'm starting to get a bit better. I think it has to do also with living alone and not seeing anyone sometimes for several days at a time. Before I got ill I bathed sometimes once a day and brushed my teeth twice a day and cleaned my house, etc... Now I bathe maybe once a week, don't change my clothes as often as I should and brush my teeth once a day. I rarely wash my blankets, don't need to wash my sheets because I still sleep on the couch in the living room. And dirty dishes pile up until I have to wash some in order to eat. Still my spirits are pretty good and, as usual, I'm hoping that I will change all this in the coming months.

I don't really care what other people look like. The only time I've cared about another's appearance is when I've wanted to have a boyfriend. I mean, I wanted to be physically attracted to another person and not only like them, in order to be intimate, but I've been alone for years and am no longer attractive so I have no right to be choosey.
And there are so many ways a person can be attractive that have nothing to do with looks. This I'm starting to discover. Another part of the aging process. Ah, I am no longer young but this may not be such a bad thing afterall.

Still, it's hard not to be a bit regretful...