Ever struggle with the why me syndrome? Those times when you are overcome by anger, frustration, and fatigue, wondering why you have to go through this hardship? I have coped with more than my fair share of physical pain and have posed this question many times. Some pain was self-inflicted by choosing a career as a professional athlete, but most of it was accidental, unforeseeable setbacks that everyone encounters sooner or later in the game of life.
Why me? Surely no one else has experienced such difficulties so how is it fair that we should have to? Our hardships feel unique and we want validation of our capacity to endure our struggles. But if we could remove ourselves from the moment, and contemplate the larger picture, we would also ponder: Why not me?
Suffering does not discriminate. Agonizing over the reasons for it and trying to attribute meaning to it is a bottomless, circular line of thinking more likely to create despair than provide comfort. Believing in purpose helps, but not forcing it if it doesn’t. Sometimes it is better to accept circumstance and decide how best to deal with it.
Aging sucks. But what’s the alternative? I’d rather be old than dead. Eventually, our bodies wear out as we succumb to our own unique pea soup of bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, illnesses and injuries, but along the way we don’t have to stop living just because we slow down.
When I was only 25-years-old, my professional basketball career ended in a near fatal car accident. My teammate fell asleep at the wheel and I woke up in a river in France fighting for my life. Since then, I have struggled to recover from debilitating injuries. That, coupled with misunderstood invisible illnesses – chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and a multi system inflammatory disease -could cause me to complain. For brief periods of times that may help, but sport taught me early on that life is not fair. There is no referee to complain to, and even if there was, they never change the call.
Mourn the loss then move forward. We don’t get to choose our opponents. All we can do is rewrite the playbook. As I ride the roller-coaster of pain, I search for ways to find balance during the flare-ups. Over time, I developed a rehab plan that became a way of life.
Here are 7 tips to face down adversity and keep a positive attitude in aging.
Move it or lose it. Unlike wine, the spine does not get better with age. I continue chiropractic treatments to relieve the pain of bulging, herniated, degenerating discs or whatever the clinical term is for smashed vertebrae. I have devised a “back plan” – swim, walk, stretch, recline and ice, ice, baby– in attempt to retain mobility. Gravity pulls my body parts earthwards, but I refuse to let my spirit be pulled down with it.
Stay engaged mentally. Follow the news, read the paper, check out library books, listen to books on tape, watch documentaries. Or enjoy one of our family’s favorites: crossword puzzles; collaboration online makes them better!
Establish healthy routines. I incorporated daily stretching with dental hygiene. Three times a day, I lie on my yoga mat, throw my legs and back side up against the wall, and pull my arms overhead forming an L in a full body stretch. Then while turned upside down, I brush my teeth. After two minutes when my electric brush clicks off, my teeth feel cleaner and my limbs looser.
Remain connected – Illness makes us want to crawl in a dark corner to lick our wounds like an old dog, but even on those days when you are too weak or ill to venture out of your home, stay connected. Call a friend, “text” a message, send an email, surf Facebook. Internet allows us to remain in touch with loved ones even when separated by great distances.
Eat clean – Diet does make a difference. Fill up your plate with fresh, locally grown foods. My eating habits improved thousand-fold when I married a Frenchman. The French are equaled only by the Italians in elevating eating to an art form. French, Swiss and other European grocery stores and open markets are filled with tantalizing displays of fruits and vegetables, so I bulk up. Did you know sugar feeds bacteria? It took some adjustments, but I now adhere to a diet free of gluten and added-sugar.
Reach out to lift up others. I don’t have to look far for inspiration to find someone who is fighting even greater challenges. I have lost friends to cancer, suicide, and bad, bad bugs like MSRA. I have friends who are coping with MS, diabetes, and depression. Others are enduring the crippling loss of a child, sibling, spouse, parent or friend. I know people facing surgery, dealing with dialysis, and going through chemo, who encounter each day without complaint, staring down each personal setback with dignity. Their hardships put mine into perspective and their strength in fighting gives me strength.
Hit the water. After every injury I endured as an athlete, I returned to the water to rehabilitate. For centuries Europeans have used the restorative, medicinal properties of thermal baths to treat ailments. You don’t have to be able to swim to benefit from water therapy. You can join a water aerobics group at your local YMCA or simply walk in waist deep water in a pool, lake, or the sea. Water soothes aching joints and loosens tight muscles. Even hot baths or cool showers can help.
And, of course, actually drink water – just not same water you swim in. Staying well hydrated helps support good immune function and ensures your organ systems are operating a full capacity. Squeeze a lemon or lime into a glass of water to give it flavor and help your body detoxify naturally. Though you may need added electrolytes if you’re running a marathon, on a daily basis there aren’t many substitutes superior to water.
Like me I am sure there have been moments when you have cried a million tears, pounded pillows in despair and pleaded to the skies.
Why am I here if only to suffer?
Because unfortunately suffering is universal.
It is what makes us human, and perhaps, it is even what makes us value our lives, providing us with appreciation for those moments in which we are devoid of discomfort.
So when injury, illness and aging knock me flat, I enter the zone and focus on gratitude. Each day is a gift. Fill it with kindness and keep on a keeping on.